Mar 02, 2023
By Mark Redfern
Longtime Pulp bassist Steve Mackey has died. He was 56 years old. While no exact cause of death has been given, his wife, stylist Katie Grand, said in a post on Mackey’s Instagram page, that Mackey had been in the hospital for three months, implying an illness. When Pulp announced some upcoming 2023 reunion dates last October, Mackey said he wouldn’t be taking part in the reunion due to a focus on other creative pursuits, but perhaps health issues were also at play.
Here is Grand’s statement: “After three months in hospital, fighting with all his strength and determination, we are shocked and devastated to have said goodbye my brilliant, beautiful husband, Steve Mackey. Steve died today, a loss which has left myself, his son Marley, parents Kath and Paul, sister Michelle and many friends all heartbroken. Steve was the most talented man I knew, an exceptional musician, producer, photographer and filmmaker. As in life, he was adored by everyone whose paths he crossed in the multiple creative disciplines he conquered. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all the NHS staff who worked tirelessly for Steve. He will be missed beyond words.”
Pulp also issued a statement on their Instagram page, accompanied by a photo of Mackey hiking, taken from behind:
“Our beloved friend & bass player Steve Mackey passed away this morning. Our thoughts are with his family & loved ones.
This photo of Steve dates from when Pulp were on tour in South America in 2012. We had a day off & Steve suggested we go climbing in the Andes. So we did.
& it was a completely magical experience. Far more magical than staring at the hotel room wall all day (which is probably what we’d have done otherwise). Steve made things happen. In his life & in the band.
& we’d very much like to think that he’s back in those mountains now, on the next stage of his adventure.
Safe travels, Steve.
We hope to catch up with you one day.
All our love xx”
Mackey joined Pulp in 1989. The Jarvis Cocker fronted band had already released two albums at that point, 1983’s It and 1987’s Freaks. Neither had been that succesful, although Pulp had built a following in their native Sheffield. Mackey joined Pulp when the band was on hiatus and Cocker was studying film at London’s St. Martin’s art college.
“I used to watch them, because it was always an event in Sheffield, when they played,” said Mackey in an interview with me for Under the Radar’s 10th issue in 2005. “And then time passed, and Jarvis and my paths seemed to cross because we both moved to London to go to different art colleges. And then we subsequently ended up living together. And it was a very casual thing, I played in bands and Jarvis said, ‘Do you want to join Pulp?’ And it wasn’t really a big deal. The band was semi-dormant, we were both studying at college, so it was kind of more like a fun thing really and things just went from there. I think it was a time in Jarvis’ life when maybe he’d decided he needed to do other things as well as hold out for his band ever achieving anything.”
“They were quite dour times in England in 1989,” Mackey said of the era when he joined Pulp. “We were in the middle of the Thatcher years and there was pretty heavy recession, underemployment; quite dark times, really. And in Sheffield, as there always is in those kind of times, there was quite a healthy music culture that developed. In England that always seems to happen; whenever the economy gets sour, music seems tends to become creative.”
Mackey played on the band’s third album, Separations, which was recorded in 1989 but not released until 1992 due to difficulties of with their label at the time, Fire. It was with their fourth album, 1994’s His ‘n’ Hers, that the band was embraced by a larger audience, with the album hitting #9 on the UK album charts. 1995’s Different Class, fueled by the classic single “Common People,” was the one that made the band stars. The album debuted at #1 on the UK album charts and Pulp headlined Glastonbury in 1995, filling in for The Stone Roses, who dropped out at the last minute.
“I think there is a change between those records, and I think it had something to do with me joining the band,” said Mackey in 2005, of the band’s shifting fortunes. “I definitely had a role in contemporising the band’s sound, to some degree. I think I kind of encouraged that.”
Pulp’s newfound success timed with the Britpop movement and a slew of British indie rock bands storming the charts. “I can remember we had a very big obsession around that period about wanting to make pop records and to participate in mainstream culture,” Mackey said in our 2005 interview. “I can remember it was something we talked about a lot, that we’d never achieve anything out on the left field, we’d always be playing to a certain converted audience, and we saw that if we could somehow almost cheat our way into the mainstream it would be a better place for us, because it seemed better if we could participate in that world and prove that bands from the outer edges can participate in the mainstream. Because I think apart from the American music coming over, British music was pretty dead at the time. And I think that’s where what became Britpop came from. I think there were quite a few like-minded people who wondered why the chart seemed to be the domain of all the idiots and all the bad side of British music. And I think there was a bit of a desire to fit in with the mainstream somehow. We felt like outsiders, really. We came from the north and we had art school backgrounds, and different ideas to the mainstream culture that prevailed. And somehow we just thought maybe we’d be better off operating inside it, rather than on the edges. And it manifested itself in the music being a bit more accessible and optimistic in some ways, and slightly a bit more uplifting, really.”
1998’s Britpop comedown record, This Is Hardcore, also debuted at #1, although it was a difficult album to make. “I think it’s a very patchy record,” Mackey admitted in 2005. “I think it’s very erratic, but I think the title track’s probably the best song, it’s the song I’m proudest of.”
The band’s final album was 2001’s We Love Life (which was produced by Scott Walker). Pulp went on hiatus in 2003. “I felt like it was gonna be really hard to make another record,” explained Mackey in 2005 of the split. “And the last record had been a struggle. And I don’t think struggling is the way to make records. I think you need some energy and enthusiasm to make good records. And so I didn’t see the point in continuing to make another record.” But Pulp reformed in 2011 for various reuion tours until 2013, with another reunion tour scheduled for this summer.
Outside of Pulp, Mackey also worked with varous other artists as either a producer, songwriter, remixer, or session musician, including Arcade Fire, M.I.A., Florence + The Machine, Marianne Faithfull, The Long Blondes, Summer Camp, Black Box Recorder, The Horrors, Cornershop, The Kills, Death From Above 1979, Death in Vegas, and others.
Below is a selection of Pulp videos and albums.