Steve Mackey, a mainstay of the Britpop band Pulp, dies at 56

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Steve Mackey, a mainstay of the Britpop band Pulp, dies at 56
Shortly after he joined that long-running group in 1987, it rose from obscurity to chart-topping success in what came to be called the Cool Britannia era.

by Alex Williams

NEW YORK, NY.- Steve Mackey, the lauded bassist, songwriter and producer who made his name laying down dance-floor-friendly grooves for the British band Pulp during its 1990s pinnacle, as it transformed itself from a little-known art-rock collective to a festival-headlining Britpop powerhouse, died Thursday. He was 56.

His death was announced on social media by his wife, Katie Grand. She did not say where he died or cite a cause, although she noted that he had died “after three months in hospital, fighting with all his strength and determination.”

With Hollywood-worthy looks and an image of tailored cool, Mackey provided the pulsing bass lines that helped whip audiences into a frenzy as Pulp cycled through glam-rock, acid-house, disco and indie-pop influences on 1990s anthems like “Common People” and “Disco 2000,” two of the five Top 10 singles the band notched in Britain.

Pulp also had five Top 10 albums, including the celebrated “Different Class” in 1995.

Mackey recorded five studio albums with Pulp over the course of a decade, starting with “Separations” in 1992. His tenure coincided with the most commercial and critically acclaimed era for this long-running, ever-evolving band, as it emerged from obscurity in Sheffield, England, and, after a series of false starts, took its place in the English pop firmament along with Oasis, Blur and other supernovas of the so-called Cool Britannia era.

In 1995, the influential British music magazine Melody Maker anointed Pulp the band of the year — a notable accomplishment in a year that also saw the release of Oasis’ era-defining album “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” That same year, the band headlined the star-studded Glastonbury rock festival after the scheduled headliners, the Stone Roses, dropped out.

It was a meteoric rise for a garage-band bassist who had started his association with the band as a mere fan.

Stephen Patrick Mackey was born Nov. 10, 1966, in Sheffield, a historically industrial city in South Yorkshire, England. He was in his late teens when he started catching gigs by Pulp, which was already a respected band on the local scene.

Jarvis Cocker, the band’s lead singer, made an immediate impression with his haunted air and chiseled looks. “I was amazed by Jarvis,” Mackey said in a 2021 video interview. “He was really a striking frontman, and the songs were really powerful; they’re quite dark as well.”

It was while he was playing in band called Trolley Dog Shag that Mackey befriended Cocker, although he did not entertain thoughts of lobbying to play with Pulp. “They seemed self-contained, quite aloof,” he said in a 1996 interview for the band’s website. “I was into really noisy bands, garage bands, and Pulp were like an art band.”

Besides, the band, formed in 1978, hardly seemed on a fast track to stardom. By the time Mackey joined in 1987, Pulp had cycled through multiple lineups and had failed to generate much of a stir with its first two albums, “It” (1983) and “Freaks” (1986).

The band began developing a more pop-friendly sound, and the first single from “Separations,” the ice-cool dance track “My Legendary Girlfriend,” finally gave Pulp a taste of mainstream success. The British music newspaper NME named it a “single of the week.”

Pulp would continue to chart for the rest of the decade, but disbanded after its 2001 album, “We Love Life.” In the ensuing years, Mackey, who had contributed to the writing of the band’s songs along with Cocker and the other members, kept busy as a producer and songwriter, working with bands like Arcade Fire and Florence + the Machine.

He had a cameo role in the 2005 film “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” as the bassist for a wizard supergroup called Weird Sisters, alongside Cocker, as well as Jonny Greenwood and Philip Selway of Radiohead.

Mackey was an avid photographer, and he spun out a side career in the 2010s shooting fashion campaigns for brands like Armani Exchange and Marc Jacobs while collaborating with his wife, a stylist and fashion journalist, on her fashion magazine, Love.

He joined Pulp on a reunion tour in 2011 and 2012, but declined to join one scheduled for this year, explaining on social media last October that he desired “to continue the work I’m engaged in — music, filmmaking and photography projects.”

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son, Marley; his parents, Kath and Paul; and his sister, Michelle.

After Mackey’s death, Cocker posted on Instagram a photo of Mackey trekking up a rocky trail in the Andes in 2012.

“We had a day off & Steve suggested we go climbing in the Andes,” Cocker wrote. Calling it a “magical experience,” he continued: “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.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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