Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wet/Water: P.J.Harvey

So then, how wet is the "Dry" hit maker? Well, quite a bit really, not least with this track on the aforesaid LP. OK, call it contrived, but there is quite a shower (sorry) of songs pertaining to this increasingly unclassifiable English singer-songwriter.

Always effortlessly quirky in both look and deed, Polly Jean was, just, a child of the 60s, a decade her parents seems to have partaken to the fill, introducing her to the joys of blues, Beefheart and Bob Dylan from an early age. Hailing from the english west country, with the accent to boot, she started her musical life as a member of local musical collective, Automatic Dlamini, with whom, astonishingly, she played saxophone. But it wasn't until she peeled off to form her own trio that she became better known, again, as is so often the tale, through the support of maverick radio DJ, John Peel, a frequently namecheck in these pieces. Indeed, it was he, by chance, as guest reviewer in  venerable inky, New Musical Express, who gave her debut single, 'Dress' the status of single of the week. As a response and reaction to that, she played a session for his radio show, which included a live version of the song featured above, 'Water'.

Aware of her name, it wasn't really until her 3rd LP that I really pricked up my ears. Or maybe eyes, as this stunning footage from Glastonbury demonstrates, as she more fully embraces an evanescent theatrical sexuality into her persona. And a much wider sonic landscape:

Ostensibly leaving her band behind her, she then both explored her career as lead name and in collaborations, musically and romantically, notably a liaison, of both hues, with Nick Cave, whose 'The Boatman's Call' is said to be based on their time, which adds yet another watery element to the mix. Her next record was 2000's 'Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea', which is as wet as I can reference here, but is a gorgeous song, featuring the additional vocal of Radiohead-er, Thom Yorke:

Well into her stride, despite or because the accolades accruing, it seemed time to alter the template, which she did with a vengeance, 2007's 'White Chalk' being near entirely piano based, if anything bleaker and starker than her scrubbed and sparse guitar. And whilst I can't find any moisture within the songtitles, let me indulge myself otherwise by offering the fact that one Flood is a co-producer. And play the standout track, end-piece, "The Mountain":

To come nearly as far up to date as her recorded output allows, here's a short film, made by Seamus Murphy, to accompany 'The Last Living Rose', a modern folk song, or I think it is, from 2011's 'Let England Shake', a truthfully groundshaking record, made during the height of the Afghan conflict, within a nation divided as to the legality and provenance of said warfare. For many the album of her career, and certainly, in many publications, the album of that year. (Yes, and it is her playing the saxophone.)

Never an easy listen, oft compared to a harpy or to a banshee, Harvey continues to challenge, continues to apply her music with an astringent tongue, lashing all into hearing her voice. With all of us mainly water, she seems saltier and more bitter than most. Go seek and rummage here, for what flotsam and jetsam she has left in her wake........

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