Written by Liz Buckley

Arts

Why I ❤️ PJ Harvey

Is Liz Buckley excited about the arrival of a new album by the visceral banshee? Does Bouzouki shit in the woods? Wait, what?

Photo by Dave Mitchell.

Photo by Dave Mitchell.

Singer, songwriter, guitarist, saxophonist, poet, actor, sculptor, soundtrack and theatre composer, writer, bassist, pianist, harpist, violinist, public speaker, producer, painter, designer, photographer, collaborator, film maker, drummer… what a fucking show-off.

No! What I’m trying to say is that Polly Jean Harvey is a phenomenally talented person in every art form you can name and if you think I’m exaggerating, she also plays the bouzouki. Which I’m not even sure exists; at a push I would probably have said it was the niece of Godzilla.

The only musician to have ever won the Mercury Music Prize twice (having been nominated a whopping four times in all – an extra special feat considering the prize was set up to encourage new talent), the extent to which she keeps growing and changing warrants this level of recognition.

It’s already been five years since she was awarded the NME Outstanding Contribution to Music accolade, as though she was even halfway done. Am fully expecting her next gong ‘Ridiculous Contribution Levels to Bloody Everything’ to be announced before she’s even got a single grey hair.

“If you thought Blur were clever for always changing with each album, PJ Harvey has done a damn sight more for that description than dig up Phil Daniels and make Red Leicester.”

Polly’s image and style has been all things to all people. A raw, visceral banshee in black jeans and jackboots screaming about sex and anger. A laced-up Victorian angel in high-neck Miss Havisham wedding gear singing of landscapes and the elements. A neon-pink catsuited stick insect in bright block-coloured eyeshadow and lipstick stalking like a sex doll in the wind. A Stars and Stripes-clad cowgirl taking down America from within. A blood-red satin-dressed grieving lover and mother.

And now, with her new album, a poet, film-maker and artist observing the war-torn and impoverished cities of the world with a critical distance, almost removed from the project as though describing it from above.

Her projects have shown her to be a brutal AND ethereal mix of past, present and future, which is, in short, everything. Her albums have alternately been defined as alt rock, punk, blues, avant-garde, electronica, indie and folk. Try filing that in HMV.

So if you thought Blur were clever for always changing with each album, PJ Harvey has done a damn sight more for that description than dig up Phil Daniels and make Red Leicester.

My appreciation for Polly Harvey is immense, and I would travel through wind and fire to see or hear whatever she does. I would forgive her anything. And indeed, I already have. She tests me, like any God. I was a loyal indie kid fan in vegetarian DMs and a petition on a clipboard protesting just about everything when she announced to the music press she was OK with fox hunting. I reeled before deciding she owns chickens, she grew up in the country, she’s just being protective of lovely, fluffy hens.

She went from being PJ Harvey the three-piece band to PJ Harvey the solo artist, which was a complete mind-fuck in terms of where you put her in your record collection. But I enjoyed the quirk – fuck with the geeks, yeah! Whenever I see her name I still think it’s Pyjamas Harvey, but I’ve decided that is cute.

“I’m utterly glad she was offered an MBE because that means the Queen has heard of PJ Harvey.”

She dated Vincent Gallo, who’s always struck me as an insufferable, self-aggrandising creep, but this relationship was ART darling. And hey, she probably doesn’t like him either, that’s why they split up – love her right-mindedness!

She broke my darling Nick Cave’s bloody heart, but that’s OK because he then wrote the most beautiful music about how upset he was and he’s now very happily married to Susie Cave. So it was all for the best!

PJ recorded her latest album The Hope Six Demolition Project in front of paying punters while trapped in a custom-built white box with one-way glass like a zoo exhibit as part of an art installation at Somerset House. That’s fine, it’s not pretentious – it was lovely to see her. Even if she can’t see me.

She accepted an MBE, despite any political leanings you might detect in her lyrics, but I’m utterly glad she was offered one because that means the Queen has heard of PJ Harvey.

Most recently, she wrote a book of poems. Jesus. But then she read them out at the Royal Festival Hall in her beautiful quietly spoken voice and I swooned like a 16-year-old boy with a pubic moustache.

What I’m trying to say is, I love her with all my heart, unconditionally, for all time and through the ages. She’s inspirational, she makes sense of all that hurts and nothing she can do is anything other than sensational. I might even write a poem about it. While buying a bouzouki. Or firing one; maybe that’s what you do with them.

My essential PJ Harvey playlist includes Peel Sessions, demos, Dylan covers, collaborations with Nick Cave, Marianne Faithfull, Tricky and Thom Yorke. Play it loud.

@liz_buckley

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Written by Liz Buckley

Department manager at an independent record company. Liker of Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. Very sudden laugh. Pasty but tasty. Quite tired.