45 45s @ 45 : SWC STYLE (Part 32)

A GUEST SERIES

14 – Sheela Na Gig – PJ Harvey (1992, Too Pure Records)

Released as a single in February 1992 (Reached Number 69)

“She said no, ah mate I’m sorry”. I’m outside the Hempstead Valley branch of Our Price with Dubstar Chris who has just asked out the girl who works behind the counter in the bookshop next door. Her name is Rachel and her mum owns the bookshop. He looks proper gutted to be honest, but he asks a girl out like once a week so he’ll bounce back.

We’ve known Rachel for a little while, and to be fair to her she was never ever going to go out with Dubstar Chris. For a starters she is about 21, he is just 17. She has her own car, he does not. She is funny, smart and seemingly very popular. Dubstar Chris is a bit of an arse.

Chris is now in a bad mood, which you can sort of understand, and he tells me that he is going home, which is a bit irritating because this means I have to kick about on my own in the shopping centre for the next hour – as that is when I am being picked up.

I wander into Our Price – largely because I was hoping that for some reason OPG might be working in here that day (she wasn’t, it wasn’t her store), but I also wanted to check out the 12 inches just in case there was something decent in there.

I pick up a couple of records and read the back covers in a pathetic attempt to waste time. I know that in about four minutes time I will be in WHSmith’s buying a magazine and the after that I will be sat in Burger King, trying to make a bean burger and fries last for thirty minutes.

As I turn round I see Rachel, she has popped from next door and she sees me and waves and walks over to me.

“Is he ok?” she asks me. I nod my head. I’ll be honest, I have a wee crush on Rachel from the bookshop, so I’m a little embarrassed but I think I manage to ride it out. Rachel laughs and said that Chris was sweet but she was really happy with Matt, who happens to be her boyfriend. I didn’t know about Matt. I decide that Matt is probably a very lucky man.

She tells me that she won’t mentioned this to Matt. I nod again and say that “it makes sense”. I apologise on Chris’s behalf. She laughs again and tells me not to worry about it.

Rachel suddenly reaches past me to grab a record and a waft of something fragrant hits me. Some of the older readers may remember, that in the early 90s The Body Shop used to do (and they still might) a range called White Musk and nearly every girl that meant anything to me, used it – but that was the first time I had ever smelt it. For some reason the 16 and a half year old me, thought it would be a wise thing to say to the most beautiful woman in the shopping centre

“You smell lovely”.

Not “I like your fragrance” or something else less weird but “you smell lovely”. I cringe now even typing it. Its Rachel’s turn to look a bit embarrassed (or on reflection just creeped out) she thanks me and tells me what it is “Its just White Musk from the Body Shop”

Queen – Perfume Genius (2014, Matador Records, Unknown Chart Position)

I rather too quickly say that I might buy some and then add, “for my girlfriend” and hope that she hadn’t noticed the pause. I mean that is what I meant but it still sounds like I’m a stalker or something.

Rachel is holding ‘Sheela Na Gig’ by PJ Harvey and I look at it and rapidly change the subject. “Is that good?” I ask. She nods and tells me that PJ Harvey is amazing. OPG had mentioned her a few weeks ago and I’d been meaning to check her out. Rachel tells me she has to go, and she walks very quickly to the counter, awkwardly waving at me as she leaves the store.

Bizarrely I had heard Polly Harvey sing before I even knew that PJ Harvey existed. In fact I’d seen Polly Harvey live before I even knew that PJ Harvey existed and that was because before her debut album came out she provided backing vocals on not one but two Family Cat singles and the first time I saw them live, she came on and sang her bits (supporting Carter at the ULU in London). The best of the two singles which feature her is

Colour Me Grey – The Family Cat (1991, Dedicated Records, Number 57)

SWC

ARE THESE VERSIONS SUPERIOR TO THE ALBUM CUTS?

PJ Harvey recorded their debut album, Dry, over the course of September – December 1991. It’s release, just three months later, was met with near universal critical acclaim, and rightly so.

In the middle of these recording sessions, the trio dropped into the BBC Maida Vale studios to record what would be a debut session for the John Peel Show. It comprised four tracks, all of which would subsequently appear on the debut album, including one that would be released as a single.

The session versions of the songs are quite different in sound and I am willing to make the case that they turned out superior to the album cuts. There’s a few reasons for my take on things, one being that the session versions have a rawness that a few months in the studio would eventually smooth out and in many ways what Peel gave to us was the energy and vibrancy of the live sets from that time.

Polly Jean Harvey’s vocals are also much more prominent and to the fore, especially on the version of Water in which she builds magnificently from quiet to loud, and in doing so provides a reminder of how much of an influence Pixies had on the sounds that she, Stephen Vaughan and Rob Ellis were making. There’s another band that springs to mind, particularly from the raw tightness of the band, and given that The Fall were so highly regarded by the veteran DJ, it is no surprise that he was one of the first to champion this new and emerging act.

Looking back over the timeline and it’s clear to see the importance and significance of this particular session. The trio’s debut gig in April 1991 to a local audience in the West Country hadn’t gone down well, with nobody quite prepared for the racket they were making. A relocation to London a few months later led to demos being recorded after which they were picked up the tiny indie label Too Pure. The debut 45 was Dress and it was made single of the week in Melody Maker, with the reviewer stating that he admired the way Polly Jean.. seems crushed by the weight of her own songs and arrangements, as if the air is literally being sucked out of them … “

The reviewer was John Peel. Within days they were booked and on 29 October they delivered these:-

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Oh My Lover
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Victory
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Sheela-Na-Gig
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Water

I can’t claim to have heard this session back in the day. My first inkling of it came the following year in May 1992 when Vox Magazine gave away a cassette called Radio Daze, featuring a fabulous mix of 15 tracks culled from various Peel Sessions over the years featuring The Cure, Madness, Happy Mondays, Babes in Toyland, Buzzcocks, Chicken Shack, The Undertones, Billy Bragg, Syd Barrett, The Only Ones, The Fall, PJ Harvey, Inspiral Carpets, The Birthday Party and The Damned.

It came out just a few weeks after Dry, an album that was giving me all sorts of aural pleasures, but I wasn’t prepared for the way I’d go nuts for the Peel Session version of Water. It took another 14 years before I got my hands on the other three tracks from the session. It was worth the wait.

JC

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (15/22)

Album : To Bring You My Love – PJ Harvey
Review : Rolling Stone, 9 March 1995
Author : Barbara O’Dair

“Call me Lazarus,” growls Polly Jean Harvey on the astonishing To Bring You My Love. It’s funny, it’s impressive, and we should take her at her word. Never a shrinking violet on record — and perhaps tired of being called a slip of a girl — Harvey bawls and shouts and moans her way through a set of blues-inspired tunes that are strange, skewed and solitary. “It’s my voodoo working,” she declaims elsewhere, and there’s nothing to say but “Yes, yes!”

On her first three albums, the heralded Dry (1992), the more problematic Rid of Me (1993) and the Rid of Me spinoff, 4-Track Demos (1993), Harvey rocked and roiled her way through female traumas and triumphs. While working traditional thematic turf — the body and soul of the suffering woman — she ripped to shreds staid truths about femininity. Such paradoxes generate power.

Harvey reckons with more than that, too: She has ambitions to remake rock & roll and its myths in her own guise. In the process she stretches her musical references. Her covers of such classics as Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” (on Rid of Me) and Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” (on John Peel’s British radio program) show an abiding interest in taking on the past, more particularly its male legends. In the same spirit in which Liz Phair answered the Rolling Stones on Exile in Guyville — but to a very different end — Harvey dive bombs the canon on To Bring You My Love.

She may get her sense of play from Captain Beefheart and her sense of drama from Patti Smith, but it’s the blues and blues-schooled greats whom Harvey transfigures — John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Jagger-Richards, Hendrix, Zeppelin. Nevertheless, listeners will probably find To Bring You My Love a relief after the beating producer Steve Albini gave the occasionally glorious Rid of Me. This time, Harvey co-produces (with U2 producer Flood and percussionist John Parish) for a result that combines Dry‘s ecstasy with Rid‘s agony. Harvey plays organ on every cut — along with singing and playing some guitar — adding still more dimension. The other musicians — guitarist Joe Gore, percussionists Jean-Marc Butty and Joe Dilworth, plus a string quartet on three tracks — help fuel the fire.

To Bring You My Love, full of portents, searching for grace, pulls its themes straight from the mythological terrain of the blues. Harvey forces personae to fit this music; her imagery is highly symbolic — not personal but essentially private. On the title track, over a chugging bass riff, she sings: “I was born in the desert/I’ve been down for years/Jesus, come closer/I think my time is near…. I’ve lain with the devil/Cursed God above/Forsaken heaven/To bring you my love.” On a hissing, rubbery blast called “Long Snake Moan,” a raw-voiced Harvey warns: “Bring me, lover/All your power…. In my dreaming/You’ll be drowning…. You oughta hear my long snake moan.”

On “The Dancer,” Harvey feelingly sings: “He came riding fast/Like a phoenix out of fire flames/He came dressed in black with a cross bearing my name/He came bathed in light and the splendor and glory/I can’t believe what the Lord has finally sent me.” And then she gives a few toy shrieks: it’s so over the top that you’re not sure her vision of a male savior on a horse isn’t a put-on.

So what’s this young, white, bluesdrenched woman doing? In attempting to create a sexual landscape as charged as the Midnight Rambler’s, Harvey envisions a teeming underworld where she is victim, aggressor and accomplice, song by song. The sexual menace, the left-behind woman, allegories about a son, a daughter, a “blue-eyed whore” — all these are put in the service of a primal vision on To Bring You My Love: Harvey’s bitter struggles with her demons and her wicked, wanton sympathy for the devil.

mp3 : PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Long Snake Moan
mp3 : PJ Harvey – The Dancer

JC adds : Try as I might, it was near impossible to find old album reviews by female journalists that are easily accessed on-line, certainly of the records that mean something to me.  I loved reading this and thinking back to everything that accompanied it, particularly the seemingly overnight and jaw-dropping change in PJ Harvey as she donned tight dresses, wore wigs, applied lurid shapes of lipstick and acted all seductive in the promo videos, styles she would then adopt when she made her return to the live setting.

Barbara O’Dair’s review captures the energy on show throughout the album, quietly acknowledging that after the disappointments associated with Rid of Me, the singer had taken full control of the entire process, dispensing with her old band, getting involved on the production side of things and determining that this new souped-up, aggressive and powerful sound required a look and style to match.  It’s the album that ensured PJ Harvey could leave behind the indie-circuit forever and provided the foundations for a career that has remained consistently outstanding.

 

THE JOY OF (a mixed) SEX (duet) : Couple #5

Adapted from wiki:-

“Young Hunting” is a traditional folk song that has its origin in Scotland. It can be traced back as far as the 18th century, being the tale of the eponymous protagonist, Young Hunting, who tells a woman, who may have borne him a child, that he is in love with another, more beautiful woman. Despite this, she persuades him to drink until he is drunk, then to come to her bedroom, or at least kiss her farewell. The woman then stabs him to death.

The tormented murderer then throws the body in the river but in doing so is taunted by a bird. She tries to lure the bird down from the tree but it tells her that she will kill it if it comes within reach. When the search for Young Hunting starts, she either denies seeing him or claims that he left earlier, but when Hunting’s remains are found, in order to revoke her guilt, she reveals that she murdered him and is later burned at the stake.

Like most traditional songs, numerous variants of the song exist worldwide, notably under the title of “Henry Lee” and “Love Henry” in the United States.

Nick Cave decided that he’d like to record a version of Henry Lee for inclusion as part of the Bad Seeds‘ ambitious 1996 album Murder Ballads, being a work (almost) entirely devoted to asongs of violent death, most often in tragic circumstances. He recorded a vocal in Australia and brought on board PJ Harvey who recorded her vocal separately in England.

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Henry Lee

The results were astonishing and led to Mute Records demanding it be released as a single, for which this promo was shot:-

The couple, having met, embarked on a short relationship (seemingly just four months in length), the aftermath of which led to Cave composing a number of break-up songs that would appear on his next album The Boatman’s Call – it should be noted, however, that most of the album’s material, including the haunting Into My Arms, deals with the six-year marriage he had enjoyed with Brazilian journalist Viviane Carneiro.

JC

TAKE A CHANCE ON ME…..

So….you happen to be high up on Island Records in the early 90s and you’ve just won a bidding war to sign one of the hottest new and likely unique talents to emerge from the British music scene in many a year. A trio, fronted by a strong-willed 21-year old woman who, going by the interviews in the music press, has her head screwed-on the right way and well aware of the pitfalls which have ruined the hopes and dreams of many who had preceded her. A woman who had taken her time to select your label on the basis that you were offering that best combination of financial backing while conceding a fair degree of artistic control.

The debut album, on the indie label, has received universally good reviews. The sales are impressive. John Peel has given his approval. Nothing can go wrong can it?

You try to ignore the whispers that the star of the trio – the one whose name is intertwined with that of the band, the one of whom all the media focusses its attention and the one who, let’s face it was the reason the label went in so hard – those scary whispers that she’s not doing so well from the break-up of a relationship and the songs she’s penning have a lot of pent-up anger and frustration in them. This isn’t what you gambled on is it?

You await, with a degree of trepidation, on the first new single.

Oh my…..it proves to be an ugly and tough record. It sounds quite insane and you can just picture the fanboys in the music press doing the about-turn and declaring it the ravings of a crazy lady. One second she’s screaming that she’s king of world and then she’s whispering things about bent-over Casanovas and making no sense whatsoever…there’s no way this will get any airplay and nobody will buy it. Time to write off your investment as a huge mistake….

mp3 : PJ Harvey – 50ft Queenie

Except, of course, it didn’t turn out that way. I’m not even sure if the folk at Island were ever really that bothered about it – I’ve just generalised on the basis of how almost every major music label has treated its female signings throughout history – conform or get out.

50ft Queenie was a single unlike any other back in 1992. It was the perfect launch pad for the album Rid Of Me, a work of art which fused punk, blues and the avant-garde strangeness of Captain Beefheart and his ilk. Polly Jean Harvey had been held up as someone who would be massive in the world of indie-pop and here she was, making a record that was certainly not pop and didn’t fit comfortably into any description of indie, no matter how wide you defined the genre.

The single reached #27 in April 1993. It remains, outside of A Perfect Day Elise (which reached #25 in 1998), the highest chart position for any of the 45s.

I was surprised by that too…..

Here’s yer b-sides from the CD single:-

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Reeling
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Man-Size (demo)
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Hook (demo)

JC

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (2)

I’ve often mentioned how picking up a single or album and looking at the release date has an ability to make me feel old and/or provided a jolt to the system when you realise just how long ago it was.  I did it again yesterday, and today’s offering is perhaps the ultimate for that particular sensation.

PJ Harvey’s debut single was released in October 1991.  That’s 26 years ago.  That’s the best part of half of my lifetime. And yet I still think of her as a relatively new kid on the rock’n’roll block………..

It’s worth recalling that Dress, along with all the other songs that made up the first two albums, were the work of an acknowledged trio that worked under the name of their enigmatic yet charismatic frontwoman.  Rob Ellis on drums and Ian Olliver on bass were the players on the debut single , although the bassist would soon be replaced by Stephen Vaughan in advance of the recording of the sophomore single and debut album. There was also a double bass contribution to Dress from Ben Groenevelt.

The years haven’t diminished the impact of Dress as a calling card by an unknown band.  It’s big, bold, booming, boisterous and bloody brilliant. It’s memorable, mesmerizing and magnificent.  It’s delightfully danceable.  It’s phenomenal.

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Dress

I have to hold my hands up and admit that I missed out on its release.  My first exposure to PJ Harvey came, as so many things did in those days, via Jacques the Kipper when he included Sheela-Na-Gig on one of his regular compilation tapes, a tune that made such an impression on me that I bought the CD album the very next day and that would have been the first time I ever heard Dress which stood out even among an album of astounding songs.

The version of Dress on the album is the same as that released as a 45 a few months earlier – that much can be deduced from the credit given to Ian Olliver.  It was released on CD and in 12” format with the latter now fetching around £20 on the second-hand market.  Even the CD can attract the best part of £10.

The two tracks on the b-side were Water and Dry; the former would appear on the debut LP released in March 1992 while the latter, despite being the title of said debut LP, would turn up on the follow-up Rid Of Me the following year after which the trio would split up and PJ Harvey would become a solo project, albeit Rob Ellis would remain an essential part of the new set-up.  The credits on the sleeve of Dress indicate that its b-sides were recorded and produced by PJ Harvey and so are different versions to those that would appear on the albums.  So I’m guessing they were demo versions and I’ve only been able to source one of them:-

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Water

But is Dress the finest 45 from PJ Harvey?

IMHO…………..Yes.

JC

PS : If I’ve got it wrong about the b-sides, then I apologise. If someone out there does have rips of the actual b-sides than I’d happilly receive copies and give you credit right below here….

STATS THAT MIGHT SURPRISE YOU…..

pj-harvey-cmon-billy-80799

Let’s have a quick quiz question….

How many times has a PJ Harvey single appeared in the Top 20 of the UK charts??

Those of you who said ‘None’ are correct. Incredible to believe that such a critically acclaimed artist, and one whose tours of decent-sized venues sell our pretty quickly, has never gotten any higher than #25 in the singles charts despite almost 30 attempts at doing so. Indeed, the stats paint a pretty depressing picture as only nine of her singles have ever made it into the Top 40, only one of which has been this century.

Things are surely better on the album front, so let’s have another question.

How many times has a PJ Harvey album appeared in the Top 10 of the UK charts?

The answer is ‘Three’

Rid Of Me in 1993; Let England Shake in 2011; and The Hope Six Demolition Project which gave her a first ever #1 earlier this year.

Incidentally, the dreadful state of the music industry can be seen from the fact that this album went to #1 on the basis of less than 11,500 sales in the first week of its eagerly awaited release. I’m terrified to think how low the sales are for bands on the smaller, indie-labels.

The stats also show that PJ’s best-selling album is Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, the Mercury Prize winner released back in 2000. In terms of the charts, it peaked at #23 but has been a consistent seller over the years and has recently just gone above 300,000 sales.

Part of the problem is that PJ Harvey has released songs that were just ahead of their time in that their unfamiliar style or sound would become popular a short while later but other bands would get all the glory. Such as this from 1995 which to my ears has something that dragged Radiohead to world-wide fame and fortune the following year:-

mp3 : PJ Harvey – C’mon Billy

The three extra tracks on the single are well worth a listen….all completely different in form and delivery and yet all so typically PJ Harvey.

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Darling Be There
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Maniac
mp3 : PJ Harvey – One Time Too Many

Enjoy.

BONUS POSTING : DRESS x 3

pjmbe

It’s kind of pot luck which member of the royal family you’ll get to pin on the medal you’ve been awarded in the twice-yearly honours list. As you can spot from the above photo, the delightful PJ Harvey, having been listed in the June 2013 Awards for achievements in music, got hers from the woman once portrayed in a movie by Helen Mirren.

This is another song inspired by a random appearance on the ipod, but it was this rather wonderful acoustic version:-

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Dress (live, WHFS)

This was recorded in the early 90s for a radio station that is based in Rockville, Maryland (yup….the very same Rockville once namechecked at length in a song by R.E.M.)

The original is, of course, a bona fide classic:-

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Dress

So how about we round things off with the demo version so you can hear how much it subsequently developed…

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Dress (demo)

Enjoy

PS : The reason for this burst of activity on the bonus posting front will become clear quite soon….

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #063 : PJ HARVEY

JC writes…….

This is a genuine moment of excitement for me.

In all the years since I first blogged I have aspired to match the quality of writing and/or deliver the breadth of ideas that are constantly on show at Plain Or Pan?, courtesy of the talents of its sole contibutor Phil Spector (although in recent times he has dropped the non-de-plume for the good old fashioned and very Scottish Craig McAllister)

I’m thrilled that he’s come on board with an ICA, and featuring an artist much loved by so many readers. Oh and he supplied today’s unforgetable image too…..

pj-h

Over to Craig……..

Following a recent post on Plain Or Pan, JC wrote me a lovely and flattering begging letter, asking if I’d contribute a piece on PJ Harvey for The Vinyl Villain. Now, just to qualify, I’m no expert on Polly Jean. I’m a huge fan and I have most of her back catalogue (the odd collaborative effort aside) and while there are other artists that I obsess far more over and go to first when choosing something to play on the rare occasion I have the house to myself, PJ is always somewhere in the background, shuffling up unannounced but always welcome on my iPod during the commute to work, or peeking out at me in-between my George Harrison and Richard Hawley albums. The bulk of her music still thrills and amazes and stands up to repeated listens long after the time of release, which is surely the mark of a true artist.

It’s incredible to think that PJ Harvey has been making records for nigh on a quarter of a century. From the lo-fi scuzz of Dry via the Patti Smith-isms of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea and the stark, piano-only White Chalk right up to her most recent collection of WW1-themed songs on Let England Shake (not forgettting the one-off single in support of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Shaker Aamer), she’s one of our most consistent musicians. Daring, unpredictable and true to herself, she’s right up there with the best of ’em.

Excitingly, she has a new LP in the offing. April, I believe. The first fruits are spinning heavily on BBC 6Music every day just now, and they’re sounding terrific. As a primer, JC asked me to collate a compilation for the uninitiated, put together any way I saw fit.

I begin with the caveat that the tracks I’ve chosen today might not necessarily be the ones I’d chose tomorrow, but I’ve chosen one track from each of her 8 studio LPs (excluding the 4 Track Demos stop-gap LP or those collaborative efforts mentioned earlier). Some of the tracks were singles, some were hidden away in the darkest corners of the album from whence they came. All are classic PJH; garagey, bluesy and occasionally down right dirty. There’s the odd bit of cello and throw-away sweary word. But there’s always the voice, her primal moans sexy as hell one moment, skyscrapingly stratospheric the next.

Sheela Na Gig

Sheela Na Gig was PJ’s second single and also appeared on Dry, her debut LP. She sets her stall out early here, singing about ‘child bearing hips‘ and ‘ruby red lips’. Hearing this for the first time as a 21 year old, I had no idea what a Sheela Na Gig was (Google it), so I listened to this thinking “Oh! Aye!” I always had this faint idea from then on in that one day she’d go out with me, until she met that bastard Nick Cave. Oh well, her loss.

50ft Queenie

50 ft Queenie was the lead single from 2nd album Rid Of Me. Rid Of Me is such a quiet record, which has always irked me. For an artist who apparently revels in creating a whirlwind of chaotic noise, the album seemed so quiet and tame by comparison. I’m sure there must be some sort of audiophile reason for it, subsonic frequencies and the likes, but who knows? When you play it next to something like, oh, I dunno, Definitely Maybe (like comparing jam with cheese, I know), PJ’s album sounds limp and flimsy compared to the sonic boom of the monobrowed magpies.

Anyway. 50ft Queenie. The drum track sounds like the Eastenders theme falling down the stairs, a right royal ramalama of tumbling toms and clattering cymbals all underpinned with a bluesy riff and topped off with those sexy/skyscraping moans and screams. “You bend ovah, Casa-nova…” Indeed. Great one note guitar solo too.

I have a clear memory of seeing her perform this in the Barrowlands, wearing a pink feather boa, knee high boots of shiny, shiny leather, a Gretsch Country Gentleman and not much more. A spectacular sight and sound. If you’ve never heard this before, make sure you strap yourself in first.

Come On Billy

Come On Billy can be found on the Mercury-nominated To Bring You My Love LP. Featuring some frantically scrubbed acoustic guitar and see-sawing cello, it’s PJ’s Nick Cave (aye, him again) moment. There’s a terrific, understated string section playing below the whole way through, the first evidence that PJ had more to her arsenal than bent blues notes screaming through a tower of Marshall stacks. I’ve always liked how she hiccups her way through the adlibbed chorus at the end.

The Wind

The Wind (from the Is This Desire? LP) is a slow-burning cracker. For such a slight ‘n skinny woman, PJ’s tune packs more muscle than it has any right to. It‘s her Barry Adamson moment; filmic, bass-heavy and full of brooding menace.

It fades in on a ripple of marimba and a stutter of just-plugged-in guitar, with PJ’s vocal quickly taking centrestage. Whisper-in-your-ear sultriness one moment, understated falsetto the next, it tells the story of St Catherine of Abbotsbury who built a chapel high on a hill near to where PJ lives.

The whole track is carried along by the bassline. When it comes in, after that second ‘noises like the whales’ line, it brings to mind some New York street punk, hands deep in the pockets of his leather bomber jacket, docker’s hat pulled hard and low over his forehead, eyes shifting from left to right and back again, looking to start trouble, looking to avoid trouble, but, looking for trouble.

It’s produced masterfully by Flood who brings an electro wash to the finished result. In fact, it wouldn’t sound out of place on any given recording by Harvey’s fellow West Country contemporaries Tricky and Massive Attack. There’s subtle tingaling percussion, quietly scraping cello and layers of synthetic noise. When the vocals begin their counter-melodies in the chorus, it’s pure Bjork.

Kamikaze

Kamikaze is taken from Stories From the City, Stories From The Sea, PJ’s second Mercury-nominated LP. Her most straightforward pop/rock album, most of the tracks had the knack of sounding like Patti Smith on steroids.

Kamikaze is terrific, a down-the-hill-with-no-brakes-on, headlong rush of close-mic’d guitars, polyrhythmic drums and yet more skyscraping hysterics. It’s a close cousin of 50ft Queenie , only with far better production and mastering.

If you’re new to PJ and any of these tracks have so far piqued your curiosity, I’d start with this track’s parent album and take things from there.

Who The Fuck?

Now we’re talking! PJ’s angry. Someone’s pissed her off and she can’t wait to tell us. Coming across like a demented Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, WTF? kicks like an angry mule, a fuzztoned, vocally distorted, brilliant mess of a record.

It’s a sloppy, stroppy, brilliantly sweary track. If you took ten wasps in a jar and stuck them in a food blender with the short-lived RRRRRiot Grrrrrrl movement, it would sound something like this.

The Devil

The White Chalk LP is a difficult listen. Very difficult. I listened to it once then filed it away. For the purposes of this article I dug it out again and spent one dreary afternoon (it’s only about 35 mins long, but honestly, I’d rather stick pencils in my eye than have to listen to it again) waiting patiently until I ‘got it’. I still don’t.

I chose The Devil as it’s the lead track, and from experience, the lead track is usually a statement of intent from the artist. Well, PJ sets her stall out early with this one. The whole album is funereal in pace, delicate, flimsy and abso-fucking-lutely boring. PJ coos and woos and plays her piano with all the deftness of a concert pianist, but damn, there’s nothing there that grabs. No balls-out rockers, no dirty, sweary, innuendo-filled garage band fizzers. Nothing. For all its gossamer-thin lightness, it’s an extremely heavy listen. Maybe you think differently. For me, it’s the one clunker in a stellar back catalogue. And every artist is allowed the occasional clunker, aye?

The Glorious Land

Following the stark, piano-led White Chalk, Let England Shake was PJ’s triumphant return to the guitar. Much of the album is loosely concept, relating to the atrocities of WW1. If this seems a bit heavy, the music therein was often light and airy; gone for the most part were the blooze blunderbuss guitars, replaced with lightly chiming 6 strings, clean and pleasant on the ear. Radio 2 music, even.

The Glorious Land begins with such a guitar, playing atop a rallying military bugle. Without getting too ‘muso’ about it, the chord changes are sublime and the vocals are always to the fore. There’s almost a male/female duet in the verses, between PJ and (I think) a moonlighting Mick Harvey who come across like a 21st century Lee ‘n Nancy on helium, while PJ duets gloriously with herself in the chorus and outro. You might want to discover the rest of this album for yourself. It’s one of her best.

And there you have it, 8 tracks o’ PJ. A cross-album introduction I’d be happy to pass on to anyone with a PJ curiosity.

Craig McAllister

http://www.plainorpan.com

mp3 : PJ Harvey : Sheela Na Gig
mp3 : PJ Harvey : 50ft Queenie
mp3 : PJ Harvey : C’Mon Billy
mp3 : PJ Harvey : The Wind
mp3 : PJ Harvey : Kamikaze
mp3 : PJ Harvey : Who The Fuck?
mp3 : PJ Harvey : The Devil
mp3 : PJ Harvey : The Glorious Land

And here’s a couple of collaborations just so that you ICA purists get your 10 songs:-

mp3 : PJ Harvey and John Parish – Black Hearted Love
mp3 : Desert Sessions feat. Josh Homme & PJ Harvey – Crawl Home

Enjoy

WOW

220px-Down_by_the_Water_single
Back in the early days, during the promotion of the first couple of albums, whenever PJ Harvey took to the stage for a gig or made a rare live TV appearance her appearance wasn’t that far removed from a 20-something indie-student going to the local union. Hair swept back and held in place by an Alice band and everyday clothes such as baggy black jumpers, leggings or jeans, all rounded off with a pair of trainers or Doc Martens.

She was determined to let the music do the talking and image was secondary.

But that all changed dramatically during the recording of the LP To Bring You My Love which was released in February 1995. I don’t think I was alone in being gobsmacked when I first caught sight of the promo for the lead-off single.

Long flowing black hair. Bright red lipstick around a mouth that pouted at the camera. A ruby-red designer dress that showed a vamp with a gorgeous figure. High heels. Slinky dancing. PJ submerged underwater. A vision of absolute loveliness.

It really should have been a massive hit and deserved much more than the paltry #38 it achieved in the UK.

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Down By The Water

Over in the States, it was a different story – the single was massive on the US Modern Rock chart partly because the video, unsurprisingly, was on heavy rotation on MTV. It was clear that PJ Harvey had decided to play along with the game, and the image was every bit now as important as the songs.

Here’s your b-sides:-

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Lying In The Sun
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Somebody’s Down, Somebody’s Name

Oh and interesting to note that the sleeve of this single would probably get banned nowadays thanks to the cigarette in Polly Jean’s right hand. Strange how much some things have changed in the past 20 years.

AND WHEN IT WAS WARM SHE DIDN’T WEAR MUCH MORE

Raspberry_Beret

Hindu Love Gods was an American rock band that was, in essence, an occasional side project of  R.E.M.

The band debuted with three scattered gigs (all in Athens, Georgia) in 1984. They played mostly cover tunes, though a few unreleased originals also made it into the mix. The first gig took place on Valentine’s Day, 1984, and featured Bryan Cook (vocals and piano, a member of Athens bands Oh-OK and Time Toy), and R.E.M. members Bill Berry (drums) Peter Buck (guitar) and Mike Mills (bass). The follow-up gig took place two weeks later; added to the line-up was R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe on vocals and drums, and Warren Zevon on vocals.

Zevon’s career stretched back to the late 60s and for over 30 years until his death from cancer in 2003 at the age of 56, he was a huge influence on many big hitters and popular artists within the American music industry without himself ever enjoying much mainstream success. He was also an almost complete-unknown here in the UK.

The third and final gig of 1984 was in June and featured the Cook/Berry/Buck/Mills line-up.

Hindu Love Gods went into the studio as a quintet that summer, with the line-up of Berry/Buck/Cook/Mills/Zevon. They recorded two songs for release as a single, which were eventually issued two years later. The A-Side, Gonna Have A Good Time Tonight was a cover of an Easybeats tune; the B-side, Narrator was a Bill Berry composition that R.E.M. had played live, but never recorded.

After a period of inactivity, Hindu Love Gods played one 1986 gig in Athens as a benefit gig for the family of a musician who had died in a car accident. The line-up for this performance was Berry, Buck, Cook, Mills and Stipe.

Buck, Mills and Berry later joined Zevon as his back-up band while recording the latter’s solo album Sentimental Hygiene  in 1987. During an all-night (and supposedly drunken) session in the midst of recording said album, they also churned out ten cover songs. None of these were intended for release, but such was the demand for R.E.M. product just a few years later that an LP called Hindu Love Gods was released on Giant Records in 1990.

A single was also released. This is the 12″ version:-

mp3 : Hindu Love Gods – Raspberry Beret
mp3 : Hindu Love Gods – Wang Dang Doodle
mp3 : Hindu Love Gods – Mannish Boy

You’ll need to excuse the little hops and skips on the two b-sides as the plastic is second hand and not in great nick….but you’ll hopefully get an idea that it all sounds like some guys who have a love for the blues just enjoying themselves in a recording studio because they can.  But it doesn’t float my boat all that much.  Here’s another cover version of one of those songs which is a unique sort of take on the blues:-

mp3 : PJ Harvey – Wang Dang Doodle (Peel Session)

Enjoy