Living with…PJ Harvey…for a week

On September 11th 2001 Polly Jean Harvey, musician, known as PJ Harvey was in Washington DC and that day witnessed events as they unfolded in the US Capital.  That evening she became the first woman to win the Mercury music prize for her album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea and with no other option accepted the award on the phone from her hotel room in Washington with the words “It has been a very surreal day. All I can say is thank you very much, I am absolutely stunned.”

Ten years later she is present when she becomes the first artiste to win the Mercury music prize for the second time with her album Let England Shake.

I’ll confess to being a little bit scared of PJ Harvey’s music from the scraps that I have heard – she is known to be challenging and not always accessible.

So here goes, a week with PJ….what’s the worst that could happen?

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WAR.  WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?  ABSOLUTELY NOTHING

With the opening lyrics,

The west’s asleep, let England shake/ Weighted down with silent dead

I know I’m in the presence of a war album, and as I struggled through the first awkward listen I realised that there are some heavy stories behind these songs.  As I searched further I found this is THE war album.  Songs of Gallipoli, the First World War.  These are the songs of blasted soldiers full of bleakness, dark humour and craving for the England they are away from.

As I continue to listen I found the songs become uncomfortable – they are sad and wistful, at times uncomfortable.  Then by the middle of the week I find for the most that wistfulness becomes beautiful.  I’m hooked.

Of particular beauty, the opener Let England Shake, the single The Words That Maketh Murder and Written on the Forehead.  But like a poppy field, their beauty often hides disturbing images.   The album also contains a truly awful song, England, I’m sorry PJ it doesn’t do it for me.

But the highlight is On Battleship Hill, another song of Gallipoli looking back from many years on.  Nature has taken over  “The scent of thyme carried on the wind stings my face into remembering” but the bitter memories are still there.  It’s my video of the week, opening with the lyrics read out by an older German man:

The video comes from an amazing collection posted by letenglandshake. Each song on the album has been recorded as a short film, arty and obscure at times but maybe the best way in to this challenging collection.

So I’d recommend trying PJ’s Let England Shake.  If you want an easy time go for a glass of Adele, but for a challenge and songs that will last a little longer a spiked PJ shake might just be the thing.

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Twotes of the week

@Dotwinter: I think strong winds are God’s way of saying ‘Wooohoouoshouhhhh, wsssssssssssssssssh, wheeeeeeeowwww. Swwswsssssh’.

@ePolitix: Deputy Commons leader David Heath advises MPs not to believe what they read in the Daily Mail

@padbury: Can someone please break up with Alanis Morissette? I’ve been feeling pretty chipper lately and she’s overdue for an album.

@thekeithchegwin: Does the remote control go inside the dinner knife or outside the soup spoon

@mental_floss: Barry Manilow’s hit “I Write the Songs” was not written by Barry Manilow.

@SeagullSongs: They should finish the Proms with GOSBTS. #justsaying

@jacques_aih: “High School musical show to be sponsored by furry boot manufacturer”. Ugg/Glee scenes.

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