Disappointment, scorching heat, loss, anger, heartbreak, vengeance…no, I’m not talking about the World Cup again, but rather the firebrand Polly Jean Harvey, who seems to excite almost universal fervour in the music press every time she releases something, and rarely, if ever, has she failed to live up to her promise.
Though her albums will undoubtedly occupy a niche in any serious rock music collector’s collection, her canon of Peel sessions cannot be ignored, like a growling dog with hurt and pain in its voice that will not be pacified however much you feed it. And here are nine of them, covering most of the ground that the 2006 collection did not (‘Taut’ is missing from the first 1996 session, as is all of the October one, with John Parrish and a band. I tried.) However, I have included somewhat of an omission to her history: the two numbers she did live on the Peel Show as a surprise guest in 1992. (These are not listed in Ken Garner’s The Peel Sessions). It’s fitting that she chooses to cover Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, because there was another artist who had “tradition-steeped Old Testament intensity” (as Pitchfork magazine’s Matthew Murphy so rightly said), and yet the righteousness she revels in will have many nodding their heads in agreement. It’s probably too draining to listen to these en bloc, but sample them every now and again when frustration at the world’s intransigence takes too much of a hold, and the rewards will be ample. Taken in conjunction with Captain Beefheart (an artist that she and John both adored), one can see there’s the same feeling of the blues transplanted into today with no loss of feeling, which boils over as her voice cracks during the final number of the last session she did, ‘You Come Through’. Peel was clearly “the ghost at the feast.”
It’s a sad reflection on our times that the success of that will depend very much on what PJ Harvey looks like, even in 1991. If she looks suitably waif-like and in need of male protection, in the eyes of her beholders anyway, then it’ll probably do very well. Either way, I have no idea what she looks like and I don’t especially care, because I think it’s a great record. (John Peel on ‘Dress’, 1991)
One session (1993-03-02) yielded two FF entries: ‘Naked Cousin’ (FF 1993#32) and ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ (FF 1993 #18), the latter having been released by Polly as part of her ‘Man-Size’ single.
PJ Harvey, Peel Sessions
1: Oh My Lover / Victory / Sheela-Na-Gig / Water. Recorded 1991-10-29.
2: Highway 61 Revisited / Rid Of Me. Recorded live 1992-05-01.
3: Ecstasy / Highway 61 Revisited / Me-Jane. Recorded 1992-09-22.
4: Primed And Ticking / Claudine, The Inflatable One / Naked Cousin / Wang Dang Doodle. Recorded 1993-03-02.
5: Losing Ground / Snake / That Was My Veil. Recorded live at Peel Acres 1996-09-05.
6: Intro / The Sky Lit Up / The Garden (aborted) / Joy / The Garden / My Beautiful Leah / Catherine / A Perfect Day, Elise / Electric Light / Taut. Recorded live at Maida Vale 1998-09-23. Split with the Evening Session (all tracks included).
7: Somebody’s Down, Somebody’s Name / Kamikaze / Nickel Under The Foot / This Wicked Tongue / Beautiful Feeling. Recorded 2000-11-10.
8: The Letter / Uh Huh Her / Cat On The Wall / Evol / Shame. Recorded live at Peel Acres 2004-05-20.
9: interview / Horses In My Dreams / Fountain / You Come Through. Recorded live at Maida Vale 2004-12-16.