Got round to my sisters at around about 7.30. Then had to wait around as no one was in. Our kid was a bit late, she had to pick up a babysitter for her two boys, and a takeaway...she's always late anyway, even before the kids arrived. For some reason time is an abstract concept to my sister which she doesn't really believe in ;-) "No problem", I said to myself, trying not to panic. All gigs I've been to follow a standard pattern: Doors open at 7.00, support comes on at 8.00 main act comes on between 9.00 to 9.30, that is the law. As long as you get there before 9.00 you are guaranteed to see the main act. I helped get her two gorgeous boys out of the car, but couldn't help glancing at the clock on my phone while J and her mate had a leisurely vegetarian (falefal :-)) kebab. Anyway, we arrived with about 20 minutes to go and had time to meet up with some of J's friends inside the Ritz on the balcony...
I've been into PJ Harvey since my sister took me to a gig in back in 1995, (the "Pink Catsuit" tour) which completely blew me away, and I've been a fan ever since. Since then I've always made an effort to go to every tour and dragged my sister and mates along. I remember at the time (1995) I had been on my back for days with a gastric blockage, not eating (in those days I *wrongly* assumed I had food poisoning, it was only a chance conversation with Charlie, now at Papworth, at the CF Clinic that made me realise my symptoms could be related to CF), nowadays kids have the internet, how lucky they are! Thankfully it cleared before the gig and I remember how struck I was by the comparison in my health; going from two days of sweating, starvation and pain, to just feeling normal again and being able to enjoy simple pleasures like eating, drinking, walking and stuff, I'd never appreciated before how good feeling "normal" was, and how much I took it for granted in the past. Perhaps it opened my mind and made me appreciate music a lot more as well.
It's fair to say that me and my sister were pretty blown away by Polly and John, as were most of the audience. It was an intimate venue, and she has a great stage presence, really captivating the audience with her performance. PJ's strength, I think, is her ability to utterly inhabit the songs and become different characters with different songs. The songs were all off the latest album and the previous collaboration from 1996, Dance Hall at Louse Point. For the two albums, John Parish writes all the music (then sends this to PJ on a tape), and she scratches her head and writes the lyrics. It works well. They opened with the first (and only ?) single of the album, "Black Hearted Love", a jazz/blues inflected rock number, easily the most radio-friendly song on the album, before we were into the spookier songs on the albums like "16,14,13", a spine tingling "look who's missing" song about missing children in a garden with no laughter. Indeed, a lot of the songs are almost like spells that she casts over the audience, utterly captivating them. I was most impressed with how good the live version of some of the more *difficult* songs were; In the terrifying Captain Beefheart influenced "a woman, a man walked By", She screams "Chicken Liver Balls, Chicken Liver Spleen" at her male suitor before graphically depicting sodomizing her hapless victim; not exactly easy listening! And the scary "Pig Will Not" that on the album sounds like a PMT-driven howl of rage. But live, somehow, with the drums, bass, rhythm, and guitars cutting loose, it all made sense. Not that it's all shocking, there were some lovely, quiet, torch song moments like "The Soldier", a compassionate song (I think) about the dehumanising effects of war, "Leaving California" possibly about her brief stint in LA, and the gorgeous, poetic "Cracks in the Canvas" that could be about coping with losing someone. And the fantastic, indescribably uplifting "April" which they closed the set with after the encore. All the songs were completely at odds with the cosy chatter that PJ gave to the audience between the songs. "I've stood on something prickly" she said in her unaffected, strong Dorset accent (think Pam Ayers), as a loose splinter caught in her bare foot. And, heart melting "I just want to say, all I can see in front of me is a sea of lovely faces, lovely, lovely!" Really, I could just put her in my pocket and take her home for tea ;-)
Anyway, enough pretentious fan-boy droning from me! I think she's easily the greatest female artist (singer-songwriter) of the last twenty years, and has paved the way for other artists to follow their own musical path; but some of her albums do take a few listens as my misses will confirm! I would probably direct newcomers to her mercury prize-winning "Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea" that is the album that I can get away with playing at parties ;-)