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Baker's Dozen

A Woman, A Man: John Parish's Favourite PJ Harvey Recordings
Jennifer Lucy Allan , February 3rd, 2021 08:42

As PJ Harvey continues a major series of vinyl reissues of her incredible discography, her long-time collaborator and friend John Parish guides Jennifer Lucy Allan through his favourite 13 of her recordings


‘Written On The Forehead’ (From Let England Shake)
And following on from ‘The Soldier’, this song is a very much precursor to The Hope Six Demolition Project, moving from Anglo-centric to the international perspective.

That Niney sample in here is so bold, but completely perfect. 

It's great isn’t it? When I heard the demo I loved it – she used a lot of samples when she was putting that record together, only one or two of which we ended up using. Sometimes we would recreate things, for instance ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’, where we played a bastardised version of ‘Summertime Blues’ when she had recorded a demo to it. In some places, using the actual sample would have held the song back, as loops and samples often do. The Niney sample was so great there was never a question about using it. There is something brilliant about Flood's engineering of it. The sample doesn’t actually work over the last third of the song – on the demo it sounded really cranky, which I never noticed until we started rehearsing it. We had to take it out for live shows, but on record Flood did something with the frequencies to make it fit, which was a genius piece of engineering. 

On paper, PJ Harvey sampling Niney sounds like a terrible idea, but it works.

I have to say when Polly said she was going to write an album about war, I wasn’t sure it was a very good idea, but then I saw the first couple of lyrics and thought, blimey, she's going to pull it off. 

It's testament to that boldness and forward movement you mentioned  – of going headlong into your ideas.

I think most of her career she's been pretty fearless, and it's totally paid off. 

That seems to me what visionary means – that when everyone around you doesn’t think something is a good idea, but as soon as it's made they understand – when an artist can see just a bit further than everyone else.