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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


‘Taut’ (From Dance Hall At Louse Point)
I was working as a lecturer on a performing arts course and the theatre director had done a college touring production of Hamlet. It was a very abrasive production, quite confrontational, and he wanted some music for various parts of the performance and asked me to write whatever I wanted and put together a band of students to play it. It was very liberating, because up until then I'd always written songs, which in my mind tended to need to be three and half minutes long, and probably have a chorus. This was the first time I'd tried writing something that a) wasn't going to have any words and b) could 30 seconds long or seven minutes long. It was very liberating for me as a writer, so I wrote some pieces I thought were good, and which I didn’t think sounded like anything else I was listening to or had heard.

Polly was probably making Rid Of Me around this time, or had just recorded it, so she was back around and we used to hang out, so she came and helped me record and engineer a couple of pieces, and she was really enthusiastic about it. She came to see the show, loved all the music and I think she was at a stage where she didn’t want to have the trio anymore – she's a restless creative spirit she didn’t want to keep doing the same thing, she wanted a challenge. So I went away and wrote a whole bunch of music for her, which pretty much were the actual recordings for a lot of the stuff we used on the record. Then during the To Bring You My Love tour we obviously spent a lot of time on planes and in hotel rooms, and she had a lot of time to listen to demos and come up with words. Over the course of the tour Polly would drop round cassettes of her singing over my demos to my hotel room. They were always exciting and surprising, none more so than ‘Taut', which sounded utterly unhinged, and completely original. It's 25 years since we did it, and it still holds up pretty well.

There's a lot about touring that’s extremely boring... was that a way for you both to do something stimulating?

It was certainly a way for Polly to do it, she's very disciplined and able to do that. That's quite a talent, and most people – and I include myself in this – find it quite difficult. Everybody starts off with the best intentions – the first month of touring is really productive, you read lots of books and get a lot done in your down time, but the longer the tour goes on the more you end up just sitting around drinking with your friends. Polly seems to be able to maintain discipline throughout.