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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


‘Nina In Ecstasy’ (B-side of ‘The Wind’ single from Is This Desire)
On my version of Is This Desire, this is track one side one. An absolutely beautiful song.

That would be a pretty bold opener, it's such a delicate song.

Yeah, that's why I was heavily overruled! It ended up not even on the record which I think was a great shame, but to me, that is probably the most compromised album that Polly's made, largely to do with the time over which it was made – which is true of my next choice too. There were two long recordings sessions and almost a year's gap between them. It’s very difficult to sustain the identity of a record like that. It was also the only record where the record company came in and had a degree of creative input, which had never been sanctioned on any of the other records, certainly none of the other records I was involved with. The record company often never heard anything until they got the mastered album!

I’m not saying it's always good to keep everything out of their hands, but on this album there were a couple of people who I felt took advantage of the fact Polly wasn't very well at that time. Normally she's so decisive and strong about what she feels, about what's going to happen, but on that record she wavered in the middle. I still think it's a really good record, the songs were great, but I felt some of them weren't as great as they could have been.

A couple of things didn’t make it onto the record that should have done, in my opinion. Most importantly, 'Nina In Ecstasy’, which I think is one of Polly's best songs – another one where the recording is the demo. It would have been bold to put it as the first song on the record but I think Polly's career generally was made up of bold moves, that was one time when it didn’t happen, and in my opinion it should have happened. 

What do you love so much about it? 

I can see it was pointing to where she was going to end up, using that high fragile voice that she'd obviously deliberately not considered using until that time – everything had been quite powerful and confident and in control. That was the first time she'd sounded vulnerable on a record – you have to have confidence to open up like that.