In January 1991, following her departure from Automatic Dlamini, Harvey formed her own band with former bandmates Rob Ellis and Ian Oliver. Harvey decided to name the trio PJ Harvey after rejecting other names as “nothing felt right at all or just suggested the wrong type of sound”, and also to allow her to continue music as a solo artist. The trio consisted of Harvey on vocals and guitar, Ellis on drums and backing vocals, and Oliver on bass. Oliver later departed to rejoin the still-active Automatic Dlamini. He was subsequently replaced with Steve Vaughan. The trio’s “disastrous” debut performance was held at a skittle alley in Charmouth Village Hall in April 1991. Harvey later recounted the event saying: “we started playing and I suppose there was about fifty people there, and during the first song we cleared the hall. There was only about two people left. And a woman came up to us, came up to my drummer, it was only a three piece, while we were playing and shouted at him ‘Don’t you realize nobody likes you! We’ll pay you, you can stop playing, we’ll still pay you!'” The group relocated to London in June 1991 when Harvey applied to study sculpture, still undecided as to her future career. During this time, the group recorded a set of demo songs and distributed them to record labels. Independent label Too Pure agreed to release the band’s debut single “Dress” in October 1991, and later signed PJ Harvey. “Dress” received mass critical acclaim upon its release and was voted Single of the Week in Melody Maker by guest reviewer John Peel, who admired “the way Polly Jean seems crushed by the weight of her own songs and arrangements, as if the air is literally being sucked out of them … admirable if not always enjoyable.” However, Too Pure provided little promotion for the single and critics claim that “Melody Maker had more to do with the success of the “Dress” single than Too Pure Records.” A week after its release, the band recorded a live radio session for Peel on BBC Radio 1 on 29 October featuring “Oh, My Lover”, “Victory”, “Sheela-Na-Gig” and “Water”.
The following February, the trio released “Sheela-Na-Gig” as their equally-acclaimed second single and their debut studio album, Dry (1992), followed in March. Like the singles preceding it, Dry received an overwhelming international critical response. The album was cited by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana as his sixteenth-favourite album ever in his posthumously published Journals. Rolling Stone also named Harvey as Songwriter of the Year and Best New Female Singer. A limited edition double LP version of Dry was released alongside the regular version of the album, containing both the original and demo versions of each track, called Dry Demonstration, and the band also received significant coverage at the Reading Festival in 1992.
This session is one of those intimate get-togethers, and the sixth session for John Peel since her first in 1991. And because it’s on the occasion of John Peel’s big Six-Oh, it’s a warm and endearing session with a lot of mutual admiration going on between the two.
Here is a historic session featuring PJ Harvey from 1998. Crank this one up and enjoy – it’s special anyway.
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