This is almost the only picture I managed to take at the Albert Hall last night which actually shows any features. I was wedged right up in the circle to see Polly Harvey perform. It was her first time there too ...
Nearly twenty years have passed since first hearing 'Sheela-na-Gig' on John Peel's Radio 1 show, and this is, amazingly, the first time I've ever seen her perform. I only managed it this time thanks to the good offices of Minerva McHenry from the LGMG who alerted me to the concert - and then I could only get one ticket! Sorry Min, and thank you.
The bulk of the set was of course extracts from Let England Shake but there was plenty from the back catalogue; in fact the performance will send me back to some of the songs again, as they seemed to sound significantly different from my memory of them. The strange, ethereal melancholy of some of the material on Let England Shake and White Chalk was augmented by the percussion and guitars and had far more weight and solidity than I remember.
Swathed in black and apparently balancing a dead raven on her head, Polly was a virtually static presence, isolated from the rest of the band, until she got out her percussive sticks for 'Down By the Water' and on another occasion wove back and forth before eventually disappearing into the darkness at the back of the stage. During that track she was virtually demonic, delving back down into the low, swamp-water voice she hasn't recorded in for several years; then at other times (during 'Dear Darkness', for instance) a shaft of green light struck down and turned her upturned face into something utterly unearthly. As ever, she seems to be opening up a window into an experience beyond the moment of the performance.
I was glad she chose not to put 'Last Living Rose' at the end of the set, as I suspected it might be, because it makes me cry, and cry I did. Good to have some space to recover ... Sadly this whole episode will do very, very little to shift my obsession.
It was an odd evening all told. On the platform of Westminster Station on the way to South Ken I bumped into Ms Frenzel from the LGMG who is normally based in Germany and was only back in the UK for a week, accompanying a friend to Victoria, and then at Waterloo afterwards I spotted a young woman who happened to be Fleur de Guerre, of The Chap as well as other things. She didn't seem too displeased to be recognised.