Monday, 17 October 2016

A Journey with a Singer, Part 2: Rid Of Me, 1993

I can pinpoint the very day I bought Rid Of Me, as it’s in my diary – coincidentally, October 30th, also the day I saw Polly perform five years ago, and the day I will (D.V.) this year, too: and from Square Records in Wimborne, as well, a more appropriate place than any bar Beaminster, perhaps. I wrote then that the album was ‘proving wonderful’, but gave no hint why I chose to buy it. I must have heard John Peel playing tracks from it, and may also have worked out by then that Ms H was Dorset-born. That’s nice, I thought, nothing much has come out of Dorset since Thomas Hardy.

Rid Of Me takes the themes and methods of Dry and escalates both: it’s an almost relentlessly violent, extreme recording, and although I knew nothing at all about music even I could appreciate intuitively how far outside anything mainstream, how jagged and desperate it was. The imagery helped: on the record sleeve – well, it was a cassette tape, imagine that! – Polly was captured by photographer friend Maria Mochnacz naked in a bathtub, in the act of flicking her head backward, a great mane of black hair coated in a silver sheath of water, her eyes half-closed – those black brows, that defiant nose, that expression which is no expression at all. There was no attempt to look glamorous in any conceivable way. This wasn’t someone presenting themselves sexually, but a defiantly strong-minded person in a deliberately vulnerable context.

And I suppose that was the appeal. Why should this woman’s work, this murderous music which opened out of a very definitely female experience (though not ‘feminist’, as she always wanted to stress), mean anything to me, an Oxford-educated male museum curator? She didn’t even dress it up in swirly Gothic romanticism like some of my other enthusiasms, but preferred straightforward brutality. In fact, looking back at my diary then, 1993 seems to have been a turbulent year. I was halfway through my first proper job at the Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne, busily applying for others, and still convulsed with the same anxieties that had plagued my adolescence – it would take a year or two yet before I began to calm down emotionally. I was bewildered by a series of abortive attempts to attract the interest of various women I met, and negotiating relationships with friends, the presence of my only ex-girlfriend and what was going on in her life, family illness, politics, and religion. There was a lot happening: though exactly why I might have felt such deepseated anger which found sympathy in the parallel anger of a young woman from Corscombe I can’t really guess from this remote standpoint, but it did.

And so it stayed, for a while. I didn’t read the music press, didn’t keep up with the publicity, had no idea what anyone was saying about PJ Harvey and how she was perceived: all I had was the music, and that was probably a good thing.

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