It’s taken a few decades, but PJ Harvey has become the kind of universally adored artist that elicits one all-consuming gush from across the cultural world. Her career began in the early ’90s music scene, as a raw, visceral counterpoint to the rather conceited UK indie bands of the time. By 2011’s Mercury Prize-winning ‘Let England Shake’, she’d become a bonafide national treasure – with an MBE to match.
Her first book, a collection of poetry and photography called ‘The Hollow of the Hand’, follows on very neatly from ‘Let England Shake’. Harvey and film maker Seamus Murphy spent three years travelling to Washington DC, Kosovo and Afghanistan – the last inspiring the pictures and poem on this page.
For Harvey, travelling beyond Albion was a necessity: ‘Gathering information from secondary sources felt far too removed for what I was trying to write about,’ she explains. ‘I wanted to smell the air, feel the soil and meet the people of the countries I was fascinated with.’
A Seamus Murphy shot from ‘The Hollow of the Hand’ showing men in Afghanistan gambling on a bird fight – a practice banned by the Taliban. Such fights are not to the death. The losing owner admits defeat before they're harmed.
At the Royal Festival Hall this week, ‘The Hollow of the Hand’ will be premiered with a show directed by Ian Rickson, the former artistic director of the Royal Court. As well as a short film presented by Murphy, it will also feature readings and new songs from Harvey – aided by long-term musical foil John Parish. Given that Harvey started the year at Somerset House for her month-long ‘Recording in Progress’ residency, it’ll mean the songs will have made a ten-month journey to just the other side of the river.
Before that though, enjoy an exclusive preview taster from the book – an Afghanistan-inspired poem entitled ‘The Hand’.
‘The Hollow of the Hand’ is premiered at the Royal Festival Hall on October 9 and 10 and published as a paperback, hardback, iBook and limited edition box set by Bloomsbury on October 8.