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PJ Harvey’s Discovery Of The Autoharp

PJ Harvey's Discovery Of The Autoharp

The eighth studio album of PJ Harvey was called “Let England Shake”, and the British singer Polly Jean Harvey reached another high point of her career with it. After the collection “Is This Desire”, she won another prestigious Mercury Prize for this work. The record that was released at the beginning of 2011 was a radical musical departure from the piano-dominating predecessor White Chalk. Harvey worked on her masterpiece for two years and recorded it in a church of her hometown Dorset, in England. The starting point and the dominant instrument of the whole album “Let England Shake” was an autoharp.

Composed At The Autoharp

Harvey started with the lyrics of the new songs and was looking for more inspiration from the persons she admires such as Harold Pinter, T.S. Eliot, Salvador Dali, The Pogues, Stanley Kubrik. The concept album explores the layers of British history that have been full of conflicts and take the listener away at an impressive charge against the war.

The singer had started playing autoharp a few years ago. She appreciated the enormous range of sound and wanted to incorporate it into her new songs. This is how she created the melodies for “Let England Shake” on this instrument that is also taking the main role in the recordings and the subsequent live shows. At the same time, Harvey adapted her voice to the concept and the unusual instrument. She took on the role of a narrator that leads the listener through the various layers of music and emotions. However, Polly Harvey is keeping her word to be different o every new album, and there were many times when she removed the finished song from a record because it sounded too much the same as any previous one. The best example of this was the well-known song released in 2004. “Uh Hu Her” was a classic PJ Harvey song, so only the title survived.


A Blazing Charge

The singer is criticizing her home country on the album “Let England Shake”. She sings about national identity, senseless wars, and misunderstood love for the country. The soldiers of the numerous conflicts are, in their opinion, the same victims as their opponents on the battlefield. You have to pay for what self-centered politicians demand. It is an ironic story that Harvey released the first new song from this album during the most popular TV show in England called “British Breakfast” because she wanted that the Prime Minister of that time Gordon Brown should be the first person to hear this song and get the message.

During the weeks of the elections, Polly Jean Harvey appeared in the studio wearing a blackbird costume. Her only instrument was her autoharp. This new kind of protest expressed in her songs hit like a bomb in public. The critics showered the album with prizes, and Harvey reached the artistic and commercial peak of her career. In parallel to “Let England Shake”, PJ Harvey released a short film for each of the twelve songs, and they were performed at many film festivals.