The stone quarry man’s daughter could well be a PJ Harvey song title, but it in fact describes Polly’s background. Born in Bridport, Dorset, her parents Ray and Eva did indeed run a quarrying business, though the gems they extracted for the young PJ came from their record collection, playing her a diet of progressive ’60s rock’n’roll.
Chief among them was Bob Dylan who was on frequent rotation and his impact is clear. Harvey not only covered Dylan songs in her first band, folk duo The Polekats, but a brief, punky reimagining of Highway ’61 Revisited features on her second album, Rid Of Me.
Lyrics-wise Dylan has been a clear influence. Harvey shares his creative wanderlust, changing from album to album, but she also eschews the autobiographical in favour of strange snap shots, real world events, tall tales, heartbreakers, love songs and more.
“Since a young age I’ve been interested in what’s going on in the world… but I didn’t want to do it badly, so I wanted to wait until I felt that I had more experience as writer and would be able to carry it off…”
Serious historical research and documentary field work are not often part of an album’s demo process, but both have been crucial to Harvey’s most recent works. 2011’s Let England Shake examined the impact of conflict on soldiers and civilians alike through both historical and contemporary lenses, leading Harvey to sift through a range of sources from historic letters to active blogs.
2016’s The Hope Six Demolition Project fused songwriting and journalism as Harvey visited many of the places she sung about to collect material directly. This not only produced the album, but it provides the basis for a documentary that filmmaker Seamus Murphy simultaneously created with Harvey. [ . . . ]
Rowan Rheingans treads a circular path round a stage, evoking the route she takes when walking round the village in Germany where her grandparents still live.
Rowan Rheingans: Dispatches on the Red Dress, Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30) * * * * *
Rheingans is a notable name amid the recent generation of English folk-revivalists, and this deeply personal piece of one-woman musical theatre, co-written with Liam Hurley, sees her deftly reach for fiddle, viola, banjo or a gently reverberating electric guitar to unspool the story of the titular dress Rheingans’s great-grandmother made her grandmother to go to a dance, and of the village’s collective experience during and after the Second World War.
She evokes the youthful excitement of the dance, pirouetting gently about the stage, but gradually the wartime and post-war experience of the village, with its “field of misery”, emerges, unfolding along with that dress.
Rheingans is a persuasively clear teller of songs (her songwriting won a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award in 2016), accompanying herself with unobtrusive ease and judiciously deploying electronic looping that leaves notes hanging and fading behind her words, or introduces a glorious chorus of birdsong, as the bitterly inglorious history of the field becomes clear, recalling how her grandfather, on his way to school, would cycle hurriedly past the stacked dead.
All these things emerge unhurriedly through Rheingans’s undramatic yet utterly spellbinding singing and narration. History is brought up to date as her grandparents recall how, in the face of Nazism, they sang the old, forbidden songs in their home and covertly took provisions to their neighbours who were barred from visiting the local shops; yet on the other hand, they in turn express their anxieties at the “new faces” appearing in Germany, the old distrust of The Other.
But there remain glimmers of hope amid the darkness: the village and its legions of ghosts may be laden with unspeakable sorrow, but there is still dancing. And as the red dress’s true origin unfolds, the revelation will leave you quietly breathless.
HE is one of the UK’s most successful musicians. A legend. Yet writing songs for a new musical version of the beloved film Local Hero put doubts in the mind of even Mark Knopfler.
A surprise, perhaps. Knopfler, whose band Dire Straits sold millions of records, has also enjoyed a successful solo career after all.
Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film is finally being brought to the stage in the form of a musical, with new songs written by Knopfler, a story adapted by David Greig and Bill Forsyth, and directed by John Crowley.
He penned the soundtrack to the original film. Yet he admitted he was initially uncertain whether he could write songs for a musical.
Knopfler said: “It has got to have that theme in it, or it is not Local Hero is it? But I couldn’t just ape the film musically.
“I didn’t even know if I could do it, at all: and maybe I can’t, you may very well judge that.
“I really enjoyed doing it, I just found that – because I love the film so much and because I never stopped loving it, it moves me – it wasn’t too difficult to get into the characters.
As it turned out, the songs flowed, and along with instrumentals, including its famous plangent main theme from the original film, there are, according to Crowley “some heartbreaking ballads, and some very funny, character-sketch songs” in the show, which opens on March 23.
The musical, being produced by the Lyceum and the Old Vic in London, is set in 1983, and the plot follows the plot of the movie which sees conflicted Texan Mac visiting the Scottish village of Ferness to acquire it to build an oil refinery.
“The final script was so delightful to work with, so it was natural to be able to do that, and with the respect for the film that we all have, our approach was pretty much on the same page,” he said.
“I was dubious about being able to do it and I made a tentative start, but I found that the energy that got released on it was great, and the feeling, that initial energy and optimism was justified.
“Musicals aren’t my thing, so I was going to feel doubtful about it. It is great never to have done it before: if I was an old hand at musicals I would have started going wrong straight away.”
Knopfler, who was born in Glasgow in 1949 and moved to Newcastle when he was seven, revealed he drew on his Scottish childhood musical memories for the more than 20 songs he has written for the show, which will debut at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh next month.
The production stars Damian Humbley as Mac, Katrina Bryan as Stella, Matthew Pidgeon as Gordon, the hotel owner, and Simon Rouse as oil baron Felix Happer, and there will be a live band on stage.
Knopfler, whose records have sold more than 100m copies, said putting the musical together had been “like a Rubik’s cube, but more complicated.”
He said: “Being a new boy, having never done anything like this before, it has been great. It is refreshing. You can make all kinds of fool of yourself, but I am just really glad I do not have David [Greig’s] job, it is much harder than it looks to make something that looks easy.”
Greig said: “The music takes in American music and elements of folk music, and just as a listener, there is something identifiable and particular as being very ‘Mark’ about it. You just know that they are Mark’s songs: it is quite hard to pinpoint what that is. It’s a very Scottish thing to have a bit of a foot in both sides of the Atlantic.”
Knopfler said that “the trans-Atlantic Blues” is a key feature of his music. He added: “I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. It is not too hard for me to find a way into Celtic music, because the first time I heard people singing music together would have been ‘Scotland The Brave’ or something, because my childhood was Glaswegian.
“I used to listen to records when I was very, very small, probably before I was two: I was listening to the radio and my mum singing. So it’s natural to me. So when people sometimes say to me: ‘How do you write that, or where does that come from, they sound a thousand years old?’ I think it is partly coming from Glasgow, and from being in Scotland, and from the north east, where my mother’s family is from. There are huge links between the Geordies and the Scots.”
The Pogues’ and Kirsty MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York” is a certified Christmas classic, but did you know that it is also problematic? The song has come under fire because of the use of the word “f**got”—some want to bring attention to it so people won’t singalong with that word anymore, some want the word bleeped out of the song entirely.
Singer Shane MacGowan has responded to the controversy about that particular verse, explaining that the reference was never intended to be homophobic but rather, in context, was part of a character study …