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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2020 9:35 am 
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https://www.abc.net.au/doublej/music-reads/features/pj-harvey-big-day-out-2001-first-australian-tour/12025684

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The story of PJ Harvey's first Australian tour

Gab Burke
Thursday 5 March 2020 4:01pm


It took the best part of a decade to convince PJ Harvey to come to Australia. It turned out she showed up at precisely the right time.

Polly Jean Harvey was a blazing presence in a very male music scene.

After growing up in rural England, Harvey moved to London in the early 90s to study sculpture at the same college as Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.

She ditched art school for music and became a pillar of indie-rock.

A musical tour-de-force who played a tonne of instruments and penned stories of love, sex and relationships with poetic depth and intensity.

There were albums, accolades and critical acclaim but as the 90s came to an end Australian fans wondered: would they ever get to see PJ Harvey on stage?

Sahara Herald managed the Big Day Out for 18 years and says the festival made many unsuccessful attempts to bring PJ out to Australia.

"She had become the ‘white whale’ that we weren’t able to get on the show," Herald tells Double J.

"We had several attempts that went on for a number of years, where we’d go through this process of booking her and one year we actually confirmed her and just before our announcement she pulled out.

"This went on for a number of years. It almost became… I won’t say a joke, but it was like 'here we go again'. We’d resigned ourselves to some degree that it wasn’t going to be a reality."

Despite many setbacks the Big Day Out team persisted.

"It was always very important to us to have acts that we loved, that were bringing an incredible quality to the show, but particularly to have female artists on the bill," Herald says.

"It has a lot more prominence now, but you can imagine 20 years ago that was a bit more of a struggle. So, getting someone like PJ on the show was really important to us and particularly to me on a personal level."

Herald has a theory about why PJ was so reluctant.

"I’m not sure if I want to use the word 'fragile', but that was the perception at the time," she says.

"She had doubts about her own capabilities of doing a big festival. She didn’t like being on the road, she didn’t like being in that kind of isolation bubble where you’re away from your family, friends, and support network."

So, in a last-ditch attempt to finally get the deal over the line, the Big Day Out team put together a bill with artists who would appeal to PJ.

"For the 2001 show, we had artists we knew she liked – At The Drive In, Queens of the Stone Age – people she viewed as artists that she could converse with, who would be like-minded."

It was a masterstroke. Harvey finally agreed to play the Big Day Out. But Herald wasn’t convinced. She’d been burned before.

"I remember being so excited but also still keeping my fingers, legs and eyes crossed because we’d been down this path before and it hadn’t happened," she says.

"It was almost with some hesitation that we were putting her name on the artwork. It was kind of like, 'Are we going to have to take it off again?'

"But it happened. And it was a great moment of relief to finally see her name on the poster artwork and the press release. There was tremendous, positive feedback about her being on the show."

For good reason. This would be PJ Harvey’s first ever tour to Australia and it was just after the release of her fifth record Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

Like thousands of Australian fans, this album was special for Herald.

"It became a real soundtrack to those few months leading up to the show," she says. "Just a glorious album.

"It was a tough year. My eldest daughter had died weeks before that first announcement and I was carrying a lot of grief. That album really spoke to me. Particularly the single, 'Good Fortune'.

"We can go through tough stuff and come out the other side and feel like we’ve got good fortune in our lives despite everything the world might throw at us."

As the 2001 Big Day Out drew closer Herald was increasingly anxious about PJ.

"Our first show was in Auckland and I was still nervous that she was going to pull out," Herald recalls.

"I remember getting the phone call from someone on ground letting me know that she’d landed in New Zealand. It was like, 'Ok, this is really going to happen'."

And happen it did. Harvey was captivating right from the start.

At a photoshoot with long-time tour photographer Tony Mott, Herald says PJ literally turned heads.

"An emergency services vehicle was driving past the photoshoot and the driver was so agog with staring at her that they had a minor accident."

Her performances were just as impressive.

"She did such incredible shows," Herald says. "It was ironic because she’d been so nervous about playing and she just went out there and owned it.

"She prowled the stage. She had this striking red sparkly dress and these incredible boots and cowboy hat.

"She strode out on stage and owned it. She was mesmerising.

"She looked stunning but it wasn’t just about her looks, it was about her presence on stage.

"She brought this incredible element to the Big Day Out which at times could be really bloody blokey.

"You just had this magnificent artist who happens to be female up there on stage.

"For me personally it was an important moment, not just because of how I felt about her and her music, but to see women in the audience watching her, just going 'wow'.

"I think it’s really important as a woman in the audience to be able to see a woman on stage and to feel that connection and hear your stories told and to see something you aspire to."

PJ Harvey’s Big Day Out sets remain a huge highlight for fans lucky enough to see her in 2001, but it wasn’t just the fear of playing on a big festival bill that stopped her coming to Australia earlier.

PJ revealed to Richard Kingsmill that her fourth album Is This Desire nearly ended her career.

"Every album is a reflection of where I am in my life at that point in time," she said in an interview with Kingsmill on triple j.

"Is This Desire came out of a very difficult period for me. The years between ‘95 and ‘97/’98 was probably the hardest time of my life and that album came out of that period. It was a difficult album to make, a painful album to make, and still not one I can listen to easily at all."

It was such a difficult time for Harvey, that she didn’t know if she wanted to keep writing music at all.

"It was about three years of gradually picking myself up again and finding out what I wanted to do with my life," she said.

"It was also a time when I didn’t know if I did want to continue doing this thing that was making me really unhappy.

"It wasn't the music, I've never lost my love for creating and especially singing and creating music, it was more the whole machinery that goes with it that I'd become very lost in and I was kind of associating the two; the business, promotion, touring, slogging side with the actual creative source of making music.

"The voice of expression and the two were becoming very confused for me. I was associating the difficulties I was finding with that other side with the actual creative side. That was leading me to think maybe I just can't handle this anymore."

With the help of good friends, she persevered. And in 2000 she released her critically acclaimed and hugely successful album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

Like much of her earlier work, love was an endless source of musical inspiration.

"Every song I’ve ever written feels like a love song," she told Kingsmill. "When you think of Elvis’s career, every single song he did was a love song. It’s what makes the world go round. It’s what we’re all drawn to in human nature and as human beings."

PJ's capacity for love was a huge source of comfort when tragedy struck the Big Day Out.

A young fan died during Limp Bizkit’s Big Day Out set in Sydney on that 2001 tour, and Sahara Herald says it was difficult to even contemplate finishing the rest of the tour.

"We had the support of the other artists on the tour and PJ was one of them," she says.

"I spent quite a bit of time with her after that had happened, just the two of us, one-on-one.

"I was distraught and confused. I’d never been in this position before and everyone’s trying to do the right thing [but] not necessarily knowing what that is. It was a lot to carry, and she really reached out to me on a personal level.

"Her kindness and perspective at that point, I really treasured."

When the tour wrapped up in Perth, PJ had one more act of kindness to share.

"I got this radio call saying I was needed on stage immediately," Herald remembers. "I dashed from my office to the stage and it was a bit of a ruse to make sure I was there when she dedicated a song to me and thanked me for my work and friendship. It was a beautiful moment.

"She’s an incredibly engaging woman. A powerful presence. Part of her power is her vulnerability and her authenticity. She can speak to her struggles and her fears and self-doubts and still front up and throw a light on those things in a way that is accessible."


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2020 7:21 pm 
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That's a nice story, thank you for sharing. Weird (but comforting) to think that in 2001, after five successful albums and 10 years into her career PJ had still had some insecurity about performing for huge festival crowds.


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