Today is a first for PJ Harvey Tuesdays: we’re covering new songs! We’ve looked at PJ Harvey tracks from as far back as 1991 (her first single, “Dress“) and as recently as 2013 (the protest song “Shaker Aamer“), but today we’re going to discuss a track born bloody and howling into the world earlier this month—a few tracks, actually, all recorded for the second season of the BBC Two show Peaky Blinders.
Matt Blake of PJ fan forum The Garden tipped me off to this. (If you like this column, you should follow him on Twitter.) I had never heard of Peaky Blinders, and frankly, it sounded like a name that an American had made up to mock the British, like “Nigel Bakerbutcher” or “Benedict Cumberbatch.” So I looked it up on the academic research site Wikipedia and discovered that “peaky blinders” were some sort of post–WWI youth gang in Birmingham that went around kicking people and wearing peaked caps.
Thus it is appropriate that the show Pinky Binders is, according to promotional materials, “a gangster family epic set in 1919 Birmingham.” I have never seen Porky Grindr, but it stars Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, who are very handsome, as well as Sam Neill, who once acted alongside very handsome dinosaurs. The show’s music producer is Flood, who has also produced several PJ Harvey albums, so he asked her to contribute a song or two to Punky Brewster.
And she did—several songs, in fact!
If you haven’t spent the last couple decades burrowing ever deeper into a fleshy pile of ’90s alt-rock gossip, let me explain why this is a big deal. Once, back in the day, Nick Cave and PJ Harvey collaborated on a song called “Henry Lee” (the subject, incidentally, of my very first PJHT). Then they dated. Not for very long in the scheme of things, but it was apparently very intense; soon after they split up, Cave wrote the broken-hearted The Boatman’s Call, which featured several songs obviously about Harvey. As he tells it, he wrote one of those songs, “West Country Girl,” to win her over at the beginning of their relationship. For years, his post-breakup performances of the song were loud and angry, and he’d swap in bitter lyrics for sweet ones.
Cave has now been married to actress/model Susie Bick for fifteen years. They have two sons and what appears to be an at least relatively stable relationship. PJ’s dating life has always been a better-kept secret, but after two decades, it seems safe to assume she has also moved on. But fans sometimes have a hard time with this fact. PJ Harvey blogs and fansites are inevitably filled with screenshots from the “Henry Lee” videos and assertions that they had to be the loves of each other’s lives, it’s just so obvious, I mean look at them!
So for PJ to cover a Nick Cave song is, intentionally or not, newsworthy. I’m sure fans are out there right now trying to decode the secret message about how Nick and Polly’s flame was never really extinguished—and bless those fans, honestly—but I’d prefer to read it as a public peace offering. No more vicious lyrical substitutions, no more angst, just two musicians who understand and admire each other’s work. And who both want to contribute to acclaimed television series Freaky Clydesdale.
Here’s Harvey’s version.
And for old time’s sake, here’s Cave’s original: