PJ Harvey’s Radio 4 Today Programme – What We Learned

PJ Harvey was guest editor on this morning’s (January 2) edition of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, filling the airwaves with music, poetry and politicking from everyone from Flight of the Conchords to exiled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – a mix so bizarre you wonder how many woke up to it on their radios this morning and thought they were still shaking off the effects of their New Year’s Eve from a couple of nights ago. With little word from the singer since her 2011 Mercury Prize winning ‘Let England Shake’ album and listeners divided her stint as editor (Mail Online have already posted an article hailing it as the “worst ever” Today programme, full of “left wing rants”), the show was a big deal – but what did it reveal about the enigmatic songwriter and her plans for 2014?

She may now be a MBE, but Harvey is still raging against the establishment

Her recent acceptance of a MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours was seen by some as the outspoken singer climbing into bed with the establishment. Which is maybe why she used her Today programme to set out her political stall, rallying against David Cameron, Barack Obama and the Olympics, which was described in a piece commissioned by Harvey as a “neo-liberal trojan horse”. Guantanamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer was invited to give a poetry reading, while journalist John Pilger accused Western media of being a government puppet show. It was Julian Assange whose appearance made headlines though – he gave the show’s Thought For The Day, delivering a scathing indictment of state control of information from the Ecudorian embassy in London.


She has a sense of humour

Harvey’s not renowned for her sense of humour – ‘Let England Shake’ drew dark parallels between poverty-ridden societies under tyrannical thumbs and our own via bleak war time poetry and gloomy, thundering guitars. Her Today show was a little more lighthearted – New Zealand comedy duo Flight of the Conchords’ ‘Ladies of the World’ was played, while the actual weather forecast was replaced by an acoustic demo of Tom Waits’ ‘Strange Weather’ – ace if you’re a fan of the gravel-throated blues icon, less handy if you were trying to decide whether or not to bring an umbrella this morning.

If there is a new album in 2014, it might be her most varied yet

It’s been three years since the songwriter’s last outing but as yet there’s been no sign of a follow-up. Should she release a new record in 2014, if the range of content on today’s broadcast is anything to go by, it could be her most politically charged to date. From Nelson Mandela’s death to US torture practices, though Harvey remains clearly in love with the country that inspired ‘Let England Shake’ (the William Blake poem ‘London’ was read) she’s currently fascinated by affairs away from home too – all topics ripe for dissection on an contemplative new record. Watch this space…

Listen to the show in full here.