There are few artists that would encourage me to take the trip up the M6 for the weekend (certainly not washed-up prog bores Genesis who are playing just down the road), but Polly Harvey is certainly one of them. Having been away from the public eye of late, tonight she returned to the live arena for an intimate solo gig, her first appearance of 2007, and unleashed tracks from her forthcoming seventh album, White Chalk.
With a stage covered in fairy lights and the politeness of the all-seated environment creating an atmosphere almost like a school concert, Harvey graced the stage draped in a spectacular gown, looking like a cross between a bride and Edward Scissorhands. She appeared cheerful, happy and ultimately relaxed as she unleashed a set of classics sprinkled with new tracks.
Barely any of her more recent, some would say yuppie-friendly work rears their head this evening. Instead we get a ferocious Snake, an autoharp accompanied and almost unrecognisable Down By The Water and the ever stunning Angelene, demonstrating the vigour of Harvey’s back catalogue.
The audience, hushed throughout her playing, reacted ecstatically to even relatively obscure tracks such as the rare airing of b-side Nina In Ecstasy. The refrain of “Where’s your mamma gone?” on its own raiseed a few giggles among the stalls.
But the new songs were the night’s main talking point. The piano-led The Mountain is gorgeous and possibly the strongest track she’s released since the Is This Desire? era. She joked about being a terrible piano player, but the reality is quite the opposite and the excellent acoustics made the unfamiliar territory even more absorbing. The new record’s title track name-drops the cliffs of Dover and was accompanied by a harmonica in the midst of Harvey’s multi-tasking. It’s clear that this is a massive change of direction in her work, a far more haunting and ethereal sound that echoes The Dancer.
Before closing with a stunning Desperate Kingdom Of Love, Polly charmingly joked about how she’s getting older and feels the audience has grown up with her. It’s true – the vast majority of tonight’s attendees certainly appeared devoted and of a certain age. But if nothing else this underlines that Harvey has succeeded where many of her cotemporaries have failed. She improves with age, yet remains as relevant as she was when she appeared with the Dress single 15 years ago.