PJ Harvey album hit with veterans

By Kieran Nash

PJ Harvey says Gallipoli resonated with her. Photo / Getty Images
PJ Harvey says Gallipoli resonated with her. Photo / Getty Images

War veterans are more usually associated with the crooning of Vera Lynn or with the boogie-woogie of the Andrews Sisters than edgy folk-rock.

But songs about Anzac troops by acclaimed British singer-songwriter PJ Harvey have got the thumbs-up from military men in New Zealand.

Harvey's new album, Let England Shake, is out tomorrow. Many of its lyrics are about war. Three songs reference Anzac troops, and two feature aspects of the ill-fated 1915 Gallipoli campaign.

Members of the Pt Chevalier RSA in Auckland this week welcomed the songs - and even invited Harvey to perform for them. Angus McKellar, who served as a navy midshipman in World War II, described The Colour of the Earth - about a man remembering his fallen Anzac comrades - as a "good catchy tune".

"If they do tour we would love to see them here."

The 86-year-old said remembering wars "keeps people honoured. People should remember their history and where they come from.

Lest we forget. And that's what it's all about - we don't forget them."

Harvey has been reluctant to talk about the songs during publicity for the album, but told Britain's Sunday Times: "I thought of Gallipoli because of the sheer scale of the disaster. It was a catastrophe and so badly handled. It seemed to resonate with what's happening now."

Listening to the album was emotional for Vietnam veteran Bill Ashdown, who served in two Anzac battalions. The 64-year-old said anyone who had been in active service could relate to The Colour Of The Earth, and added: "It's a little bit of an honour that other people see these things as something sacred." Ashdown said the album was a "form of poetry".

"Clearly it's done with respect and it's a beautiful art form which can explain these things much better than I can."

Soldiers who had been in active service would connect to such material in a way no civilian could, he said.

"Any way that we can get the message across of the horror and futility of war is important."

Jane Yee, promotions manager for Harvey's record company, Universal, said she was thrilled the veterans enjoyed the songs.

"We will definitely pass that feedback on and make sure she gets that message."

- Herald on Sunday

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