Being led down into the bowels of Somerset House for PJ Harvey’s 'Recording In Progress', the initial anticipation was beginning to mount. Although the chance of getting down there and seeing only a couple of soundchecks was very real, it felt worth it for the unpredictability. Yet the minute I got to the observatory room door, Harvey’s powerhouse of a voice was already booming.
On the other side of the one-way glass, Harvey was nodding back and forth as she listened back to a track that they must've been working on earlier that morning, her ankle boots slowly stomping to the rhythm. The studio space was a sprawling array of red and black cables scattered around the floor, with clarinets, saxophones, and trumpets gleaming in every direction. One of Harvey's distinctive rose-painted harpsichords from the 'White Chalk' era sat on a shelf behind her.
The setting of Somerset House must totally differ from the other distinctive locations that Harvey's worked in before: a church scenically set over a cliiftop in Dorset ('Let England Shake'), or at Townhouse recording studios beneath Battersea Power Station ('To Bring You My Love').
Alessandro Stefana (playing the clarinet) and Terry Edwards (sax) were working on their synchronisation together as Harvey and one of her producers, John Parish, gave suggestions. Her ninth studio album could be a very jazzy affair. They took five different takes within the hour, changing the pitch and key. As they spoke about trying to sandwich one of the versus and chorus together, I was enamoured by Harvey's really sweet, encouraging nature. Just as they seemed to have wrapped up the track, Harvey called out: "Time for lunch now, isn’t it?"
That was our cue. A compelling experience, even if I didn’t get to hear Harvey sing in the flesh – it’s not every day that one of the most acclaimed British artists around lets you into her creative process.
PJ Harvey's 'Recording in Progress' installation continues until February 14th 2015.