Entertainment & Arts

Mercury favourite PJ Harvey reflects on her 2001 win

PJ Harvey
Image caption Harvey's album is inspired by the history of warfare

Bookies have installed Mercury Prize-nominee PJ Harvey as joint favourite alongside Adele to win this year's prestigious trophy and its £20,000 prize money.

Her album Let England Shake is her fourth nomination but she also won the award in 2001 for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

It makes her the most successful artist in the prize's history (Radiohead have also been nominated for four but have failed to win).

Let England Shake documents man's self-destructive propensity for war and Harvey spent two years researching warfare, in particular the first world war.

The Guardian's five-star review called it a richly inventive album that's unlike anything else in Harvey's back catalogue.

Congratulations on the nomination, how did you find out?

I found out on the day. Obviously, I knew that the announcement was coming up and I hoped that the record would make it in because, for me, I think it's probably one of my best pieces of work.

It's always wonderful to have some recognition and the Mercury prize is a good platform for that and I'm just really delighted that it's been acknowledged.

You are now the most successful artist in the awards history, is that a humbling fact?

Image caption Harvey was on tour in US during the 9/11 terrorism attacks

I've never been the sort of person to think too much about those sorts of things or to think about how I am perceived because the most important thing is to concentrate on my work and improve at it.

I find that quite all-consuming and it's much healthier for me as a person to keep that as my focus and judge my work by how I feel about it and what my aims were initially and if I feel I achieved that, rather than by what other people think of it.

The Mercury has a history of awarding debut artists - do you get much of a chance to listen to new albums?

I always try and keep up to date with all types of new music. I make that part of my work actually, I think it's important to know what sphere you're operating in as an artist. So yes, I keep up to date.

Having said that, there's very little that I find of interest and I tend to go back to the music that's always fed and nourished me for inspiration.

What are your memories of the first time you were nominated?

I do have an appalling memory and I think the first nomination was for Rid Of Me, and I really can't remember anything about it. I can't even remember going. Did I go? I don't think I was there, I was probably on tour - we did very lengthy tours in the early days. I've a vague memory of being invited and being in another part of the world.

Your Mercury prize win coincided with the terror attacks in the US on 11 September - while you were still in Washington. It must bring back mixed emotions.

Image caption Harvey plays the autoharp on much of Let England Shake

Quite naturally I look back at that and only remember the events that were taking place across the world and to win the prize on that day - it didn't have much importance in the grand scheme of things.

Still, it was a monumental day which I'll never forget. Doing the acceptance down a telephone, I remember vividly looking out of the window at armoured tanks driving up and down outside our hotel and whole city was on lockdown. We weren't allowed to leave Washington until late that night to get to our next show.

It was a very surreal day.

Aside from the Mercury nomination and critical acclaim, what reaction have you had from people who have listened to the album?

It's really astonishing, actually, how much people have wanted to come and tell me what the record means to them and how much it's affected their lives. It's really overwhelmed me and that's been from all walks of life, whether they have been involved in war zones or not.

But there have been people that have worked with refugees in east Timor, war veterans from as far afield as New Zealand and Australia - people just reaching out to want to say, 'thank you, this means a lot to me,' so it continues to humble me, it's wonderful to get feedback like that

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