Polly put the kettle on, we'll all have pub rock

PJ Harvey surprised a Bridport bar with a one-off gig. Oliver Gray popped in for a pint
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The Independent Culture

It was Sunday lunchtime in Bridport. In a room above the down-at-heel but truly rock'n'roll Hope and Anchor pub, Polly Harvey and her new band were rehearsing for the imminent promotion of their new America-friendly album, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

It was Sunday lunchtime in Bridport. In a room above the down-at-heel but truly rock'n'roll Hope and Anchor pub, Polly Harvey and her new band were rehearsing for the imminent promotion of their new America-friendly album, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

This gig, in a small Dorset town, was the first time the five-piece band had played in public, and they were squeezed into a space so small they were in danger of injuring each other with their guitar necks.

"What's she loike?" enquired one red-faced cider monster from the back of the crammed room. "She's a sweetie, a real sweetie," replied his mate, from his viewpoint atop a table. In front of me, a gay couple cuddled; to my left a young reporter scribbled. Between the bar and the band, two white-haired elderly gentlemen were enjoying being pressed up against a group of attractive young ladies. A young lad threatened the drummer's concentration by leaning in through the window from the street and interrogating him, mid-song, about his kit. A man with a spider tattoo on his neck was asleep on the bar. Polly asked for a round of applause for the landlady, who had been making cups of tea for the band.

Soon they will be on the David Letterman show and playing the Viper Lounge, but at the end of this showa bucket went round, "to pay the band"; two-thirds of the audience pretended not to notice it.

As the show finished, a man entered and asked: "Which is your strongest ale? I want something that's going to put me on the floor inside two pints." I'd already committed a faux pas by asking for a half of the local Palmers Bitter. "Palmers? Don't you bloody swear in here, young man." Maybe the crime was only asking for a half.

The next morning a queue formed at the Arts Centre ticket office. "I'll have 12 please," said a woman who looked so little like a potential PJH fan that I was sure she would add "not for me, of course". "Sorry," was the reply, "it's a maximum of six." "Oh. Well, I'll have six for me and six for my husband." "All right then."

A member of staff took a photo of the queue. "We've never seen one of these before," he explained.

At that evening's show the band were able to move about and looked less nervous, and Polly had changed from jeans into a miniskirt. Soon, it will be rock venues and TV studios, not pubs and arts centres. But just for this weekend, for Polly Jean Harvey, her band and her Dorset fans, the stories were all from the sea.

Oliver Gray's new memoir, 'Volume: A Cautionary Tale of Rock & Roll Obsession', is published by Sarsen Press (£7.99)

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