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Dorset’s answer to Patti Smith

Almost two decades after her ferocious debut, PJ Harvey is still redefining what it means to be a female rock star. She's even learned to play the piano

By Alice O'Keeffe   June 2009

21st April, 2009. An extraordinary sound is filling the sold-out auditorium of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. It is cracked and plaintive, the voice of an old crone on her deathbed. On stage is a frail figure, dressed in black, hunched over the microphone. She is utterly absorbed in the song, which is accompanied by the seasick lurching of a fairground organ. At times, her cry fades almost to a whisper: “I don’t know what silence means/ It could mean/ Anything.”

The last chord hangs in the air for a few seconds. Now the singer turns and looks directly at the…

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