A founder member of The Birthday Party with Nick Cave, and follow-on group the Bad Seeds, Mick Harvey casts a long shadow over alternative rock. His latest venture is a duets album with a hitherto unknown Mexican singer, Amanda Acevedo, and they make a splendid pair both on record and speaking to James W Roberts.
“I’ve never played Cardiff before in my entire life,” reveals Mick Harvey, a man with his musical fingerprints on some of the finest records of the latter 20th century. In a career that started five decades ago in the suburbs of Melbourne, propelled by punk, and zigzagged notably to London, through Berlin squats, and onto the rest of the world, this revelation seems somewhat surprising.
The multi-instrumentalist emerged from the nihilistic postpunk of The Birthday Party to evolve into the glue that held together the universally lauded Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, as well as gloom rockers Crime & The City Solution. Add to this a weighty solo career, collaborations with the likes of PJ Harvey, and you have a true musical heavyweight.
The Australian’s latest project, thankfully, finally brings him to the Welsh capital. Phantasmagoria In Blue is a 14-track album of duets featuring swooning and dramatic reinterpretations and English language translations of songs from artists as varied as Tim Buckley, Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra, Luis Eduardo Aute, Sibylle Baier, Silvio Rodriguez and Pat Benatar.
And it is little surprise that collaboration is key. Mick met musical partner in crime Amanda Acevedo several years ago in Mexico City, while on tour with PJ Harvey. After bouncing sketches of songs and files across the world, and navigating a global pandemic, the pair finally recorded this beguiling album in Los Angeles, and its lush autumnal tones will be perfectly suited to a September evening at The Gate Arts Centre.
“It’s a pretty bizarre way to do things,” says Harvey of the remote collaboration, “but it has been amazing because it has brought very different results.”
“I don’t think I would have have dared even asking Mick to do something together if it wasn’t because of the pandemic,” offers Amanda. “I always wanted to keep some sort of respectful distance with him, but then we started communicating more and it was like, ‘oh the world is ending, we might as well do something like a project… it might be fun’!”
Harvey has form with reinterpreting music. Under his own name, he has released a quartet of English language reinterpretations of French provocateur extraordinaire Serge Gainsbourg, and Phantasmagoria In Blue certainly feels like a logical next step.
“Obviously the Gainsbourg stuff is different because of its translation, but this set of songs is really different because they’re duets,” affirms Harvey. The album has a lot of elements that are surreal or supernatural, and when we structured the order of the songs we tried to make it be like if it was told like a story told through the songs, like a trip or an emotional journey. from happiness to the bad moments and even a mixture of both.”
The pair recorded around 20 tracks during the globe-spanning collaboration, with Acevedo bringing the majority of the songs to the table. “I introduced Mick to Milk And Honey by Bonnie Dobson, and I Lost Something In The Hills by Sibylle Baier. I also brought some songs that are original in Spanish that we translated or made bilingual, such as The Blue Unicorn and Al Alba, which both are from very well-known songwriters in the Spanish-speaking world.”
Harvey and Acevedo have been performing these songs live in Australia and Europe. This UK tour will coincide when the album is out in the wild, and as Harvey reflects, “it won’t be ours anymore.” Refreshingly, the format for the evening’s entertainment is anything but formulaic. The duo will be joined by a “house band” in the form of Germany’s Sometimes With Others, as well as long-time collaborator J.P. Shilo: “So it’s like a review show in a way,” offers Harvey, “and I just really hope that it reaches the right people, and those people that can understand it or be moved by it.”
One thing is for sure, Mick Harvey’s long overdue debut with his new collaborators on Cardiff soil, amid the pews and sacred splendour of a former church in Roath, will be one not to miss.
Mick Harvey & Amanda Acevedo, The Gate, Cardiff, Fri 15 Sept.
Tickets: £25. Info: here
Phantasmagoria In Blue is out now via Mute.
words JAMES W ROBERTS