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PJ Harvey 'The Wheel' by Seamus Murphy

David Knight - 4th Feb 2016

The origin of PJ Harvey's The Wheel - both the song and the video – comes from her longstanding creative relationship with photojournalist and filmmaker Seamus Murphy. They began working together with Murphy's series of films to accompany Harvey's last album Let England Shake, after the singer had seen his photojournalism in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Then, as Murphy explains below, a return to Kosovo to show the Let England Shake films became an inspiration of the song - the first track from her forthcoming album, The Hope Six Demolition Project

The video for The Wheel contains elements of Murphy's visits to the Balkans at different periods but it's the current migrant crisis that looms large, with the video's most recent footage being shot by Murphy on the Greek and Macedonian border. An utterly absorbing, important piece of work.


"Polly and I wanted to initiate a project together working in places we thought interesting and relevant. We met through her seeing my photographs from Afghanistan, and I later showed her more work, including some from the war in Kosovo in the late 1990s. I had experience and contacts in both places and Polly had long held a fascination for Afghanistan and was caught up following the events in Kosovo when it was topical.

"I had returned to Kosovo in 2004 when the conflict erupted again, finding unresolved disputes and a deep frustration on every side with the pace and handling of events. 

"[Then] an invitation came to both of us early in the summer of 2011. We were asked to attend a screening of the complete 12 Short Films I had made for the Let England Shake album, and to be part of a Q&A afterwards at the Dokufest in Prizren, southern Kosovo. Not something Polly would normally do, yet there was something inevitable about it all and it would get the project started. So we went. 

"The song The Wheel has the journey to Kosovo at its centre. Who is to say what else has influenced and informed its creation? The sight of a revolving fairground wheel in Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje near the capital Pristina is the concrete reference point for the title. It was a passing observation of a commonplace image, one of many that day. While Polly took notes I might have been more interested in something else happening across the street and not bothered to shoot or even have seen it. That day we were gathering material in a blind, optimistic endeavour; characteristic of the way we tend to work together. We had no idea if any of it would ever be seen, heard or would make sense.

"Was that sight alone the inspiration for the song? Without being told the stories of people who had suffered during the war, without visiting villages abandoned through ethnic cleansing and cycles of vengeance, without experiencing the different perceptions of people with shared histories, could the song have been written?  

"Making the film for The Wheel involved a mix of footage from the first trip in 2011, rehearsals I shot of Polly in London and the most recent trip to Kosovo [in December 2015]. The enormous refugee crisis in Europe had been news for months. I spent some time on the Greek and Macedonian borders, and in Serbia, before travelling into Kosovo. It was happening in and through territories associated with recent conflicts in Kosovo and the wider Balkans. The idea of cycles, wheels and repetition once again being all too apparent and necessary to make."

David Knight - 4th Feb 2016


  • Director's notes
  • Documentary
  • Kosovo
  • Photojournalism, Documentary
  • Migrant crisis
  • Reportage

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Seamus Murphy
James Wilson
Production Company
JW Films


Sebastian Gollek

David Knight - 4th Feb 2016

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