John Parish’s career began as drummer with the new wave band Thieves Like Us. They released a single – ‘Mind Made’ – in 1980, but fell out with their label over it’s refusal to release their debut album and shortly after the band dissolved.
Having amassed a number of songs during Thieves days, Parish decided to front his own band , first the short lived Headless Horsemen, and then the junk percussion dominated Automatic Dlamini which he formed in late ’82 with drummer Rob Ellis.
Automatic Dlamini built a strong live following and attracted the attention of Wall Of Voodoo/The Fall producer Richard Mazda who took them into the studio. They released an EP, two singles and then their first album – ‘The D is for Drum’ – in 1987. Around that time Parish met the teenage Polly Harvey who was a regular attendee at Dlamini gigs. Impressed with her voice he invited her to join the band. Somewhat ironically, Rob Ellis left at the same time (to be replaced by Andy Henderson, later of Echobelly) so Harvey and Ellis were never in Automatic Dlamini at the same time.
The new line up, which also featured slide guitarist Jeremy Hogg, gigged in the UK and Europe and by dint of being signed to a Berlin label played an extensive tour of East Germany some six months before the wall came down. They also recorded an unreleased (but heavily bootlegged) second album – ‘Here Catch, Shouted His Father’.
Almost accidentally, in 1986 Parish began a second career as record producer when indie guitar band and neighbours The Chesterfields approached him to help out with the recording of their first single as he was the only person they knew who’d actually made a record before. The subsequent ‘Guitar in your bath EP’ which was a classic example of the ‘C86 sound’ became an independent chart hit, and as Parish’s name was on the sleeve, a steadily escalating number of bands began calling and requesting his services as producer.
By 1991 Parish was juggling an indie producer career, a part time lectureship on a performing arts course, and was also playing guitar with Wall of Voodoo guitarist Marc Moreland’s Ensenada Joyride – which included drummer Jean-Marc Butty. Frustrated by lack of Dlamini activity & lack of outlet in Dlamini for her own songs Polly Harvey left the band and began gigging as a trio (with Rob Ellis and bass player Ian ‘Olly’ Oliver, later replaced by Steve Vaughn) under the name PJ Harvey, although she did contribute vocals, bass and some guitar to the final Automatic Dlamini album, 1992’s ‘From A Diva To A Diver’ – by which time her debut album ‘Dry’ had been released to worldwide acclaim.
While lecturing at Yeovil College Parish was asked to write a couple of scores for touring college productions. Director Andy Wistreich wanted a particularly confrontational production of Hamlet, and the music that Parish delivered – and performed live with a student band – was so discordant and aggressive that at every performance less than half of the audience returned after the interval. However one of those who did make it through the second half was Polly Harvey, who was so taken with the music that she commissioned Parish to write her an album’s worth of music that she could try putting words to. This would result in their first album collaboration, 1996’s ‘Dance Hall At Louse Point’.