Patrick Wolf has been quiet for a long time. Not just in his hiatus from music, whilst he collates an anthology of poetry, notes and art to be published for his fans, but also on stage tonight at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms. He is intently tuning and returning his guitar, methodically testing and retesting, searching intuitively for that elusive but eventually sought for pitch. He goes on to explain that almost every song he plays needs a different tuning set up, but thanks us all for being so patient with him. The audience tonight are definitely keen to see what Patrick has been and will be up to, and are thoroughly onside. One voice responds that we can just check out his shoes while we wait (he has terrific stacked heel boots like something from a sci fi dream) and Patrick responds appreciatively and slightly mischievously that as long as we keep coming to his gigs one day he’ll be able to afford his own guitar technician. He may not have the tech but he does have two brave followers in the shape of Max and Drew on drums and bass plus a whole array of instruments to demonstrate his eclectic musical tastes and accomplishment. He’s also supported by long time friend and collaborator Calpernia Addams who later accompanies him on autoharp. Ahead of Patrick’s set, she delivers a breathy mixture of cabaret, burlesque, torch song and chamber music which warms the crowd up nicely.
Patrick’s own set is an interesting mixture of his back catalogue and new compositions. Eternally torn between the commercial and the artistic (he explains this beautifully towards the end of the set where he plays two songs which are basically the same moment in his life, but one the dark, arty version whilst the other is the ‘chequebook pen’ hovering moment for his record label), he opts for the latter tonight, avoiding playing his most chart-troubling and toe-tapping songs in favour of some of his more daring, but equally loved tracks. So, there’s no “House” or “The Magic Position” or “Time of My Life” (to my dismay – a real favourite), but we do get searing versions of “Tristan” and “Augustine” and the gorgeous “Bluebells” which has the crowd excited from its first insistent synth stabs and swirls. A track like “Land’s End” explains much of his dilemma and is a brilliant opener:
“The work is done and the record pressed / Now you’re doing battle with the fickle press / You’ve got to strike the hammers and pull the bow/ And another fool is just another show / It’s all the same and you’ve seen it before”
Throughout the evening, Patrick moves from one instrument to another, showing his prowess on vocals (beautiful, haunting and producing many spine-tingling moments), guitar, keys and violin. At times he frantically strums or strikes the instrument creating a disconcerting but mesmerising wall of sound. Coupled with the sonorous bass and rising drums and cymbals, the effect is often stunning.
New track “The Watcher in the Woods” is introduced as a tribute to three friends and it is only through a spot of internet research and YouTube video watching that I realise his “Amy, Peaches and Robbie” are Winehouse, Geldof and Wolf’s violinist friend. The track is poignant and haunting as you’d expect from the subject matter, lamenting that they were “gone before their time” in a lovely descending chord sequence like something from a 60s guitar ballad. Equally arm-hair-electrifying is “Godrevy Point” with its references to the beautiful coastline and the “ghost region” again creating something terribly bittersweet and memorable.
We are also treated to a glimpse of the new double A side single which is reported to be “Waking the Wild Sound” and “To the Golden Gate”. The latter is inspired by a trip to the West Coast but is just as stirring and elegiac as you’d expect. The other side is equally great, being slightly more upbeat and dare I say, poppy. Patrick has spent this short UK leg of his tour mixing up his set lists, so it’s been tricky to pin down what you will hear from one night to another and our night at Nottingham seems curtailed by a 10pm curfew as we finish with a resounding rendition of “Tristan” rather than any sort of encore. Before this, we get the schism moment I mentioned earlier, where Calpernia returns to the stage to help out on “The Railway House” before moving on into “Get Lost”. Patrick explains that both songs capture the same moment but the amount of pressure he felt under to deliver more commercial songs led to the latter, but perhaps subliminally the title was his message to the big labels. Both tracks are sublime, one in an aching way, the other goes full on rock ‘n’ roll and gets the audience shimmying.
He certainly hasn’t taken the easy route to the top, being quirky and endearing but also wearing his troubled heart on his sleeve and being honest about his darker moods and delays in producing material due to insecurity or perfectionism. He could knock out album after album of folky pop hits, but instead follows his emotions. He ends by telling us that he will be back touring his new album when it’s complete and he looks forward to having a lot of fun with us. “I won’t always be depressing in churches,” he promises, but either way, it will be fascinating to experience.
• Land’s End
• The Shadowsea
• The Bachelor
• The Watcher
• To The Lighthouse
• The Golden Gate
• Godrevy Point
• The Railway House
• Get Lost