Music Notes: Patrick Wolf hunting musical longevity
PUBLISHED: 11:49 04 February 2013 | UPDATED: 11:49 04 February 2013
Patrick Wolf is an artist who has always worn his heart bravely on his sleeve: his self-creation is an ongoing evolution entirely of his own making. It's been a decade since the always soulful, often flamboyant, singer-songwriter burst onto the music scene.
His first album, Lycanthropy, dazzled critics with its lyrical honesty, sonic complexity, and genre-bending variety.
Ten-years on, the former busker from South London has stripped down 16 of his favourites and put out an acoustic double album, Sundark and Riverlight, and next week arrives in Norwich touring it suitably unplugged fashion.
It is his first entirely acoustic album and it was recorded in old fashion style with analogue tape and mixing desk. Every instrument was chosen with care as part of a mission to find “a grand piano with the best bass response and character” (Peter Gabriel ended up lending him his own Bosendorfer Grand and Bodhran and Hammer Dulcimer).
Wolf’s unusual musical trajectory represents a world of musical influences and collaborations from digital hardcore to folk, Marianne Faithfull to Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton. Sometimes his diversifications have left fans and critics bewildered and even resentful – defying categorisation isn’t playing the game, which is about staying comfortably in your box. “I grew up with a love of medieval, minimalist and renaissance classical music as well as listening to Atari Teenage Riot and The Breeders,” he said. “The production for this album was influenced by years of listening to artists like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, The Rachels, Shirley and Dolly Collins, Meredith Monk, Stephen Micus, Henry Purcell and John Blow.”
Playing live with Patti Smith on numerous occasions has also clearly been an inspiration: “I haven’t ever met anybody like Patti in the music industry, who is so exactly how I want to be. She’s timeless, ageless. She lives with her heart and eyes open. ”
“My mission statement at the beginning was: if you’re going to stick around with my music, be prepared for lots of different faces and sounds. I mean, it’s not a new concept; think of Bowie, Kate Bush or PJ Harvey. I think because there’s youth attached to my early records people are always looking for the first signs of ageing…I can’t wait to get into my thirties and forties to see what music I’m making!”
A lot of Lycanthropy’s die-hard fans will probably never forgive him for evolving; but the important message about that first album is the fact that, as he says, it was made with “a ton of passion, guts, a 4-track and a laptop.” His fierce intelligence and musicality, teamed with the unpredictability of the next source of inspiration, mean you can never second-guess his next move. And why would you want to? lalbums down, he shows no hint of flagging….
■ Patrick Wolf plays Norwich Arts Centre on February 6.
■ Sundark and Riverlight is out now.
■ Further listening: patrickwolf.com