Dancing with Wolf

An interview with Patrick Wolf for The Student

Patrick Wolf is frustrated by over-intellectualisation of his work. “Why don’t you just enjoy it or not enjoy it?” he says to me. “It’s as simple as that.” Well, quite.

Two weeks later, onstage at the Liquid Room, the pleasure he obviously gets from performing transfers to his audience, who seem, for the most part, too rapt to dance. This dichotomy, of simplistic reception versus the concentration he hopes for – “I’d rather people just close their eyes and enjoy or experience it” – should, in a logical world, make for a brilliant listening experience but not the most fun live show. But somehow Wolf manages to combine the emotional weight of his lyrics with a light visual touch, resulting in a set that is engaging and enjoyable – refined, even.

The transition from studio to stage is something Wolf thinks about carefully. His live shows used to be noted for their visual splendour, but he implies that perhaps this has taken away from the music itself somewhat: “I introduced the album this year through very Spartan shows. I’d just be in a suit and [there’d be] no backdrop, no stage design… I kept my performances very rigid in a way so that everybody would just focus on the music – and it worked. And now … I’ve just realised that I’ve done that, I’ve communicated all of the new songs across – now it’s time to bring in the theatre, in a way. And so I’m trying to build a city onstage.”

In the live set, the “slight dystopia onstage, like a city after a war” actually seems quite homely: storybook houses light up and change colour. This is never more appropriately gorgeous than when Wolf sings “Oh I love this house, I love this house/Gives me the greatest peace I’ve ever known” in “House”, halfway through the show. This tone of domestic contentment is one Wolf has been deliberately evoking. Although writing is, for him, often about “trying to get out, to exercise, some sort of emotion that’s troubling me – it’s too big for my body, so I just try to write it out instead” with this record he seems to have found peace. “A lot of this album was written in my home, this little paradise that I’ve created domestically” he says.

Contentment seems like such a bland emotion, yet Wolf’s work remains anything but. Audience members are visibly moved by his performance: when he plays the harp in “Bermondsey Street”, his delicacy and precision, combined with that ever-emotive voice, has more than a few people wiping their eyes.  The devotion he inspires in his audiences doesn’t go unnoticed, either. Speaking about his experiences of his audiences at this summer’s festivals, he says “they’ve all been just the warmest, most gorgeous crowds and I really feel like I want to say thank you to everyone that came to the festivals this year. And I’ve never felt a warmer feeling, after the radio play for the album, and I’ve never felt quite so accepted by my own country as I do right now.”

Acceptance indeed: Edinburgh obviously adores Wolf, and he seems genuinely moved by their reception. The whole room sings along during his encore, which sees him play “Accident and Emergency” swiftly followed by “Magic Position” – a real treat – and his comment that “the more brain power people are using, the less from their heart they’re using up” rings true: this is pure, basic joy.

Originally published in The Student, 1 November 2011.


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