Patrick Wolf has always delighted in zagging when he should zig. While he can write strident, big-hearted pop hooks that big-name producers could only hope for – download ‘Tristan’, ‘The City’ and ‘Accident & Emergency’ for compelling evidence – he’ll stymie his mainstream success by way of a Celtic harp, dulcimer or ukulele. And while he’s been known to flit around London in outfits Kate Bush and the Von Trapp family would baulk at, he’s more interested in living life like a literary romantic hero than being a style magazine pin-up. It’s pop music as heard on the moors, whipped away by the wind, tugging at the corners of your much-neglected imagination.
Album No. 5, Lupercalia, was revered by critics as being a celebration of life and love (how novel!), but now he’s keen to start anew – once he’s put out a retrospective reworking of his favourite bits of the past 10 years. Which, happily for us, he’s also bringing to Australia in an intimate live show. He’ll be joined on stage by one or two instrument-swapping musicians and will be projecting old footage and home videos from his childhood. It’s his “jubilee”, he says.
“In terms of finances it’s very hard to get to Australia,” Wolf explains down the line from the recording studio. “Taking the last tour over would have meant 90 people on a tour bus, which for an independent artist like myself is impossible. So this tour is perfect. I can come over and be a communicator and get back to my roots.”
Inspiration for the retrospective album, he adds winningly, actually comes from a 2007 Sydney show that transported him back to a sweeter time. “It was kind of a break in the middle of a really big tour that was very premeditated by management. I had this little break to do a show in Sydney and it was so beautiful. I had this moment where I was able to just be like I was when I was 17, playing piano in a café in Burlington Square. I felt really free, liberated, so I think this is going to be a great tour for me. I’m doing one London show and then coming straight to Australia.”
While Melbourne holds good memories for Wolf – including a visit to Healesville Sanctuary to get cuddly with the local flora and fauna – it’s Perth he’s looking forward to most, thanks to the tough lessons the city taught him last time.
“I remember walking down the street and everyone shouting at me like, ‘You faggot!’” he says. “Back then I had red hair and kind of looked like a lady. I thought, ‘This is going to be an awful show.’ But I learn so much about myself on the road, and my lesson from Perth… hang on, let me take a deep breath. My lesson from Perth was that if somebody is giving you shit on the street and it’s a bad energy, then your audience is going to be amazing, because it's all the freaks and the outsiders, who will feel the same way as you.”
Incidentally, Wolf is planning to wear a shirt made out of a map of Queensland tablecloth that he picked up in an op shop, so if that offends you, be sure to bring along some Victorian paraphernalia.
Patrick Wolf on gay rights:
Patrick your track ‘Bermondsey Street’ will be getting a reworking for the forthcoming album. It’s a song about love having no boundaries, set in South London, but can you tell us more about it?
‘Bermondsey Street’ is about a moment where I was in a love bubble, a kind of paradise. I’m very grateful to the people who campaigned for gay rights, which allows me to be able to sleep next to another man peacefully and legally and in love, in the centre of London. I’ve been reading a lot of The Naked Civil Servant [Quentin Crisp’s autobiography] and other queer literature and ‘Bermondsey Street’ is a message of hope to Russia and the Ukraine. There’s a charity called All Out who are really trying promote equal rights in those countries.
“In my brain there’s a revolutionary aspect to Bermondsey Street and the area Bermondsey. It’s a place where all the ships were coming into London and [I equated that to] the revolution in the ’80s, when all this stuff was happening with Section 28 [a 1988 clause in the UK’s Local Government Act that stated a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”]. That’s exactly what’s happening in Russia at the moment with their fight for equality.
“It’s really sweet that people are now taking photos kissing on Bermondsey Street and sending them to me. It’s my dream, an ideal, of what love should be."
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