Patrick Wolf is a captivating performer. Bounding onto the O2 Academy stage on Halloween, in what looked like a scholar’s gown (woo Oxford), he worked through a perfectly pitched selection from his five albums, changing effortlessly from violin to harp to ukulele, donning a furry pom-pom scarf and attaching a bird to his shoulder. All limbs and messy hair (black at the moment, “I change with the seasons”), he has an air of endearing awkwardness that make his songs, which sound as crisp as they do on record, all the more engaging.
The majority of the set was devoted to Wolf’s most recent album Lupercalia, a reference to the ancient spring festival of purity and fertility. “A very personal series of love letters” is how he describes the album, the title of which “has enough resonance in terms of fantasy that people can read what they want into it”. In terms of its upbeat lyrics and instrumentation, the album is a real departure from its gothic predecessor The Bachelor. “The lyrics and the melody all seem to lend itself away from digital production and too many electronic and synthetic sounds…I wanted to have an openness about it in the production and sounds that could be created by humans, real sounds, to suggest intimacy, romance and making love”. This ‘openness’ is reflected in the album artwork and the video for the lead single ‘The City’, in which Wolf frolics on a beach. “I am the creative director of my visual side and with ‘The City’ I wanted to do a video that represented health, happiness, innocence, frivolity and callousness. Whereas a lot of The Bachelor had been styled to the point of artifice, this was very unartifical, it was a beautiful summer’s day on the beach in Los Angeles and it represented a lot of how I made the album.”
Wolf gives the impression of living in his own world. He does not really listen to contemporary music and claims that prizes like the Mercury, for which he has surprisingly not been nominated, are ‘“as abstract as the weather to me”. Even when he is not touring or recording he continues to work; “it’s frustrating for my fiance and my friends that I am constantly on the go but I’d say that writing is my holiday, my escape”. Above all, this is work for art’s sake – “writing songs is probably the most innocent thing I do in life, it’s very detached from making money”.
When boredom next hits, search ‘Patrick Wolf’ and ‘angry’ on YouTube. You will be met with an array of hilarious but terrifying scenes in which Patrick tells one of the audience members, who is merely talking, to ‘get the fuck out bitch’, fires his drummer on stage and throws various items around, narrowly missing the head of his violinist. When asked about these notorious performances he was refreshingly honest, explaining that the majority of them happened around the time of The Bachelor in which the songs are “very aggressive”. “I am just a performer of my work when I am on stage and if the work is aggressive it lends itself to putting up a middle finger, wearing knee high skinhead boots and just being out there”. This aggression seems to have completely dissipated on Lupercalia and this tour (although his violinist did look slightly on edge), reflected in the way he psychs himself up for performances: “I’m obsessed with the levels of the monitors and checking that the harp’s in tune. Sometimes just tuning up the instruments is a much bigger thrill than drinking a pint of rum, which is what it used to be”. His rider is no less civil: “It changes. We have a Greek rider with octopus, a real English rider with pork pie and ale and a Spanish one with tapas”.
While he may not be as temperamental as he used to be (I was willing him to kick off when the sound went a bit dodgy), his performance was no less exciting with the advantage of being exceptionally polished. ‘The Future’ was seamlessly merged with Joni Mitchell’s ‘All I Want’ before his sweaty and euphoric encore of ‘The Magic Position’, a song he describes as just beginning to like again and the wonderful, saxophone driven ‘The City’. Patrick is clearly the happiest he has been in years, and it’s infectious.