Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Despite only being 29 South-London singer songwriter Patrick Wolf is marking his ten years as a recording artist with an album of re-recordings from throughout his career (along with some new material) – Sundark and Riverlight – featuring a stripped down acoustic sound accompanied by an acoustic world tour. If you take acoustic to mean a man with a guitar you would be mistaken. Wolf is a gifted multi-instrumentalist and throughout the show switches between piano, harp, baritone ukulele, Appalachian mountain dulcimer and viola. He is ably accompanied by Victoria Sutherland on violin and (occasionally) piano and Craig White on oboe and cor anglais. The simple stage is dominated by a beautiful grand piano and an appealing clutter of instruments. Simple but effective lighting is bolstered by large scale black and white projection on the backcloth of an assortment of lo-fi footage of Wolf in suitably arty situations – caressing a horse, playing the harp, climbing into a stately bed, gazing moodily.
Far from being stripped-down, this new arrangement of his material creates a rich tapestry of sound that gives Wolf’s songs a timeless quality – some could almost be traditionals, others reveal more of their baroque pop origins. With his tall, modelly good-looks, floppy hair and extravagant costume – he could almost be a young Plantagenet king or an extra from The Tudors – Patrick Wolf’s foppish appearance could come across as self-consciously effete or precious but he is refreshingly normal and charmingly self-effacing. He chats with easy humour between songs – many of which are about his difficult teenage years and personal demons – and is immensely likeable. Other songs are about journeys, places, lost love, or inspired by myths and legends. Many in the audience are clearly devoted fans – his Wolf Pack – but the audience is astonishingly varied and with Wolf’s easy manner and the relative intimacy of the Lowry’s Quays Theatre, it makes for a very watchable, accessible show. Wolf’s slightly mannered singing voice is strong, warm and distinctive. His best songs are very good indeed – Hard Times, Oblivion, Overture, Bermondsey Street, Wind in the Wires, Teignmouth, House, This Weather, Pigeon Song and encore The Magic Position were all standouts to someone not especially familiar with Wolf’s catalogue. Lyrically he captures an intelligent mixture of the literary and the mundane with a strong narrative undercurrent. But this ninety minutes of sometimes rather mournful material is full of atmosphere, sense of place and emotional intent that counters the occasional sameness of some of the less focused songs, enriched with the changing textures of the instruments available to Wolf and his musicians.
If you are a Patrick Wolf fan this is a done deal but if you are fan of unusual art pop or even new folk- The Divine Comedy, Rufus Wainwright, Seth Lakeman, Wild Beasts for example – Patrick Wolf is well worth the risk and the price of the ticket.
Finally, I feel I should mention the support act. Abi Wade was something of a revelation. She sings and plays the cello (and the piano for one song). But how she plays the cello! With a mixture of pizzicato and bowing, with two foot pedals adding percussion and a selection of small drumsticks and the bow itself, she additional taps and thumps and judders the stick on and around the body and strings of the cello to create a fascinating and complex web of sound to accompany her rich voice and strong and varied songs. Sharing Wolf’s appealingly modest self-effacing demeanour, she is transfixing to watch. Definitely someone I’d like to see again.