Patrick Wolf has been skirting around the edges the music scene since 2003, gathering committed fans and receiving critical praise, yet never really moving beyond the periphery.
But his latest record, The Magic Position – an exhilarating celebration of life set against mesmerising Mac rhythms and classical swishes – has been warmly received in all quarters and it may well be the one that finally sees him recognised as one of Britain’s most important artists.
The 23 year old is largely unmoved by the sudden acceptance.
“It’s kind of funny. I guess I would have cared about four years ago and now it’s happening part of me is just like ‘Oh well, thanks for joining in now’ you know. Now that they are good reviews I feel like I’ve kind of gone through that already.”
The early life of Wolf reads like a rock fairytale. Born into a creative family in London, he began his musical education singing in choirs and playing viola and violin from age 6. By the age of 11 he had begun to experiment with synthesizers and four-tracks and at 14 joined the pop-art collective Minty as a theramin player, while he began to write music obsessively as an escape from school troubles.
He left home at 16 and spent some years wild and free around London, busking in a string quartet and forming Maison Crimineaux – a noisy act built around a combination of white noise and pop music. Patrick went on to study one year of a degree in composition at Trinity College of Music, during which time he recorded his debut album.
Lycanthropy, a tragic and sassy folktronica chronicle of his turbulent life so far, was released in the summer of 2003 to both critical acclaim and intrigue – who was this crazily dressed, bleach-blond young man with the amazing vocal range playing ukuleles and laptops?
His 2005 follow up, Wind in the Wires, was a darker and more expansive affair, and perhaps reflecting his mood, his hair returned to its natural black. The album generated more praise and increased his cult following, but he remained on the fringes.
Patrick shocked a few when he returned to public view at the end of 2006 with a beat heavy and joyous single Accident and Emergency, not to mention new glittery stylings and burnt orange locks. Comments were made as to whether he’d lost his way, but when the album was released it became clear that he had pulled it off once more, and perhaps now the world was ready for him.
The Magic Position not only showcased new sounds and styles but a new side to Patrick, a loved up, perhaps even contented one. He sees the album as him moving on from being influenced by his turbulent youth.
“It came out of the need to document like six years in my life and just kind of draw a line underneath a time. It was strange, it was almost like bottling a ship, you know, suddenly it’s in this bottle and you can’t access it anymore. I think Wind in the Wires was about trying to capture a solitary mode, Lycanthropy was about a struggle and this one was about love.”
The bliss that Patrick conveys on record came from a specific relationship that ended as the album was being finished, something that made it hard to continue.
“The mixing of the record came at a time I was moving house, out of a very domestic, blissful period of my life, so it was defiantly hard to feel any inspiration for the record at all, or any love for it. Luckily I found some and finished the record.”
Wolf is greatly concerned that people listen to his music before they take account of what he’s wearing, he loathes being referred to as a ‘Dandy’, but he still feels the clothes are an extension of the sounds.
“I find in England it’s strange because people look at you first and then decide whether they’re going to listen or not, and in other countries they listen to your music and then they see the whole story behind it you know. So I realize the visual is very important, I use it almost as a figurehead of the work. I don’t know, I just try and take the song and see what it needs visually, and often it’s not jeans and t-shirt”, he says with a small laugh.
We’ve seen three sides of Wolf so far, but he’s keeping tight lipped on what musical mood he’ll be moving into next. “There’s lots of ideas and I’m writing the fourth album at the moment, but I’m keeping very quiet about it because I tend to give the game away about a year and a half before and I really shouldn’t.” Oh well, we shall eagerly await the next stage in Patrick’s career. And the next hair colour.
By Kenn Taylor