Greystones, Sheffield, 24/3/2019
published: 24 /
Denzil Watson witnesses a raw and intimate Sheffield gig by former Strangelove frontman Patrick Duff.
It seems like every band that ever existed in the halcyon days of Britpop in the '90s have now reformed. One notable exception, however, is Bristol's Strangelove.
Never conformists to the at-times restrictive Britpop template, there was something much darker and more substantive about the band. After splitting up in 1998 after three albums and a number of acclaimed EPs, they went their separate ways.
Their enigmatic and troubled frontman Patrick Duff briefly played with new band Moon, before travelling the globe and immersing himself in world music. Since his debut solo album 'Luxury Problems' in 2005 on EMI’s Harvest label, Duff has gone on to establish himself as one of the UK's more intriguing songwriters and release a further four solo albums.
His latest and most accomplished album to date, 'Leaving My Father's House', is the reason forty or so like-minded souls find themselves in the back room of Sheffield's Greystones venue for a show in support of his latest album. Patrick's shows are sporadic but captivating if you have been fortunate enough to witness one.
Tonight represents something of a departure from previous live outings as he is accompanied by the 17-year-old guitar-genius "Woody", one of his tutees from his native Bristol. Duff's shows have evolved over the years to encompass stories and readings, and where rock bands crave the noisy adulation of their fans, Duff has channelled the intensity of silence as a yardstick of success of his mesmerising shows.
Starting with the melancholic fragility of 'Thought Birds', he moves seamlessly into the warm, meandering ambience of 'Land of the Midnight Sun' from his latest album. In stripped-back form compared to on-record, every syllable of every word of the lyrics reverberates around the room, more than ably supported by Woody.
The next song is something of a surprise. Very rarely has Patrick revisited his Strangelove days, but it's our good fortune that we get a glorious reinterpretation of 'Sway', a long-lost classic from the band's 'Love and Other Demons' album. This fades perfectly into the first of the night's three or so readings, this one about Patrick's recollections of the tour bus that picked them up from the band's practice room at the start of Strangelove's first tour of Europe. It's an affectionate tribute to those unsung hero of the tour crew: the bus driver. His recollections of late-night conversations on European motorways so vivid that, for a moment, you are transported back in time to the very moment.
With the set taking in the whole of his solo career, we next get a duo of songs from debut LP 'Luxury Problems': 'Song to America' and the country-tinged soul-baring 'Mother Nature's Refugee'. The second reading of the night is entitled "Grandma" and has the room transfixed in Patrick's storytelling spell. His recollections of his encounter with his grandma in a Welsh care-home and the image of her wide orb-like glazed-blue eyes has the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. 'Evergreen' from his crystal singing bowl project further pushes the concert into a trance-like state.
Strangely he chooses to ignore the very fine 'Mad Straight Road' LP altogether and we have to wait until late on into the set to get more songs from his current album. Finally, we get 'For All I Know' and set-closer and show-stopper 'Maria'. It's the pick of the night's set and a jaw-dropper of a song that illustrates perfectly just how accomplished a song-writer and story-teller Duff has become.
But there's more to come too. The extended encore includes a version of Strangelove's 'Freak' and a completely unamplified version of The Kinks' 'Sunny Afternoon'. Best of all, a crowd request to play 'Time For The Rest of Your Life' is answered in the positive. By the end of the set he’s connected with every person in the room. It's a fitting end to a life-affirming concert in the company of an extraordinary performer, one truly blessed with a gift to channel raw and intimate emotions through his songs and lyrics.
Photos by Denzil Watson