Going to wrap things up with one more post in just a second, but I figured that while I’m still running the ship, I’d post these.
Back in the days of the first three albums, Patrick and his cat used to post handwritten letters up on his site with information about the progress of various albums, and occasionally music recommendations. Figured it wouldn’t hurt to throw them up here, since they might be of interest.
If they aren’t readable, I guess save them or open them in a new tab and zoom in. The quality should be high enough to zoom and read.
Land's End / The Towans
Wind in the Wires
Land’s End / The Towans [Wind in the Wires]
After a fairly morose album - even the ukelele songs - ‘Land’s End’ (lyrics) is an addendum, following the ‘Eulogy’ that closes out the album. The title is the name of a small town in Cornwall that is the most westerly point on the English mainland.
It’s maybe the most straightforward song Patrick’s written, describing life as a musician. The first verse details his frustrations when forced to leave his idyllic country life for the city, condemned to “do battle with the fickle press.” His solution for the stress?
You tell ‘em: “I’m leaving London for Land’s End With a green tent and a violin
Nonetheless, too long since he was “sweating in the spotlight” of the stage leaves him just as uncomfortable.
The song is an oddly fitting note on which to end Wind in the Wires, because his next album would be the first where he really had to deal with the press, public opinion and broader commercial exposure. Needless to say, it didn’t work out the way anyone had expected. But that’s for tomorrow.
‘Land’s End’ fades out into extended dissonance before a choir emerges from the murk. The attached hidden track is called ‘The Towans’ - a Cornish word for sand dune - and its lyrics are Patrick’s final word on the perils of seeking freedom, before the album sputters out with a burst of static identical to the one that opened ‘The Libertine’:
It’s a wild stretch of land Such a sad place to be When the night comes heavy down And the sands turn to sea
Many saints have lost their love Many a pilgrim died unseen In that wild stretch of land In that fire to be free
Wind in the Wires [CDS]
Godrevy Point - Wind in the Wires [CDS]
The other reason that the Wind in the Wires is my favourite period of Patrick’s output is that it includes a set of b-sides that rival the album for quality. They include:
My favourite, however, is ‘Godrevy Point’ (lyrics). It’s a gentle song that ambles along in 6/8 time, as Patrick meanders along the edge of a cliff, pondering forgiveness and self-acceptance. Nothing I can write will quite match the poetry of the song itself, so I’ll just say that any song that manages to make a verse like this:
And down by the foot of the cliff Where I gathered shells and watched the swells Blossom up around my feet I saw the ribcage of some wreck on the rocks What a tragic cost, for getting lost, When you just can’t find the light through this fog.
feel like an afterthought, is a damn good song.
Random Bonus Fact: The random sing-songy melody that enters in the background during the outro around 4:15 is someone singing the tail-end of Benjamin Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb,” a cantata based on Jubilate Agno, a poem penned by Christopher Smart while he was confined in the asylum St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics.
For at that time malignity ceases And the devils themselves are at peace. For this time is perceptible to man By a remarkable stillness and serenity of soul.
Presumably, in this context, it describes the state of self-acceptance attained after wandering the moors and clifftops. The more you know.
***Nico - Afraid [Desertshore]
You know what? I can’t help myself.
No way was I going to post about Patrick’s cover of ‘Afraid’ without posting the original. Desertshore is a downer of an album, but parts of it capture the gloomy seaside vibe that Wind in the Wires is all about.
Tristan [Wind in the Wires] [Dir. Paul Gore]
The music video for ‘Tristan’ (lyrics) begins with images of transmission towers and an excerpt from ‘Idumea’ (lyrics), a grimly fatalist Methodist hymn recorded by Patrick as a b-side to the single. We see a cloaked figure, and his outstretched arm, but Patrick’s face isn’t revealed until just before ‘Tristan’ itself begins.
‘Tristan’ is emblematic of the way Patrick plays fast and loose with his influences in constructing songs.
I’d just been to see Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’, it was in German so I didn’t really understand what was going on in the opera but then I found it in a book, the actual story line. It was about Tristan who was from Cornwall, those myths are always so complicated. The name Tristan means ‘born of sorrow’… I went on this really amazing walk along, there’s a 10 mile beach, it was out of season, no one around out there, just storms. There were very offensive and dark sand dunes. This character just popped up and the song was written in 5 minutes!
Take one German opera, one collosal sense of drama, some quick etymological research and a walk on the beach. Stir, add ukelele, synthesizers and growling. Simmer.
The lyrics cast Patrick as an immortal Tristan - “sorrow by name and sorrow by nature” and “forever young.” Patrick’s howls of “I am alive” walk the line between exuberant and threatening. Meanwhile, the character of Tristan contradicts himself and contains multitudes - tragedy/heroine, lost/rescuing, trouble/troubled, victim/murder. All of this serves as set up for Patrick to punctuate the final verse with the sneer/taunt “I am fucked and I am fucking too,” before screaming and growling his way to the end of the track. It’s the one moment on Wind in the Wires that recalls the ferocity displayed on parts of Lycanthropy.
Despite all of this, it’s actually a fantastic dance track, somewhere in between drone and glam-stomp.
Suitably, the video features Patrick frolicking about in full armour and a wolf-coat, before he is set upon by “evil spirits.” Regardless of intention, and the obscured camera shots, it’s a violent video, and has always struck me as being uncomfortably close to depicting a bashing, but it wouldn’t be a Patrick Wolf album campaign without something disturbing - at least not until album #3…
[Wind in the Wires-era album and single artwork. Photography by Ingrid Z]
“[Ingrid Z and I] did the video for ‘The Lighthouse’ together. We met through the Hidden Cameras, she’s from Canada. She’s the only one left in London that’s a really close friend of mine right now. We live in a house together in Hackney! It was a friendship that turned into collaboration. She’s like another extension of my visual brain, I suppose I’m kind of hers now! When I first started out I was working by myself with mixing the album and mastering the album and it was a real solitary experience. I never really wanted it to be like that but then I’ve been really careful as to people I work with rather than just work with people for the sake of it. They’ve got to be the right people, we have to share the same universe.”
This wild electricity Made static by industry Like a bird in an aviary Singing to the sky Just singing to be free
he could easily be singing about himself. Electricity, when static, is trapped, unable to move, but also less useful. It sits and waits, and sparks on contact. Not much different than what happens if you put a Wolf in human clothes and make him do press junkets.
To me, its very different, there aren’t really any pop songs and the focus is much more on the acoustic than the electronic. Its very atmospheric… ghost movie soundtracks over the top of stripped down piano and ukulele songs… Im very very excited about it. There is a very strong theme to the album, like ‘Lycanthropy’ was about growing up and fighting for yourself, this is about the need to be set free but not really knowing what you want to be set free from, wild things held captive, the wind and bleak english coastal winter towns.
- Patrick Wolf, Only Angels Have Wings, May 2004 (source)
Most of the album was written on journeys to and from, and in Cornwall. Wanderlust, freedom and the open road recur thematically and the ukelele plays a predominant role both musically and lyrically. Whether because of ease of ukelele-strumming or the walking rhythm it signifies, a decent number of the songs are in duple time, often 6/8.
This includes ‘The Railway House’ (lyrics), a short number about discovering and settling in an abandoned house with a companion, pulling up weeds and putting down roots in a way heretofore atypical of Patrick. It’s not the first song of his to use ‘we’, but it’s certainly the first to embody the spirit of ‘our’.
The video below is a weird thing - a live rendition filmed by BBC that takes place outside a tent, which Patrick seems to be living in.
‘Ghost Song’ (lyrics) brings back the accordion for - I think - the first time since Lycanthropy. Where on the former album it stood in for melancholy and occasionally Paris, here it takes on a slightly creepy tone in its prominent descending figure, reminiscent of a final breath sneaking out of someone’s lungs or, the sound of the song’s opening imagery:
While I’m asleep My spirit crawls out Of my belly button And goes down to the sea…
During his time in Cornwall, Patrick collected local folklore and ghost stories and ‘Ghost Song’ feels very much in keeping with tales of mariners, sleepwalking and lost souls. In the way that Lycanthropy’s ’Demolition’ adopted haunted house/horror imagery as metaphor for a relationship gone sour, ‘Ghost Song’ melds ghost stories with the idea that one’s heart or soul can belong somewhere to great effect. The image of Patrick literally wandering the shores of Cornwall searching for his spirit, which has opted to stay by the seaside is (no pun intended) haunting.
The epitome of this might be ‘This Weather’ (lyrics), which is probably my favourite song on the record. It opens with the whirring sound of what to my ears has always sounded a bit like a dentist’s drill, although I know that can’t be right. When you’ve moved yourself to an isolated seaside town, and summer is over, a certain seasonal mood can set in. The tourists have departed and taken the sun with them. And so you sit in your railway house, surrounded by storms and lightning, and tune into the BBC’s Shipping Forecast - if you can get the signal - to find out when your gloom will finally lift.
Patrick’s certainly not the first to sample the Forecast in his music, but the way it crackles in and out of range at the morose beginning of the song, only to be displaced by increasing layers of music and beats until it’s been wholly displace by Patrick’s determination to “live to see good weather” is masterful.
A final thought. The reason Wind in the Wires is my go-to response for ‘favourite Patrick Wolf’ album is that in addition to being full of great songs, it functions seamlessly as a whole. Most of the tracks are sequenced to blend into each other, and for the first time (but not the last), he composed a number of brief interstitial tracks, ranging from 35 seconds to just over a minute, that serve as transitions between the other songs, each of which are beautiful in their own right. The spare ‘The Shadowsea’, the instrumental ‘Apparition’ and the droning ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ are as integral to the mood and themes of the album as any of the longer tracks.
Wind in the Wires
Teignmouth [Wind in the Wires]
Despite being released in 2005, when Patrick was 21, many of the songs that comprise Wind in the Wires were written as early as 2001, but couldn’t be recorded until the initial release of Lycanthropy got the attention of Tomlab, a German label that provided Patrick with the budget to record his second album.
The idea of Wind In The Wires has been with me since I was 16 or 17. I took a train journey down to Dorset. That kind of…this love of…my broken radio radio static, those shipping broadcasts and English voices, the BBC, these long English winters where everybody feels total despair. I really tried to tap into that. More so with production than the lyrics but, you know, the lyrics followed. Teignmouth was the first song to be written from that.
- Patrick Wolf, La Blogothèque, February 22, 2005 (source)
The violins and subtle choral parts that ease the listener into ‘Teignmouth’ (lyrics) are underpinned by a whir of radio static that doubles as a stately martial rhythm. During the verses, for the first time since ‘Pumpkin Soup’, the piano takes the forefront.
The entire song takes place on a train journey from London out to the freedom of the countryside, bordering the sea - this geography informs the entire album. ‘Teignmouth’ also establishes a “constant yearning for great love and learning, for the wind to carry me free” - these twin desires and the tensions between them are carried forward throughout the record. While ‘Teignmouth’, and Wind in the Wires as a whole embrace grand Romantic notions, this romance is more aspirational than it is fulfilled. In all but one song, the impulse towards freedom trumps the desire for something more settled.
Patrick Wolf - Teignmouth (Lone Bachelor Demo 2003) [The Spinster EP]
One benefit of Patrick’s writing process is that songs are often written, recorded and performed well in advance of the albums that they find a home on, and can take a number of different shapes before release. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get to hear their evolution.
In 2009, Patrick released an early version of ‘Teignmouth’ on an EP accompanying his fourth album. This version still has smatterings of static electricity, but overall the sonics are much more similar to the active beats on Lycanthropy than the background whir that ended up in the final version. Vocal harmonies play a much more active role, and instead of beats taking prominence during the chorus, they drop out completely. The chorus is supported only by sustained organ chords. The overall effect is somehow more solemn and less uplifting.
The Libertine [Wind in the Wires] [Dir. Pil and Galia Kollectiv]
‘The Libertine’ (lyrics) was the first single released from Wind in the Wires, and while there are thematic sensibilities shared with the Lycanthropy era, it marks a clear break sonically with what came before it.
The lyrics are Victorian gothic horror à la Lycanthropy, but in third person narrative - hitchhikers, troubadours, pirates and libertines coming to various unsightly ends. They carry forward Patrick’s skepticism of authority and trust in only himself:
The magician’s secrets are all revealed And the preacher’s lies are all concealed And all our heroes lack any conviction They shout through the bars of cliché and addiction
but tie it not to a need for escape, but a desire for freedom. “I’m going to run the risk of being free,” is repeated, recognising more explicitly than before that striking out from the pack has its price, and accepting this. On another level, the song expresses Patrick’s frustration at his niche status, lashing out at the “drought of truth and invention” present in the charts.
The video begins with Patrick wandering through the woods to the sound of piano and the crackle of electricity, and stumbling upon his viola. Nothing surprisingly different here. But then commences the beat. And what a beat. A 4x4 pound decorated with the chopped up sounds of clopping horses hooves. The real shocker appears in the chorus, though, when a loop appears that I can only describe as ‘disco violins.’ The song doesn’t abandon Patrick’s eccentricities, but if “whoever shouts the loudest gets the most attention”, ‘The Libertine’ was built to make some noise. And, for Patrick, it did - reaching 67 on the UK Singles Chart.
The video is the first one in which we can clearly see Patrick, and in contrast to the evasive, buttoned-up boy with white-blond hair we blurrily observe in ‘To the Lighthouse’, here Patrick has returned to his natural brown hair and addresses the camera straight on. The walls are covered with Hallowe’en decorations and he’s wearing a glittery black vest with a corsage of black flowers and a necklace of bones. Much of the video takes place in the woods. I mention this, not simply because he’s quite fetching, but because the aesthetics of Patrick’s albums are rarely restricted to the music - everything from the album and single artwork, to his videos, to his hair colour, to the stage design of his shows work in concert towards a unified theme. Wind in the Wires is strongly tied into nature, electricity and Romanticism, and the Byronic aspects of Patrick’s appearance here contribute to the overall mood.