Going to the Arts Cafe in Aldgate to see Patrick Duff – the former singer of the criminally underrated, now defunct and largely forgotten band Strangelove – filled me with a curious cocktail of dread. As anyone who has ever seen him live, he is simply the most intense performer imaginable: his eyes pierce you to your very core. I had once idolised this man, receiving both ecstasy and solace from his music: would I still be worthy of him five years on? Had I lost my past passion? Or, worse still, would he himself have lost it? My heart fluttered, I didn’t know what to expect. So often, we are disappointed, so often the ideal turns out to be shallow . . . .
After a couple of mediocre singer/songwriters – perched on their stool, rarely interacting, never moving, just blandly singing their songs into the mic – Patrick humbly set about adjusting his equipment, tuning up, before laying his guitar on the stage. In a moment of unbearably intense expectation he had us wait for ten (?) twenty (?) seconds in complete silence. Then. An astonishing acapella song – so brave to open with – cod-druidically musing on a dress of leaves he has made for his love. It was incredibly impressive, but I am still slightly worried that it might all be a little soft around the edges.
The next three songs – Fucked, Song to America and Mirror Man, all astute, edgy and imposing – promptly disabused me of such thoughts. They were as intense as anything since Strangelove’s visionary debut single, Hysteria Unknown, whilst also managing to sound completely fresh and original. It was a sharp reminder of the progress made that they stood up effortlessly played before Sway, Duff’s plaintive summation of years of alcoholism.
The intervening – and very much sober – years have seen Patrick Duff develop into a brilliant and caustic wit. In the past, interviewers presented him as deadly earnest, missing the irony of a man without a dumb ironic attitude. So that, before the lyrical dynamite of Married with Kids and Junkie Clothes, we get the line:
I suppose it’s a good thing to, you know, settle down: get married and have kids . . . but they’ll never take me alive.
As evinced on Ghost Haddock, Duff has a certain talent for spoken word narrative, so that his description of living in a supermarket’s underground car park when a junkie brings a smile to every face in the house. We all join in on the chorus, under his orchestration, performing like a pantomime audience for his pleasure.
He responds triumphantly by walking around the audience with guitar unplugged, his rich croon not needing any amplification. A man in the front row is eating his pizza, so Patrick jumps up on the table, with no worry about slipping, to lord it over us. His eyeballs bulging with unwavering passion and intent. A cover of Motorpsycho Nitemare ten thousand times better than the one on the B-side to Time for the rest of your life raises the standard even higher. I mean, many people cover Dylan, but few really make it their own. You get the feeling, at this point, that Duff could sing the dictionary and give it visceral life.
Rumours have indicated that Duff has finished recording his album, he has the same manager as Nick Cave: he seems to be on the up. With so many fakes and pseuds littering the rock music world, it is not soon enough. Don’t they understand that this is genius!