An Introduction to Patrick Wolf

Lycanthropy is a work of massive scope; it is the result of five years of song writing and is intended to showcase what an incredibly talented child can do.

Lycanthropy is a work of massive scope; it is the result of five years of song writing and is intended to showcase what an incredibly talented child can do.



Rumours of Patrick Wolf’s life (if they are to be believed) speak of gypsy fortunetellers, stealing jewels, tattoos to keep the Devil away and the painful process of lycanthropy. I am happy to report that his music is equally as mysterious and romantic. To those lucky enough to have discovered him he has become some sort of troubadour for the modern age, marrying acoustic plucking with crushing laptop beats and primeval vocals. His live shows dazzle until they remove the spectators’ power of speech and his recorded output is entrenched firmly in the English Romantic tradition, ranging from melodramatically angst-ridden stories to powerful evocations of landscape.


Born in Ireland in 1983, but growing up in London, Patrick’s musical education began with rigorous violin lessons and church choirs. As he reached his teenage years he began to record songs at home on a four-track. At fourteen, whilst playing his homemade theremin for the arty electronica band Minty, he caught the attention of Fat Cat records who gave him a computer and more sophisticated recording equipment. After performing in Paris with noise-pop trio Maison Crimineaux he was approached by Faith and Industry Records who went on to release his debut album Lycanthropy.


Despite being signed to a tiny label, Lycanthropy attracted great critical acclaim and was even listed amongst the NME’s top albums of 2003. No doubt much of this praise was due to his live shows. Standing at 6 feet 4 in ragged homemade clothes, his ukulele slung across him on a length of rope, Patrick Wolf cuts an imposing figure on stage. His performances are both visually spectacular (combining lavish costumes with Wolf’s arresting physical appearance) and musically intense, usually focusing on simple and emotional arrangements of his more lush recorded output. Although these performances are consistently stunning and well received, his prodigious genius truly lies with his recorded output.


Lycanthropy is a work of massive scope; it is the result of five years of song writing and is intended to showcase what an incredibly talented child can do. It is an unfocused, eclectic musical vision, bringing together baroque violin arrangements, heavy percussion and icy synthesizers. It deals with Patrick’s childhood and transformation from boy to wolf, sometimes becoming gratingly adolescent ("The bath was spilling over/My self pity was spilling with it"), but always ingenious in its innovation. It is for the most part magically celebratory, and many of the songs are about finding a place in the world.


The entire album is skillfully constructed. Wolf Song consists of a gentle baritone ukulele part and biting recorders, whereas Bloodbeat and A Boy Like Me are beautiful pop songs. Paris brings together lush strings with terrifying beats. Lyrically, (lapses into adolescent whining aside) Lycanthropy shows just as wide-reaching influences as the music. Literary references abound with Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (particularly In the Company of Wolves) making a great impression – "And I grew a hairy heat/Of dark desire." Elsewhere, To The Lighthouse references both Virginia Woolf and The Aeneid ("Great great minds against themselves conspire").


The emotional centrepiece of the record comes in the triptych of Don’t Say No, The Childcatcher and Demolition. Don’t Say No is a song of positive passiveness. "If you’re brave enough you’ll just let it happen/If you’re brave enough you’ll just succumb", sings Patrick, amidst glitchy electronic noises and delicate acoustics. The Childcatcher on the other hand could rank as the most terrifying piece of music ever set to record. It deals with an encounter with a paedophile. Electronic beats figure strongly again, backed by processed voices and wild screaming before collapsing under its own bestiality into a sinister folk section based around bass clarinet and recorder. The overall effect is like a Gunter Grass novel set to music. After the breathless Child Catcher, Demolition presents an entirely new side to Mr Wolf. It is a tender love song, heart-wrenching and low key. Indeed it is the only truly quiet song on the album, and it paved the way for Wolf’s second long-player.


Following Lycanthropy, Patrick spoke in interviews of preparing two albums, "one of ukulele pop and one of dark English passion." The latter emerged in February this year, and was entitled Wind in the Wires. Far more focused than his first record, Wind in the Wires barely sounds like the work of the same person. Wolf, dispensing with his electronics, shut himself away in Cornwall for the winter and re-emerged with a romantic evocation of the winter landscape, using it as a vehicle to express him personal desire for freedom and escape from the attention his music had brought him.



Whereas Lycanthropy was a collection of songs, Wind in the Wires is a unified album, with tracks held together by themes and imagery running through the whole record. It has an idyllic air about it and the lyrics focus on escaping from the city to the countryside. However, it is not some sort of Virginia Astley rip off – it is an album of winter and storms, of freedom and "wild electricity". Far more sophisticated than anything he’d previously written, the power contained within Wind in the Wires demonstrated just how much Patrick had matured as a lyricist and songwriter.


It is difficult to extract tracks worthy of special merit due to the albums thematic cohesion: short interludes such as The Shadowsea and Apparition are just as important as the singles. Indeed the b-sides accompanying the album also fit Wolf’s artistic vision. Penzance and Godrevy Point could compete easily with anything on the LP.


If any track merits special attention it is probably Teignmouth, which stuns the listener with a deep, resonant piano and some of Wolf’s post accomplished words, "So when the birds fly south/I’ll reach up and hold their tails/Pull up and out of here/Bridle the autumn gales."


Wind in the Wires was followed by a headline tour, by festival appearances and by a high profile support slot with Bloc Party. All of this activity culminated in a spectacular Halloween show in London. New songs were premiered, striking out in the direction of Wind in the Wires closer Land’s End. Magpie is a mysterious acoustic piece with echoes of Thomas Hardy’s poetry and Let’s Go Get Lost is probably the most positive song Wolf has written. The Stars is another joyous pieces and along with Beastiality shows a return to the electronica which characterised Wolf’s debut album, albeit in a more pastoral way. If these new ongs are evidence to go by it seems likely that the new record (scheduled for release in summer 2006) will surpass even the heights of his previous two discs.


Patrick Wolf seems incapable of writing anything worse than an excellent song.