Listening is great. When was the last time you went to a show and just listened? Didn’t dance or bellow along, didn’t talk through the boring bits, or watch through a sea of other people’s smartphones, but genuinely, 100% caps lock LISTENED? Former Strangelove frontman Patrick Duff has a room full of people not just tangibly listening but listening HARD. As he begins his set with some apocalyptic acoustic guitar strumming through various effects pedals and a note-perfect, reverb laden vocal, the awareness of that listening is overpowering. You could hear a pin drop – indeed, you can certainly hear the one moment where someone sheepishly whips out their phone to sneak a photo. It’s an intense and magical experience. So intense and so magical that as the set evolves, I end up rooted to my seat for far longer than is comfortable, desperate for a pee, but also desperate not to ruin the mood for anyone else.
Tonight’s show is a launch for Patrick’s new album, Leaving My Father’s House. Like its predecessors, while it’s recognisably Patrick Duff, it’s also very different to Strangelove. Strangelove could be chaotic and angry, sometimes psychedelic, but always glam, whereas Duff’s solo songs are folky numbers, full of stories with morals and dark undertones bolted on to some classic songwriting. Not classic in the sense of try-hard, mind. More in the sense of timelessness. These songs sound natural, like they’ve always existed and have just been plucked effortlessly out of the ether. Pop music is brilliant, but pop music sometimes gets it wrong. Pop history is littered with bands that should have been bigger, with artists more people should be aware of that just didn’t quite grab the mainstream in the way they should. So when Duff performs a powerful version of ‘Maria’, a song that in another time would be a standard, you can’t help but feel that MORE PEOPLE SHOULD BE HERE. More people should listen to this song. They should be evangelising about it, sharing it with their friends and getting them to share it with their friends, doing everything they can to ensure that no-one is left behind. It’s perfect and classic and timeless in a way that is very hard to articulate without resorting to cliché.
Duff follows ‘Maria’ by putting the acoustic guitar down and utilising a backing track to perform some of the other highlights from the new album. He self-deprecatingly refers to this section as ‘karaoke’, and while some of the intensity of performance is lost, it’s almost a welcome respite: it suits these songs in particular better to hear them this way, and you’re struck by how comfortable Duff looks. A friend remarked later that we’d both seen him back in the day “hammering on the ceiling and screaming at Jesus”, but while Duff is no less committed to the performance, he appears content, genuinely happy: “somewhere between a stand-up and a preacher.” This summarises perfectly a moment towards the climax of his set, where Duff tells an endearingly rambling story about time spent in a Buddhist retreat, meditating in silence for days on end, finishing with a statement about how the feeling of people listening is what he loves about performing. He could go home now and not play another note, floating away whilst clinging on to that sensation. Happily for us, he picks up his guitar and does play more songs instead, and we carry on listening.
Upcoming Patrick Duff dates:
Tuesday 13th November – The Bell Inn, Bath
Thursday 15th November – Cinema & Co, Swansea
Friday 16th November – The Cellar Bar, Cardigan