This I found out afterwards: Patrick Duff was the front man and main songwriter for the band Strangelove – a combo who toured with Radiohead and the Manics – becoming good friends with the Thom-boys in the process. This critically acclaimed Bristol band eventually self-destructed, along with their lead man, who spent time in rehab for his drug and alcohol problems. Then, while he strolled the road to recovery, EMI kindly released Patrick’s solo album – and Patrick is now doing a UK tour.
But when I walked into the sold-out intimate upstairs room in Bristol, I didn’t know what to expect, having never heard of Strangelove or the aforementioned solo album. Patrick appeared on the small stage setting things up, seeming quite unassuming, and then he started by telling us he’d died for a short time a few years ago, presumably some kind of OD – and so he launched into Dead Man Singing on solo acoustic guitar. I was surprised. Stylistically, the song lay somewhere between folk and the Doors‘ Alabama Song, but the delivery, perfect voice and unassuming but captivating lyrics immediately captured the whole crowd. Is everybody in? I was in immediately after the first few bars.
And thus began a run of songs that couldn’t fail to impress. I’m sorry, but the words “star quality” came to mind, and of course I found out afterwards that Mr Duff was an experienced performer with a long track record in the star-business. Spider Woman followed Dead Man – the accomplished lyrics almost cartoonish in places – but the harmonies and melody, and the continuing intensity of the performance, made it a thrill.
Soon came the top of the set Woman Who Don’t Speak English, a ballad whose flow and self-knowledgeable, sometimes politically incorrect lyrics, marks Duffy out as a songwriter of some significance – or to put it less pompously: “What a f*cking brilliant song. I mean, really.” As this slower first half of the set continued I was thinking of Jim Morrison, and feeling Syd Barret’s lighter moments – this stuff was definitely Queer As Folk Can Be (though Patrick clearly wasn’t as he fixed on the women near the front of the audience one by one with his piercing stare…).
Then the unexpected moment (for me): he whacks on the amps and distortion and launches into Mirror Man from his solo album. I was pretty stunned by this point, and when Patrick followed up with Married With Kids’ Stooge-ish delights and more cartoonish lyrics, I could see a link from the slow ballads to the face-distorting sweat-inducing hard riffs. At this point the performance peaked, and shortly after he finished on Now I Wanna Be Your Dog. But Patrick was dragged back on by the audience to play a couple more. I wasn’t so sure about the final track, finding it unsuited to Duff’s voice, but I was hypnotised by his fabulous Julie Of The Rose super-reverbed ballad, with its ingenious tune.
There is clearly a new album’s worth of songs here – and what an album it’s going be. Part of Duff’s charm is the way his lyrics can swing from the more obvious (Dead Man Singing and Spider Woman) to the poetic and subtle (Mirror Man and Woman Who Don’t Speak English). But he also has a strong grasp on the songwriting craft – both in travelling melodies and catchy choruses, and in the harmonising chords with any number of 7ths and key changes. The day after the gig I heard Patrick’s first album, which included Married With Kids and Mirror Man, and all I can say is that the forthcoming second album will show Duff’s command of the craft reaching a new level. This I found out afterwards: Patrick just got better.