Patrick Duff: Strangeness and charm

Patrick Duff went from chart success to rehab. Now he has a new album out. Phil Meadley meets the singer-songwriter

In his previous life, Duff had been the lead singer of the Bristol-based band Strangelove, who, for a brief period in the mid-Nineties, were seen as the next big thing. Although their unique brand of experimental rock, vulnerable lyricisms, and goth-style glamour divided critics, they toured with (and befriended) the likes of Radiohead and Suede, and built up a loyal following which still exists to this day.

But Duff collapsed under the quintessential rock pressures of drink, drugs, and depression, eventually checking into rehab to check his downward-spiralling cycle of dependency and despair. "Strangelove was a ship that left port full of holes and dynamite," he says, now healthily sipping juice in his minimalist pad - guitars, old amps, Bob Dylan poster, worn 1950s oak dining-table, small kitchenette - in Clifton, Bristol. "It was totally and utterly doomed. I can see that now, but we didn't know it at the time."

The Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien once remarked that his band had changed a lot after touring with Strangelove, and the connection is something that Duff doesn't completely dismiss. "I've liked all their albums and I like them as people," he says. "They're quite unusual in the world of rock. I felt we were all trying to do the same thing, which was unusual. Normally there was tension with other bands we toured with, but with Radiohead it was different. Everybody got on really well."

Another band with close ties were Suede, and, when Strangelove split in 1998, their guitarist Alex Lee filled the spot left by Neil Codling, who had been forced to leave Suede due to his battle with chronic fatigue syndrome. However, Lee's stint with the band proved short-lived as Brett Anderson soon disbanded the group. Shortly afterward, Duff and his old bandmate began working on new material for Duff's solo album. "I'd already recorded some of the album with Adrian Utley from Portishead, and Damon Reece and Mike Mooney who used to be in Spiritualized. We'd gone down to this cottage in Dartmoor. It was like being on the Moon for 10 days, but we managed to get together four songs. Then Alex came on board and produced the album."

At the time he was without a record deal or financial backing, but that all changed when he and Lee discovered that EMI were working on a Strangelove compilation. "This guy Nigel Reeve was working on the catalogue side of EMI, but really liked the band and was trying to do a compilation. When we heard from the internet this was going on we wanted to have some input, so we went to his office to discuss things and, just as we were about to leave, I asked if he was interested in hearing the recent demos we'd been working on. After hearing them he said straight away that he'd like to work on the record." A decision was made to revitalise one of EMI's greatest subsidiaries, Harvest - responsible for the careers of Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Kevin Ayers, and Syd Barrett.

The resulting album, Luxury Problems, is a radical departure for Duff, in both musical direction and songwriting. "Everything I did in Strangelove was completely spontaneous," he says. "If there was a guitar lying around and I had 10 minutes, I'd form a song in my head. I never wrote anything down. I'd be making it up in the studio quite a lot of the time, whereas this came from having a couple of years to think."

"I started off by busking in the street, then I was in a band for 10 years, and suddenly I was in a completely different space, trying to think about what I was going to do next. I found that I was living the answer, which was that I was a musician and songwriter and I didn't have any choice. So I started exploring loads of different avenues. Some of it came out of nailing down the past, some came from my imagination or from dreams, and sometimes it was spontaneous."

His lyrics often explore the darker facets of human nature, such as on the distorted harmonica blues of "Mirror Man", which is "about mortality and sex", or "In My Junkie Clothes" - an ode to a bohemian district of Bristol where people are "casting their pearls all over the pub floors". It looks at the irony of failed relationships in "DJ Yoga", a thinly veiled jibe at an ex-girlfriend that is also "a dig at myself for being so alone and having nothing going on", and the punk roar of "Refrigerator", about "this bloody fridge going on and off all night while my whole life had been smashed and fragments of it were going on and off in my head at the same frequency as the fridge".

Duff's new manager is Thomas Brooman, artistic director of Womad, who discovered the singer playing at his pub The Gin Palace. It was Brooman's idea for Duff to collaborate with the 83-year-old South African singer Madosini, a former shepherdess who plays "really weird, Captain Beefheart-type two-note riffs on her uhadi [a single-stringed intrument made from a gourd]". Duff had been transfixed by her performance at the Womad festival. "Within two months I was on a plane to South Africa to write music with her," he says, and since then they have been performing at Womad events around the world.

'Luxury Problems' is out now on Harvest/EMI

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy