How We Met: Patrick Wolf & Patti Smith
'People might think it's a maternal connection, but I see her in a more romantic way'
Sunday 10 July 2011
Patrick Wolf, 28
An English singer-songwriter, Wolf combines classical instruments with electronic sampling. He lives in London with his partner
I was at a funny time in my life when I met Patti three years ago. I'd recently broken up with my now fiancé and I was in a bit of a mess. I'd done a show at a Dylan Thomas festival in Wales, and the next day I bumped into her in the hall of the hotel we were all staying in. I didn't know any of her music; to me she was just the next person on the bill. She's a big fan of wind and reed instruments, though, and when she saw my collection that I'd left lying in the hall she was like, "Let's do a show tonight." It was weird to do a show spontaneously, but I went to her room to talk about it and we made up all this music on the spot: the first song had no electric guitar, just folk instrumentals. It felt like two planets colliding and I was inspired by the freedom she exuded.
Until then I'd felt out of luck and out of love, but dissolving in someone else's work, just being a cog in her machine, I felt a relief wash over me. With Patti it wasn't "What do you do?" but "What can you do?" and it reminded me I was put on this planet to make music.
I came back to London with a new lease of life. Patti and I stayed in touch and when she was next in town she asked me to join her for a church benefit gig, and we've since done a lot of things together.
She has such a sharp judgement of character and she's so honest with how she feels about people she can't stand, it's great. People might think, what with our age difference, that what we have is a maternal connection, but it's not. I see her in a more romantic way; we've swapped stories and poems – there's chemistry there. Once when we were walking in Covent Garden, I asked about her love life and she asked if I would be her English boyfriend, as Johnny Depp is her American boyfriend. I said yes.
I've played with her family and a few members of her band, and I love hanging out with everyone: I like the bits at the bar or the journey there more than the show, as it's hilarious hearing stories about other people in the industry – Lou Reed, Morrissey... It's like playground gossip.
I can't wait to do more shows with her – I'd happily put everything on hold and go on tour with her for a year and disappear into her world.
Patti Smith, 64
A critically acclaimed American singer, Smith is regarded as the 'Godmother of Punk'. She lives in New York
I don't often walk up to musicians I don't know and ask them to play with me, but when I met Patrick I just felt something about his nature that told me it would be all right. I was on my own at a Dylan Thomas festival in Laugharne a few years ago, singing my songs and interpreting his poems in the town where Thomas was born and buried. After one performance I went into the area where the musicians were and I saw a lanky boy with longish hair sitting on a step, alone, clutching a violin case and looking forlorn.
I looked at this kid and I asked, "Do you play violin?" He said yes, so I asked him to come and play with me. We went into the corner and I said, "One poem is full of melancholy, so perhaps you can interpret that?" Then I sang a few of my songs and he picked it all up fast, playing intricate melody lines and aggressive rhythms. He's technically proficient and not afraid to improvise and, without rehearsal, we did two performances before an audience. It was a delight; he was so empathetic and it felt like he was one of my crew.
I knew he'd be someone I could call on to play with me in the future and we've since done a number of obscure gigs. He fitted in so quickly with my band and, I think, become good friends too.
There is no hierarchy when we are together; I feel we're on equal ground. We talk about what inspires us and I encourage him if he has any moments of insecurity. I suppose there is some maternal feeling there, as he's the same age as my son. In fact, when [my son] Jackson came over from the States to tour with us, a woman came up when we were walking around the grounds of the Hop Farm Festival with Patrick, and asked if these two fellas were my sons. We had a good laugh about that as they're very different: my son is a 6ft 4in guitar player from Detroit, covered with tattoos.
Although he can be quite shy, musically Patrick has a lot of bravado – you have to if you're going to go out and improvise with people, and I love his willingness to take a risk. For me, our new generation is our great hope, so I say to Patrick, enjoy your life but try to retain a sense of balance, so you can have a long life. The pressure from the music business and from one's peers gives many the feeling it's important to have a certain overindulgence, but the most important thing is one's work. Last week was the 40th anniversary of Jim Morrison's death – he was only 27 when he died, around the same age as Patrick, and that's something to think about.
Wolf's fifth album, 'Lupercalia', is out now on Mercury ( patrickwolf.com)
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