Patrick Wolf studied composition at Trinity College of Music and has produced a number of albums including ‘Lycanthropy’, ‘Wind in the Wires’, ‘The Magic Position’, ‘The Bachelor’, ‘Lupercalia’, ‘The City’.
He reflects that as a teenager, he was bullied at school in Wimbledon for his perceived eccentricity and effeminacy. He says: “Wimbledon is my trauma area.” At the time, he was unsure whether he was gay or bisexual. Mentors at school treated him with disdain when he came to them for support on the issue. (You wonder how much of this has influenced the music he creates). Patrick Wolf has woven about himself an elaborate series of personas that encompasses everything from werewolves to Dickensian urchins, and this miscellany permeates his music to such a degree that it has become difficult to determine where the fairytale ends and the lost boy begins.
His song ‘Teignmouth’ is in his 2005 album ‘Wind in the Wires’, which was inspired by Patrick’s Cornish and Irish roots, and met with critical acclaim. (It reminds me of a cross between David Bowie and Muse). He has said that the idea of ‘Wind In The Wires’ had been with him since he was 16 or 17. He took a train journey down to Devon and lyrics followed. ‘Teignmouth’ was the first song to be written from that.
The violins and subtle choral parts that ease the listener into ‘Teignmouth’ are underpinned by a whirr of radio static that doubles as a stately martial rhythm. The entire song takes place on a train journey from London out to the freedom of the countryside, bordering the sea – this geography informs the entire album. ‘Teignmouth’ also establishes a “constant yearning for great love and learning, for the wind to carry me free” – these twin desires and the tensions between them are carried forward throughout the record. While ‘Teignmouth’, and ‘Wind in the Wire’ as a whole embrace grand Romantic notions, this romance is more aspirational than it is fulfilled. In all but one song, the impulse towards freedom trumps the desire for something more settled.
‘Teignmouth’ has been described as a wistful madrigal to those things that are lost and has a subdued power that draws one towards the Autumn gales and clifftop sanctuary where the majority of this album was written. Any song that can make the cynics want to grasp the tailfeathers of birds as they fly south must have something. Stale but innately charming sentiments are reinvigorated through canny lyrical subversion, as in the case of “I give you my hand/ the fingers unfold/ To have and forever hold”. The simplicity and beauty is, as always, animated by the current that hums and crackles beneath the surface.
For me the “Romantic notions” suggest that if Keats were alive today he might well express himself in the same way as Wolf in the ‘Teignmouth’ song.
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