Circus Magic: Patrick Wolf at St Pancras Old Church

Anna Siemiaczko
Album cover: The Bachelor (Nylon, 2009)

Across his career, Patrick Wolf has been a real ratchet of identities, textures, garlands, costumes, hairstyles and colours, reinventing himself with each album.

Tucked away behind St. Pancras station on a parish hill, away from the bustling King's Cross, St. Pancras Old Church sits quiet and unassuming, sounds of London in the distance. Stripped down to bare stone with only a handful of wooden chairs on each side, it magically propels us into windswept moorlands or high, howling woods, the venue most befitting the comeback of the UK's pop troubadour, Patrick Wolf.

With tickets sold within minutes for the 15 January 2020 performance, and battled for online. For those who made it in this evening, the anticipation is tangible. Tonight is Wolf's first London gig since the acoustic Bush Hall in December 2017. His last album Sundark and Riverlight (2012), was in itself a reinterpretation of previous work. It has been almost nine years since the last original material, yet we find ourselves at the beginning of a sold out three-day residency.

In the capsule of the old church, the time collapses, and rushing to the stage to Wolf's last angry pop anthem "Hard Times" at London Palladium no longer seems like ten years ago. On the surface, tonight couldn't be further away from the royal stage of the grand Palladium. No orchestra behind him, no industry friends sharing the church's modest altar stones, Wolf comes back armed only with a handful of instruments and his friend Jack accompanying him on guitar and piano.

The lights dim and the church organ begins to hum. We all turn around to the sounds of "The Ghost Song" weaving the ghost-like figure of Wolf down the aisle in a bridal dance. He ascends the altar, draped in a long black gown, and stretches his arms wide to the final notes of his folk tale. The characteristic gothic theatrics underpinning his live performance remain unscathed.

Wolf's signature "The Libertine", having little of the same anger of almost 15 years ago, today gains in reverent prowess expressed in his performance. Across his career, Wolf's been a real ratchet of identities, textures, garlands, costumes, hairstyles and colours, reinventing himself with each album, each era of his own timing and nocturnal rhythms. Festooned with biblical like gown, his hair long, he elicits the very same mystery of circus magic that's surrounded him since his debut. "Teignmouth" falls in with a harmonious, howling, languid violin sound and the "Wind in the Wires" rendition comes to an end for now to ghostlike upbeat echoes of "Jacob's Ladder".

Anecdotes and stories abound and it's in those single moments of charm, wit and direct kindness that Wolf wins over his audience. The grand and momentous "Who will?" opens to everyone bursting into laughter to tonight's in-joke. Wolf naturally transcends the planned persona of the night and shares his elaborate performance with honesty, humour, and downplay. The epic legend of the gypsy "Damaris" tragically falling in love with Lewes feels right at home in the barren church, ancient tales all around us.

All songs are reinterpreted to piano, guitar, violin, a new harp-like instrument Wolf picked up from his friend, or a combination of these with the help of Jack. The stories are retold to new rhythms and beats. Our hearts stop momentarily to the first new song in seven years, the piano lead "Watcher", announcing works on the new album.

With Wolf's recent unexpected hit "The Days" featured in the end credits of the award winning British indie film by Francis Lee, God's Own Country, Wolf closes the night to a joyous, grateful cheer from the audience. With the new chapter ahead and the new work announced, there's no doubt we'll see him in a sold out London show again. Our anticipation is as big as it was at London Palladiums ten years ago, and as big as is tonight.

* * *

Anna Siemiaczko is a London-based film producer, event producer and writer. Her short films have been screened at East End Film Festival and UK Asian Film Festival amongst others, and she's currently in post-production for her first feature film. She co-runs a punk/cabaret night ALOTTA NOISE at DIY Space for London.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.