The Railway, Winchester
16 August 2012
A true punk hero, Patrik Fitzgerald plays a no-nonsense set of ÃÂ punk poetry.ÃÂ
This was a cosy, sit-down acoustic affair, upstairs (in the Attic) at Winchester’s beautiful the Railway venue, as opposed to in the Barn (the back room).
Coincidentally that night, a mate thrust a freshly-minted CD-R into my hand, a recording of a classic Railway gig from April 2004 when Wreckless Eric played the back room, prior to refurbishment. He referred to the place as being “like a scout-hut with lights”Â and I allegedly started a fight because people were rudely talking during his set. This has of course become a Wreckless anecdote and lead to a job offer as Eric’s shhhsher, but I digress”Â¦.
Patrik FitzGerald let the songs do the talking and barely spoke between songs, but made up for it in the smoker’s garden afterwards, chatting and posing for photos.
His new wife, Diane was friendly and talkative too; “ I snuck out to gigs with my older brother back in 1978. I first met Patrik when I was 14”Â¦ Oh No! That sounds TERRIBLE!”Â
I told her that Gary Numan‘s wife was also a former fan a fair few years younger than him too, and no-one’s gonna think of Patrik as a Gary Glitter-type character (I’m sure that made her feel better).
I had forgotten about the last song of his debut album Grubby Stories entitled My Hero which goes “Don’t ask me to be your hero / I will only let you down / Don’t ever sleep with you hero / Things will never be the same.”Â They seem very happy though despite ”Ëa bit of a domestic’ leading to late arrival at the Railway, seconds before the first act went on.
I once read a snide opinion of Patrik FitzGerald which I remember to this day, so it must have pissed me off. It went something like this:
“When punks try and convert non-believers by doing them a compilation tape, to represent the wide variety on offer in punk, it’s obligatory to include a track or two by Patrik FitzGerald”Â¦.”
There’s a sort of truth there, because as a compiler of many a ”Ëmixtape’, as they’re now called, I must have done it myself for it to stick in my mind for all these years. The insinuation is though, that it’s Patrik’s only role or legacy, that of the novelty ”Ëlone acoustic-guitar punk-poet’.
In reality, or at least my opinion, which may or may not be one-and-the-same, he is the great forgotten songwriter from the Class of ’77. Patrik Fitzgerald never became a household name or punk icon like Rotten, Strummer or Weller, but to his loyal followers he is just as important and as inspirational. Same goes for Mark Perry, Vic Godard and Robert Lloyd. Like them, he is one of punks’ idiosyncratic, singular voices. Artistically successful, but too uncompromising for mainstream and commercial rewards.
He was always called a poet rather than a singer as it was all about the words. Words full of tragedy, comedy, cynicism, realism, bitterness, pathos and just occasionally, hope. Patrik’s recorded works can be, admittedly, hard-going when listened to as a whole; the unrelenting cynicism and brutal realities of life can come over as ”Ëdepressing’. Tagged the New Dylan in ’77 ”â he was maybe more the new Leonard Cohen with a touch of social realism, although Bowie was his hero.
I missed the first support (sorry) but second on was Mike Todd (formerly singer with Eat the Document, a Southampton band lead by 40-something Mike with rhythm sections half his age or less). By his own admission Mike spent a couple decades drinking and only got his teenage dream of getting a punk and Dylan influenced band together once sober and in his forties. He’s all the better a songwriter for it; years of hurt and anger articulated in grounded but emotional songs. Mike’s accent and voice make him sound a bit like John Ottway, but his style owes something to Patrik as well and it was magnificent to see him invited up by one of his heroes to do an impromptu run through of ”ËTrendy’ together as a soundcheck.
Seeing him now in 2012; looking thinner, short-haired and happily-married, FitzGerald’s songs come over as positive tales of survival and a way of exorcising his demons, mocking the affected and dealing with the shit life throws at you. He’s not a barrel of laughs but he’s a true a punk spirit as you can get ”â an inspiration to many an anti-folk, lo-fi troubadour, as well as people like Benjamin Zephaniah.
He doesn’t waste time onstage; like a one man Ramones, he’s wham, one song, bam! another and another ”â no chat, no explanation, none needed, it’s all in the songs anyway. From Banging and Shouting to the Serving Classes and everything in between practically. Island of Lost Souls still sends a shiver down the spine. Irrelevant Battles is still a confusing bitter song, Trendy is still funny. Safety Pin In my Heart is the anthemic hit; a love song to punk (as Gary Bushell, of all people, astutely put it.)
There’s a lot of violence in these songs; Banging and Shouting, No Fun Football, but compassion in others. Despite being written in the Seventies they still seem just as relevant today sadly; stories of desperate lives and dreams of escape.
Patrik wrote in the sleeve notes to his Cherry Red Greatest Hits CD one of the most stark, honest statements any artist has ever made; “the recordings remain true to me, even when I don’t. this is what they are; the voice of a small, insecure, somewhat lost person, living in a small, insecure, somewhat lost country.”Â
Which is what makes him a true punk hero.
A great gig.
Patrik plays at the Cowley Club in Brighton onÃÂ 10th SeptemberÃÂ – a night, which includes a showing of the All the Years of Trying documentary (trailer above) and a live performance.
All words by Ged Babey. You can read more from Ged on LTW here.
All images by Steve Little-Triggers. More images from him on at Flickr.