Inspirited rock n’ roll memoir from Patrick Duff shares an extraordinary life on the edge
The Singer, the fascinating new memoir from Patrick Duff – former frontman of 90s cult rock band, Strangelove – due for publication on 22 November (Tangent Books), has been feted by Thomas Brooman, co-founder of WOMAD, as “by far and away the best rock ’n’ roll autobiography that I have ever read”.
Patrick has a remarkable story. A sensitive child, he was raised Catholic before rebelling and leaving school at 17. Becoming a homeless vagrant on the streets of Bristol, he was discovered and plucked from the street for his rare singing and musical talent, overnight suddenly spinning towards fame as the lead singer of Strangelove. Soon signed to EMI/Food, the band played the main stage at Glastonbury twice, toured with Radiohead and Suede and infiltrated the Top 40 with two hit singles, before falling apart and disbanding in 1998, just on the cusp of the big time.
The book charts Patrick’s journey through these high octane years of the rock n’ roll fast lane, as a deeply sensitive and troubled soul, struggling with destructive addictions that nearly killed him and salvaged by mystical interventions which at key moments in his life seemed to guide him towards a deeper truth and destiny, and a deeper well of creativity.
Once sober and out of Strangelove, WOMAD backed Patrick’s rare talent and fostered a collaboration between him and the master musician and storyteller, Madosini, from South Africa, who showed him a new way to show up authentically as a musician and songwriter. “Madosini taught me that music is a spirit that gets passed down through the generations,” Patrick writes, and it is this raw ancestral spirit that he tries to keep alive through his music. His new memoir recounts how his ancestors have come to him in dreams and visions and how he strives to bring their messages through to share with the world via his songs.
A strong spiritual thread runs through The Singer, and this aspect of Patrick’s life has continued to evolve and deepen. Raised Catholic, the religion is in his blood through his family and ancestors and he grew up with Mary (mother of Jesus) around him. He became an atheist in his teens and then when touring with Strangelove in France, as he recounts in the book, he had a powerful spiritual experience while praying before Mary in a state of despair in a church in Strasbourg. Patrick writes that this experience left him with an empowered “sense of peace, serenity and love like he had never known”, and rekindled his faith in a higher spiritual power.
Patrick has explored various paths including in particular, Buddhism and Christian mysticism, and as a recovering alcoholic, he works a spiritual programme based on self-examination, reflection and service. Connecting with Nature has also been an important part of his spiritual development and musical inspiration. Wandering in forests in the years post Strangelove, he would play music and write songs for hours. “These moments were my true beginnings as a song writer,” he recalls. He also came to see that his destabilised personality – which he had hitherto viewed as a curse – was actually a gift and the key to his creative spirit and talent.
Over 25 years of recovery his relationship with Mary has deepened. Today, he holds the keys to St Mary’s Church in Glastonbury where he spends two-three hours every morning in prayer and contemplation. This Catholic church is built on the oldest consecrated Maryan shrine north of the Alps. “I have felt pushed around by Spirit,” Patrick says, “and having stopped resisting, this is where it has led me. I have a sense of having come home.”
Currently Artist in Residence at Glastonbury Abbey, Patrick leads a popular, regular music and meditation evening here called Song of the Silence. In these sessions, he shares readings from the medieval Christian mystics and plays music and sacred sounds designed to deliver attendants into an altered state of consciousness from which to better apprehend the mystical teachings.
With five acclaimed solo albums now under his belt, including The Mad Straight Road (2009), Visions of the Underworld (2013), and Leaving My Father’s House (2018), Patrick is currently recording a new album with multi-instrumentalist, string-arranger and producer Drew Morgan, drummer Guy Metcalfe and Patrick’s young songwriting pupil, Woody Taylor (aged 21).
Surmising the purpose of writing The Singer, Patrick says: “I wrote this book for you. Not for me. I wrote it for every person who’s ever struggled and messed up and who is trying to stay alive and stay true to themselves and who senses that they do have something beautiful to say despite everything.”
The Singer will be launched at Waterstones, The Galleries, Bristol on Saturday 26 November, from 7pm (doors open 6.30pm). To book tickets for £5, redeemable against the price of the book, visit: www.waterstones.com/events/book-launch-with-patrick-duff/bristol-galleries. Further launch events will take place at the Folklore Rooms in Brighton on Wednesday 30 November and at Glastonbury Abbey on Saturday 10 December.