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PATRIK FITZGERALD - THE ORIGINAL PUNK POET BY SHELLEY

Wikipedia states that Patrik Fitzgerald is a singer/songwriter, born in Stratford, London March 19th 1956, of working-class Irish immigrant parents. He started recording and performing with the uprising of the punk rock movement in 1977, after working briefly as an actor.

Photo: Dennis O'Regan

Early Recordings
Early songs were generally short, sarcastic efforts, recorded with just an acoustic guitar and occasional studio effects, with lyrics containing a large amount of social comment. Patrik was soon regarded as an original of his genre, somewhere between a punk-poet and an urban folksinger, and was lauded in some circles as "the new Bob Dylan". After starting out as a busker, he approached David Bowie's original manager, Ken Pitt, requesting his services; Pitt declined but an audition was set up with Noel Gay in 1975 who also turned Patrik down. In 1976 Patrik auditioned, alongside Mick Jones and Tony James for the band London SS, again without success. After a spell acting in a communal theatre group, he drifted towards the developing Punk scene. He was a regular customer at the Small Wonder record shop in London, and when Small Wonder launched a record label Patrik was one of the first to submit a demo - and got a deal, with the new label releasing his first three EPs, the first being 'Safety-Pin Stuck In My Heart', still his best-known work, and one which he subtitles "a love song for punk music". Patrik became a regular performer at London Punk gigs, and supported The Jam on their national tour.

Polydor Era
These early recordings attracted interest from Polydor who signed him up to record his first LP, 'Grubby Stories' in 1979, recorded with established punk musicians including Robert Blamire of Penetration and John Maher of The Buzzcocks. The LP contained 17 tracks, 7 of them recorded with these musicians. Two singles were also released by Polydor, either side of the album, and Patrik undertook a tour with a new group of musicians: Colin Peacock (guitar), Charlie Francis (bass) (later to join Toyah), and Rab Fae Beith on drums (later of The Wall). Patrik appeared in the post-punk documentary 'Rough Cut and Ready Dubbed' in 1979/80 contributing the title song 'Island of Lost Souls' and one performance of 'Tonight' with Colin Peacock on keyboards.

Early 1980s
After being dropped by Polydor, Patrik continued to play solo acoustic concerts, gradually forsaking the ironic, sarcastic mode for a more deeply-etched, darker formulation. Now unmanaged, Patrik returned again to acoustic solo performance, then releasing a single under the pseudonym Josef Garrett, then, using a borrowed Revox, he began recording a series of backing tapes to use in live performance. These recordings, based partly on the former group's unreleased material, with Patrik playing everything, were released in 1982 by Red Flame as his second album 'Gifts and Telegrams'. At this point, Patrik formed a small group of solo performers, working under the banner, Ghosts of Individuals, and featuring himself, David Harrow, U.V.Pop, Kevin Hewick and Anne Clark (known for her solo albums on Red Flame). The forerunner of London's cabaret scene, the Ghosts, like Patrik's music, was aimed at, and appealed to London's loners. Following this, in mid 1983, Patrik formed a collusion with a peripheral musician from the Ghosts, clarinet player Alistair Roberts, and along with three more brass instruments players he recorded his next LP, 'Drifting Towards Violence'. The music on it is mostly acoustic, accompanied by the gloomy sound of the brass section and hard-hitting lyrics. Released by Belgian label Himalaya the record went completely unadvertised, and, consequently, sank without leaving a trace. The release was followed by a solo tour of Europe, where Patrik has retained a loyal following.

Return in 1986
In 1986 he released 'Tunisian Twist', which introduced a radical change of style towards a more commercial sound. The album features a guitar/bass/drums/keyboards band, with a brass section; its sound is thus much fuller than Patrik's previous work. The lyrics deal with subjects as diverse as terrorism, surrogate birth and trade unionism in the climate of Thatcher's 'economic realism'. While some of the songs are heavy with ironic humour in the manner of Patrik's early days, there remains the biting incisiveness which has always been his hallmark. In that year he also contributed a duo with Anne Clark to the compilation LP 'Abuse - Artists For Animals', dealing with the controversy of bullfights. In the absence of commercial success, Patrik took a job as a waiter at the House Of Commons, before relocating to Normandy in France in 1988. However, he found himself disenchanted and unable to find gainful employment, and so returned to England three years later.

1990s and beyond

The early 1990s saw Patrik return to playing gigs again, and he also launched an acting career, the most high-profile engagement of which was a version of Moliere's The Miser at Stratford. Seven years after his last release, 1993 saw the release of a new album on Red Flame, 'Treasures from the Wax Museum', a compilation of early 80s material, with four new tracks. In 1995 he released 'Pillow tension' on the Greek label Lazy Dog and relocated to New Zealand. Beat Bedsit Records issued 'Room service' a CD with new bedroom recordings in 2001. The album 'Floating Population' (2006) was issued to coincide with an European tour with Attila the Stockbroker. It contains a few new songs and alternative versions/recordings of songs spanning his entire career. 'Dark side of the room' (2006) is a split CD with the band POG. It contains 12 tracks from Patrik Fitzgerald, mostly versions of old songs. A documentary shot by filmmaker Dom Shaw (Rough Cut and Ready Dubbed) is in production and has a working title of 'Improve Myself'. Details of this project appear on www.anonymousfilms.co.uk
 

I first heard Patrik on John Peel’s show singing ‘Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart’, a fantastic piece of punk poetry. I also recall asking for his autograph when he appeared on the Revolver TV programme (ATV 1978) and being a huge source of amusement to the man from Small Wonder records. It’s a great honour to conduct this interview via e-mail (Patrik now lives in New Zealand).

Shelley- Were you musical as a child?

Patrik- I saw The Beatles with my sister and a 'grown up family friend' when I was nine (at Hammersmith). I bought my first record when I was about eight (‘House of the Rising Sun’ by The Animals). My sister, who was three years older than me, bought singles and I was inspired and competed with her. She liked The Beatles, The Herd, The Monkees and I bought The Troggs, Hermans Hermits, The Pacemakers, Cilla Black and The Kinks. Later, she moved to bluebeat, ska, early reggae, motown and I followed. We had a tape recorder and I wrote my first song aged about twelve, a mixture of The Herd and Status Quo. There were booths that you could go into and record a flexi-disc in those days so Pauline (my sister) and I did that.

 

My cousin played guitar, I got interested in it too and used to show off and impersonate Mick Jagger, Freddie Garrity and just about everybody else. I was very impressed that it got me attention. At about fifteen or so I started playing cheap electric guitars bought on the 'never never'. My family fragmented and I became the embodiment of The Doors ‘When The Music's Over’. Music was my only friend; I was locked into my room with it for most of every day. Semi-musical child, semi-obsessed musical adolescent. This led me to punk really- nowhere else to really go.

Shelley- How did you get involved with the punk scene?

 

Patrik- I wanted to become involved in music but didn’t meet anybody else who wished to do anything other than play cover versions in working men’s clubs or pubs. I wrote to Ken Pitt (David Bowie's first manager) and auditioned with London SS (Mick Jones/Tony James) and felt totally out of sync with both of them. Punk records and clubs offered the only route that seemed to make any sense to me.

Shelley- Any special memories of your first Peel session (I believe there were three)?

Patrik- I met John Peel twice and found him to be a bit aloof, arrogant and disinterested, but I think he was probably just not very good with people and possibly a bit shy. Pete from Small Wonder and I went up to his office to meet him early on and he sat watching a football match on television all the way through our conversation. The second time I had been ditched by Polydor and went to give him a copy of my Josef Garret single. He was reasonably friendly but a bit aloof and literally spared me a couple of minutes. The thing about the Peel sessions was that I sort of expected that he would be there but of course he wasn't. The BBC building in Maida Vale was a real labyrinth, a sprawling mass of corridors, big and small rooms like an old municipal swimming pool. The engineers were ex-rock musicians.

 

The first two sessions were both acoustic, but my favourite was the third. By this time I had gotten much more used to studios, working with different instruments and I wanted to do my own versions of songs with electric guitar, piano and drumbox. I was really pleased with the third session but it was the last one I did. The thing about Peel was that I don't think he was a fan of either me or my music. Some people went on doing sessions for years, whether they were with big or small labels or none.  Mine stopped when I was dropped by Polydor.

Shelley- Did it seem strange when young fans began asking for autographs and showing recognition?

Patrik- I think that is a difficult area to deal with, so called fame. People asking for your autograph all the time can make you believe your own publicity and you become a very difficult person to be around. For a very long time I wasn't really recognised and that was fine but I remember someone saying to me at the time (I think it might have been Pete Stennet at Small Wonder) that I was surrounded by sycophantic ‘yes people’. I think I was, to a large degree, but a lot of those people were also busy stabbing me in the back.

I remember going to a gig at the Music Machine in Camden Town and an aggressive drunken guy giving me a hard time, the eventual gist of his questions being that now that I was famous I could buy as many drugs as I wanted. Basically he was putting himself in my shoes or expecting me to give him some money or drugs or something. I ended up saying "well yes I suppose I could buy as many drugs as I want- if I actually used drugs". That was on the same evening that Paul Weller wanted to punch my lights out because I'd accused him of selling out in a music paper interview.

Shelley- I saw you support the Jam thirty years ago. Care to share any interesting stories relating to this time?

Patrik- I don't remember much about the period. I know that Paul Weller apparently liked my stuff and I was told that he watched my set every night. I didn't have much to do with the Jam though. Weller was on a bit of a short fuse (his Dad was the band's manager and an ex-boxer) and got into a fight with some rugby supporters in Leeds and was arrested. That was about it really. He also put out a flexi disc by Anne Clark and me- one track each. Anne and I were doing quite a lot of gigs under the banner 'Ghosts of Individuals' at the beginning of the 80s and Anne was editing Paul Weller's riot stories publication, which accompanied the flexi disc. On the Jam tour, the Dickies seemed to be better received than me. Generally, they were a goofy American power punk band, but nice guys.

 I had a run of playing tours and supports to big groups which provided different degrees of success and experience.  Hawkwind (Hawklords) was memorable- I got booed by their young denim clad fans every evening up, down and across the country. The Clash- (Victoria Park Rock Against Racism Festival), I was canned off by racist skinheads or at least skinhead Clash fans- a few darts were aimed as well. I didn't speak to The Clash, or rather they didn't speak to me. Sham 69- I knew Jimmy Pursey and used to speak to him at the Roxy all the time when they started, but his fans didn't take to me. His backstage entourage regarded me as a communist and wanted to kick my head in. I did a few gigs in Devon with the Police and we travelled together in a small van. Didn't speak to them and, as I recall, they didn't seem to really speak to each other. The Buzzcocks was a good little tour and that's where I got to know John Maher, so we asked him if he'd play on Grubby Stories.

Shelley- The ‘Grubby Stories’ LP was toured in 1979. I don’t recall anything about this. Did John Maher (Buzzcocks) drum for you?

Patrik- He was fully committed to, and very busy with The Buzzcocks and was living in Manchester. Robert Blamire was also busy playing bass with Penetration, so the idea was to audition and form a live band to promote Grubby Stories. I didn't want to just play everything note for note and we rehearsed a set of different songs, not much from Grubby Stories and not much from the EPs, which of course isn't how you do it live. Reaction to the group was pretty mixed.

Shelley- Will the LP ever be re-released? My copy was stolen (by accident, I’m sure).

Patrik- I don't think Grubby Stories will ever be re-issued. Polydor wanted to charge 1000 pounds per track to license them, the last I heard. There are 17 tracks on the album.

 

Shelley-I believe you later worked as a waiter at the House of Commons.  Did you meet many interesting people there? Was it tempting to throw food at anyone?

Patrik- I did work as a waiter at the House of Commons, House of Lords and the Mansion House (The Lord Mayor's residence). At the House of Commons I was able to come face to face with people such as Billy Bragg, Attila the Stockbroker, Paul Weller (at the Red Wedge launching). Also Cat Stevens and Salman Rushdie (not together), various TV film and sports celebrities as well as, of course, the politicians and lords themselves. Oh yes and Ian Paisley.

 

I actually managed to give Douglas Hurd's dinner to somebody else because they had an identical hairstyle. I was working there when Thatcher was overturned, when a rocket went into the back garden at Downing Street (just over the road), when the Sun or Daily Mirror or News of the World sent in an undercover reporter to pose as a waiter, to test security. He started a conversation with an Irish waitress who said, as a joke: "don't tell anybody but I am actually a member of the IRA". The paper printed that as a straight quote. I was also around when Welsh labour politician turned some tables over while drunkenly attacking another person. All of the places I worked had many high security guests and it did occur to me that as a waiter you were allowed to walk around with knives, forks, corkscrews and very hot food. I decided that even Ian Paisley would not be worth me doing any jail time, but it inspired a few lines for songs.

 

The serving classes 

In this mansion below stairs life is afforded just by those who would dare

To drop that poison in their master's wine

Sever his lifeline

Once and for all

 

Shelley- How did you become acquainted with Paul Stapleton (Beat Bedsit Records/Pog)

Patrik- He came to a gig I did in Brighton (1997). We did an interview and I sent him a cassette which he released as a CD (‘Room Service’). He released two CDs as an accompaniment to my gigs in Britain (2006). I had sent him all the tracks as mp3s. He helped with things like finding a guitar for me to use on that tour and he and his sister played bass and drums for a few songs at two of the gigs. He also started a PF website which is now pretty much at an end. He and Pog also recorded a version of ‘Poll Tax Payers Street’ and ‘Little Fishes’.

Shelley- What took you to New Zealand? Do you find the pace of life less frantic than in the UK

Patrik- My partner Jessica (Denton) is from New Zealand. In 1997, she wanted to move back. I had lived pretty much for ever in London (apart from some time in France and Italy) and was pretty sick of the place, as was Jessica. I had just seen ‘Once Were Warriors’ (NZ film) but thought I'd try going too. Originally it seemed quite low key, beautiful and different. Christchurch is known as the most English city in New Zealand but it is a quite strange variant. It is a bit like a small English town but the culture is quite different and the pace of life is as stressful as living in London. It’s pretty much the same the world over when you are not particularly wealthy and like to feel that there is some sort of value attached to your existence and to the world in general. Recession and the cost of living seem to be a universal concern. I used to tell visitors that London was a nice place to see but you really wouldn't want to live there. The same applies to Christchurch. It is however, my home now.

Shelley- Any plans to tour overseas again, as in 2006?

Patrik- I don't have any plans to tour at the moment- it's too expensive from here. I should be playing in Norway in March 2009 and that's it at the moment.

Shelley- In the past couple of years I’ve heard people describe you as a folk singer. Does this kind of categorisation worry you?

Patrik- I have always been described as folk punk, punk poet, etc, etc and I suppose it makes things easier for people to get a handle on what you are about. I don't know which category I fit. I think I'm just a singer/ songwriter really in the same way as Jacques Brel, Ray Davies, Randy Newman, Bob Marley, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan or Tom Lehrer but punk is where I started and I like to play acoustic guitar because I enjoy bashing out songs or creating a quiet mood. Folk singers are related to troubadours, they tell stories. There's a bit of that in what I do. Polydor used to ask me what I was. MySpace sticks you in a particular cupboard. A museum would put you in a particular section. Plus ca change plus ca meme. It always changes but it's always the same.

Shelley- You played a gig very recently (last weekend), was this enjoyable? Does Patrik Fitzgerald have a following in N.Z?

Patrik- My gigs in Christchurch are enjoyable but I am playing to an audience which, if you like, doesn't speak Patrik Fitzgerald as its first language. I played one gig where a whole bunch of emo kids turned up and they knew every word of my early songs. The average age must have been about seventeen so that was odd. I don't think there is a PF following here, however, but I can get good responses from audiences, because I think my songs are pretty flexible in who they appeal to and they seem fairly timeless and away on their own little plane.

Shelley- When will the new Dom Shaw (of Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed fame) film be released?

Patrik- Dom Shaw's film of me in concert is due to premiere in Trondheim, Norway, at a festival in March, where I will also play.

Shelley- What are your future plans?

Patrik- A new CD is being released by Crispin Glover records (Norway) in March. I recorded everything here (mainly on our computer) and sent it to them. They have been re-mixing and adding strings to some tracks and extra instrumentation, or new versions of others. They also released a joint vinyl EP, ‘Spirit of Revolution with Attila The Stockbroker. He has two songs and a poem on it and I have two songs-‘Tired’ (my first Norwegian collaboration, with interesting strings added) and ‘The Next Revolution’. 

A group called Milk Kan (www.milkkan.com) currently have a single out which mentions both John Cooper Clarke and I, among other people, and also has a snippet of ‘Banging and Shouting’ thrown into the mix. It's called ‘God on an ipod’ and they are amongst my top MySpace friends- I like quite a lot of their stuff. They were at the 12 Bar gig and sang along very loudly with almost everything.

Thanks so much to Patrik for such an insightful interview. Here’s hoping we might see you play live again one day.

Check out Patrik’s MySpace page- www.myspace.com/patrikfitzgerald  

Interview & Backstreet Boys cover pic by Shelley Guild
2006 photo from Nigey B
Patrik in Victoria Park by Dennis O'Regan
Other photo courtesy of Patrik’s MySpace page