Sometimes, when I’m walking through the hustle and bustle of the city, I try to make my thoughts and movements work in a different rhythm from everything and everybody around me. I imagine that I’ll be able to slip through the crowd unhindered by bodies and wheeled suitcases, that the lights at pedestrian crossings will […]

Sometimes, when I’m walking through the hustle and bustle of the city, I try to make my thoughts and movements work in a different rhythm from everything and everybody around me. I imagine that I’ll be able to slip through the crowd unhindered by bodies and wheeled suitcases, that the lights at pedestrian crossings will change for me as I approach so I never have to wait at the kerb, that I’ll tune into a soundtrack that no-one else can hear. Patrick Duff has the air of a man who has mastered this art. When his stage presence commands your attention he’s at the fiery centre of your world and you’re helplessly drawn to the flame. Yet if he wanted to walk through a room unnoticed, even by his friends, I reckon he could do it.

In the mid 1990s Patrick Duff was in a band called Strangelove. They were really very good, and toured with big guns like Radiohead and Suede. In October 2013 he played the second night of a solo tour at the beautiful Lantern Theatre in Nether Edge. The gig had been organised by Denzil Watson, the pathologically enthusiastic singer of the Repomen, rumoured to be Sheffield’s longest surviving pop band after 22 years. Due to their regular drummer’s absence, Repomen asked me to play percussion for this gig. I was honoured to accept. As often happens in life, these chance occasions turn out to be the most memorable.

Sheffield has the full range of live music venues, from shiny bars to seedy dives, but there is nowhere else quite like the Lantern. There’s something cheeky and very British about having a small but fully-equipped Victorian theatre in a suburban street. As a performer it kind of hems you in and sets you free all at once. You can’t see faces beyond the stage lights, but you know that everyone is really watching and listening. Everyone wants to be there, in their red, raked chair, and they’re more than willing to travel with you if you feel like going off script. Patrick Duff certainly seemed ready for a little ad lib. In addition to some intense storytelling between songs, he also gave the clutch of loyal Strangelove fans a rare nugget of history in the shape of ‘Sway’. But it was his newer songs that really had emotional force, because they were what he wanted to sing about.

A girl I once knew said she didn’t want to learn how songs were made for fear that it would spoil their magic. I can understand that, but for me that box has long since been opened. Certainly, I am rarely moved by music any more unless I can see the whites of the musician’s eyes. But when you can glimpse inside the musician’s mind the magic is all the greater. Seeing someone resurrecting the mood or moment that created the song, or hearing their brains tick as they connect finger movements to sounds and reach for lyrics lost in a distracted half-second between verses, you appreciate it all the more. When you share a stage with one of your own musical heroes, the magic is not so much meeting the individual – they’re all human beings, after all – as sharing the same audience, the same applause, laughter and heckles, and the same unrepeatable moment. I hope that the irrepressible Dru Blues, who opened the night for us, felt some of that too. He sang a song about being booed off stage at a holiday camp, so he’s not going to be putting his guitar down any time soon.

What really struck me that night was that I was in the company of one of those people who just can’t not make music. For them it’s not about singing for their supper; it’s about eating to stay alive so they can continue to sing. Their world is constructed from songs. When you talk to Patrick, he listens and responds, but you can see in his eyes that his mind is spinning and whirring with music. Without songs, his heart tells him, existence would grind to a halt. And when you walk home in the evening past a dozen rehearsal rooms on John Street, or in Neepsend or Attercliffe, and hear all those hopeful bands trying to pummel a song into shape because it really matters to them, even if no-one ever hears it or buys it or likes it, you suspect that Patrick Duff is probably right.

Andrew Wood.