Walking past the art gallery that overlooks the Princes Street gardens, a flyer is thrust into your hand.
“Want to see a gig tonight? She’s been compared to Tom Waits.” The eyebrow raises, that isn’t a comparison to throw around lightly – Waits has an almost magical aura around him to those who’ve been taken in, not a casual name just to throw out. “Here’s a free ticket, it’s redeemable if you buy a second ticket”. Duly noted we march off to secure the second ticket, if she’s only half as good as he’s trying to make out it should be a treat.
Just before ten we’re ushered into the hall where a small, feminine figure lies sleeping whilst a man in a boiler suit plays old 45’s on a scratchy gramophone – whatever this is isn’t going to be like a normal gig. The lights darken and The Boy starts to slowly pluck slowly at his guitar waking her – a tiny little woman dressed like a wartime bride. She starts to sing, the sort of soft, low sound that you associate with nightclub singers – so far, so expected – and then this massive growl of a sound begins as she wakes up. The voice knocks you back, not just for the sheer rawness of it but that a sound that big could be made from a woman that small.
What follows is an hour of slightly grubby feeling music in the Waits / Cave style sung with a mixture of dry wit, abandonment and sheer bloody minded lunacy. It’s horrific to think what singing in this style on a nightly basis must do to her voice (indeed, checking afterwards she was unable to perform the night after due to damaging her voice) but the sound is nothing short of extraordinary.
As good as it is it wouldn’t mean anything without “The Boy”. Seemingly born with a guitar in his hand he sends the music as far down weird paths as she does (improvisation seems to play a big part in the performance). The music is amplified, but no electric instruments (unless you count the strange gramophone recording that is played as backing to one song) seemed to be used.
Theatricality plays as much a part of things as the music, there’s a witty banter (one way) between Patti and The Boy as she explains the need to drink whisky in order to gain access to the saucepan she wants to play. A costume change occurs for no other reason that to look like Sophia Loren when singing about her. But more than anything it’s the voice that just grabs you.
There is an album (now in my possession) but I urge people to look out for live performances as a way of introduction – there’s something about seeing her live that explains the madness of the album.