Everett True

Song of the day – 96: Patrik Fitzgerald

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To celebrate the fact my formative influence Patrik Fitzgerald has befriended me on Facebook, and was even nice enough to “like” a recent Thin Kids video, I figured it’s long overdue that I pay tribute to him here.

This particular song I’m posting had a major effect on me when I first heard it back in ’78. I knew exactly the sort of lads he was singing about, the streets in near-darkness and alleyways and 60s subways you had to negotiate each night on your way back home. I was trailed often enough, had enough friends have the crap beaten (randomly) out of them. The fact that Patrik was punk enough to get up on stage by himself in support of these major-league, intimidatory punk bands was absolutely a major contributory factor on my own decision to start performing live, and play solo in preference. A few months after I first heard this single I jumped up on stage with my friend Phil on guitar to sing ‘Teenage Kicks’ (just released) at an open-mic night at Chelmsford Football Club. We were going to do (Undertones second single) ‘Get Over You’ too, but I hit the wrong opening note and that was that. An inglorious start to an inglorious career, some might say.

Anyway, Patrik. I’ve written plenty about him in the past – you can find stuff about him on this very blog here, here and here (among other places). He’s a schoolteacher in New Zealand now, and had a documentary about him screened earlier this year. All good stuff. Tobi Vail and Jon Slade understand, even if no one else does.

Here’s a retrospective I wrote for Domino Records several years back.

Patrik Fitzgerald
Grubby Stories
(Small Wonder/Polydor, 1979)
“Who needs to sleep/I play pinball till three in the night/Ain’t got a job/Ain’t got a home/But I like my lifestyle/I listen to Bowie/I ride with him out to the stars/I live out my dreams/I live out my stars” – ‘Live Out My Stars’, 1977 bedroom demo
I recorded my first single in the presence of Patrik Fitzgerald.
After I’d done the vocals for my unformed rant against fame and glamour – two topics that continue to preoccupy me two decades later – ‘You (Chunka , Chunka) Were Glamorous’, I went and sat down next to him on the sofa in the studio where the TV Personalities had recorded ‘Part Time Punks’. He edged away, laughing, pretending that he’d been scared by the intensity of my vocals.

Well, you taught me, Patrik! You taught me with your early EPs, ‘Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart’ (much beloved by compilers of ‘street’ punk compilations the world over), ‘The Paranoid Ward’, and especially ‘Backstreet Boys’, an intensely scary paean to all those teenage boys who’d hang out the streets of your home town looking for someone even vaguely different, even a glance will do, to beat the shit out of. You taught me it was possible to get up on stage with the bare minimum of support, maybe a guitar would be nice, and sing of your loneliness and alienation in front of a bunch of uncaring shit-heads. I never saw you on stage until 1981 or 2 or something, and by that time you’d gone all arty in your disaffection, and even more suicidal, but it was obvious hearing your voice cracking and holding notes, painfully, deliberately, off-key, that to articulate my despair and intensity – yes, that was the one way forward.

It was you, Patrik, who learnt me that youth was nothing to be ashamed of, that social observation was as valid a form of love song as even the most acerbic of Buzzcocks singles, you with your tape recorder humming and clicking on and noisily off in the background, with your working class voice and dropped aitches and swift, sweet, incisive blasts of punk rock. You, above all others, taught me that the most PUNK anyone can be is to lose the amplifiers, lose the guitars and the laddish inclinations, and just present yourself, no bullshit. That was your fault, and Mark Perry’s, two harbingers of my future never allowed to turn into self-caricatures because no one was interested anyway, you didn’t have pretty enough faces or the boisterous backbeat of The Clash or The Stranglers. It was you who taught me: Jonathan Richman and Calvin Johnson I discovered later, after it mattered.

I hated your debut album when it appeared, though, Patrik, me and my best mate Ian thought you’d sold out, what with your ‘proper’ label and clichéd cover picture reading The Star, getting good and grubby like the album title, and your full band that included a member of Penetration and the incredible Buzzcocks drummer. We’d learnt well the lessons you’d taught us, and we didn’t like anything – anything – that indicated a few corners were being rounded off, however only slightly. I say I hated it… I didn’t really, I only pretended to the same way I did when I first heard strings on a Ramones song (on Spector’s incredible End Of The Century), in an attempt to swing peer approval. Peer approval is so important when you’re young. I suspect maybe I was jealous that we had to share you. I was wrong to be that way, but fuck it. I still don’t like corners rounded off.

(You could argue that anyone that inspired by Patrik deserved everything that was coming to him in later life, but… No. I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

In actuality, Grubby Stories contained 17 tiny, authentic vignettes of distrust, loss and despair, dripping with teenage sarcasm, sometimes embarrassing in its directness and honesty, always inspirational. The songs showed a boy obsessed by fame, as unable to deal with even his minor part in it just as I was all those years later. Patrik even predicted his own fate as a minor ‘celebrity’ – “All the years of trying, all the many interviews/To get your views across, but they always got lost/You always ‘nearly made it’/Your records never sold as many /As your record company hoped they would… but you did sell some records/Sold them to the ones that wanted them/Who’d treasure them, and keep them with their other souvenirs/Never to be sold” (‘All The Years of Trying’)…
Patrik documented boredom better than anyone (‘Nothing To Do’) and the downside of relationships where they “fuck infatuation and call it love” (thank you Kevin) on ‘But Not Anymore’, and even changing fashions (‘Make It Safe’, a killer counterpart to Mark P’s ‘How Much Longer?’). Sure, his words could be simple and direct to the point of embarrassment but that was much of his appeal. I wanted a way IN and Patrik seemed to show me that way: God, how wrong can one teenage boy be.

The centrepiece of the album was the terrifying ‘No Fun Football’ with its cheese-grater guitars and determined, methodical, relentless drums and words that perfectly captured the zeitgeist of going to see a football match in the 70s: “It’s no fun – getting chased down the road/When you find a blind wall/It’s the back of a pub – crates of beer bottles and – That is all”. Compared with the rest of Patrik’s range, it’s remarkably sophisticated, crowd noises and chanting and echoed effects all heightening the tension it’s impossible not to feel, 22 years on.

Later, I went on to record a version of the album’s bitter self-deprecating ‘celebrity is shallow’ song ‘When I Get Famous’, swamped with 20 guitars and a couple of vocals, as first take as its possible to get in those circumstances. “When I get famous/There’ll be so many people wanna know me,” I spat, riding with Patrik and my stars, “You’ll be just one in line.”

“Don’t ask me to be your hero,” Patrik warned on the album’s final song, rather ironically considering the fact the vast majority of punks would have sooner gone to a Pink Floyd show then to have to ever suffer one of his records. “I will only let you down.” “Don’t ever sleep with your hero/They will only let you down.” I listened to him, and understood. Pop stars are as shallow and useless as the rest of us, even minor ones. You bastard, Patrik. Thanks for fucking up my life.
Everett True

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