Legendary Patti’s great British Blake-off
Burns, Blake and Woolf as New York beat poet and punk godmother comes to Camden's Roundhouse for 'An Evening of Words and Music'
31 January, 2019 — By Emily Finch
Patti Smith at the Roundhouse for an evening of ‘words and music’
PATTI Smith is magic. There are no other words to describe her.
From her long, mercury-coloured hair and booming voice, to the luminescent golden boots she wore on stage – a homage to the poet Robert Burns whose birthday falls on the date of her gig, she says – the lady is crackling with electricity.
Just before her gig at the Roundhouse in Camden on Friday night, billed as “An Evening of Words and Music with …”, a Facebook memory reminds me that I saw Patti live eight years ago to the day.
The social media website churns out a blurry pixellated picture of a 20-year-old me posted to the site with breathless adoration. The feeling hasn’t faded almost a decade on, thanks to her incredible talent which has yet to diminish despite being past “retirement” age.
Even former supermodel Kate Moss is a fan – she held the door for me as we entered the venue.
Patti Smith is as synonymous with New York as a yellow cab and a pastrami sandwich. But throughout the two-hour gig she pays homage to British poets and writers.
First, there’s William Blake. Patti thanked Primrose Hill Books and the venue for providing her with a copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience by the Romantic poet. She reads to the audience Blake’s The Divine Image shortly before embarking on a powerful rendition of My Blakean Year, her own song from 2004 .
Then there’s Virgina Woolf, one of the Bloomsbury set, and Patti reads a passage from The Waves accompanied on the piano by her eco-activist daughter Jesse Paris Smith.
The night is firmly a family affair. Not only is Patti accompanied at points by her daughter, but her son shares the stage throughout the night playing the guitar.
There are father and daughter, mother and son combinations peppered through the crowd and it’s obvious that Patti draws together generations because of her ability to constantly re-invent herself.
From New York beat poet, to punk godmother and later author of a best-selling memoir, Patti is able to not just capture the zeitgeist but package her own vision of the world.
The people eat her up. One woman piercingly shouts, “We love you Patti”, and the audience responds to her command that we should stand up for her last couple of songs.
There are hardly any people filming the gig on their mobile phones.
It almost feels disrespectful to contain the night in a small digital square.
Patti plays some of her best-known music accompanied by her band which includes long-time collaborator and bassist Tony Shanahan.
She starts with Ghost Dance and fits Pissing in a River, Because the Night and People have the Power into her set, amongst many other beloved songs.
After the show there are mutterings from audience members that the event was not quite the “Evening of Words” promised on the ticket – the publicity teasing that Patti would be sharing personal stories from her illustrious career.
They’re right. The most we had were the book passage readings and her short self-depreciating yet also tongue-in-cheek responses to the random audience outbursts.
She didn’t tell us anything about what she thinks about Trump, Brexit, her favourite coffee brand – or the more tantalising personal recollections.
But poetry and music are the perfect antidote to calm the soul during politically tumultuous times while still spreading a message.
I hope she’ll still be the same booming bright light in eight, 10, 20 years’ time.