Patrik Fitzgerald

TrackAlbum / EP
Safety Pin Stuck In My HeartSafety Pin Stuck In My Heart EP
Lovers' PactGrubby Stories
All The Years Of TryingGrubby Stories
TonightTonight EP
Personal LossGifts And Telegrams
One Little SoldierGifts And Telegrams
VolcanoTreasures From The Wax Museum
Background Paints The PicturePillow Tension
Island Of Lost SoulsFloating Population
Inside Me There Is NothingSubliminal Alienation




Contributor: Andrew Shields

Of all of the artists to emerge from within the musical revolution that was punk, perhaps the most distinctive was Patrik Fitzgerald. When other punk musicians were forming bands and seeking (in general) to return to the musical simplicity of early rock ‘n’ roll, Patrik defied convention by continuing to perform as a solo act with just an acoustic guitar for accompaniment. For those who liked to classify artists, this presented something of a problem and Fitzgerald began to attract descriptors such as ‘Punk Poet’ or ‘The Founder of Punk-Folk’. Both of these tags had a certain degree of merit, but neither really did justice to the unique qualities or strangeness of Fitzgerald’s style. Indeed, from the very beginning of his career, he had quickly developed a decidedly individual style with a quirky poetic sensibility which marked him out from his peers.

Like Kevin Coyne (with whom his songwriting style has some similarities), Fitzgerald’s work has centred on giving a voice to those who are often voiceless in our society – those genuinely marginalised groups like the homeless, the mentally ill, the working poor and all those people, who for whatever reason, are alienated from the societies in which they live. The characters in Fitzgerald’s songs are generally people whose lives have been shaped (or, perhaps more accurately, stunted) by social and economic forces over which they have little control. These unfulfilled lives have, in turn, left them damaged in various ways and they often act in apparently disconcerting or disturbing ways.

Some are, in the words of one of Fitzgerald’s best songs, “drifting towards violence” while others live in a state of resigned and fatalistic apathy. While this subject matter may seem rather bleak, Fitzgerald’s songs are also shot through with sharp glimpses of wit and a kind of hard-edged resilience. He also displays a keen empathy with the characters in his songs, whose lives he describes with an extremely keen eye for detail. There is also a rawness, honesty and integrity to his work which is unusual in rock music. His “gentle, passionate, acoustic cries of rage and alienation” (to quote Everett True) mark him out as one of the few genuinely individual voices in contemporary music.

Although Fitzgerald had started writing songs before the Sex Pistols arrived on the scene in late 1975, it was only with the advent of punk that an artist so quirkily distinctive could have hoped to find a place on the London music scene. According to his own account, while Fitzgerald did make attempts to form a band during this early period (and he did audition unsuccessfully for the early punk band, London SS) he gradually came to the conclusion that he was extremely unlikely to find anyone who was on the same musical wavelength as himself.

However, when he discovered that his local record shop owner, Pete Stennett, was considering forming a record label, he sent in a number of demos of his own songs for consideration. Stennett was interested enough to sign Fitzgerald to his label, Small Wonder Records, and the result was his first EP, Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart, released in early 1978. The title track, which is my first choice here, was described by Patrik as a “love song to punk” and remains probably the catchiest song he has written. For Fitzgerald, punk provided a voice for people like himself who had generally felt cast adrift before that movement began. A more recent live performance of Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart by Patrik can be seen here.

Although the Safety Pin EP did not sell particularly well, it did attract the attention of the music press, notably the NME (where Charles Shaar Murray chose it as single of the week in January 1978), Melody Maker and Sounds. In consequence, Fitzgerald began to gig regularly, often acting as support for other punk acts such as the Jam, the Clash and X-Ray Spex. At those concerts, he was a rather incongruous presence, both in terms of performing solo with an acoustic guitar and also of his general appearance. A relatively slight and seemingly vulnerable figure he generally appeared on stage in, as one contemporary observer described it, “a badge-cluttered blazer, red drainpipe trousers and sandals”. At times, he faced intense hostility from such audiences, many of whom had little understanding of his music. This hostility was sometimes accentuated by Fitzgerald’s habit of reciting some of his own poetry and telling long and involved stories during such performances.

In a way, however, such hostile responses only served to cement his status as a lone voice and an outsider, a distinctive but nonetheless integral part of the punk scene. During this period, he was also writing a large number of excellent new songs, including several (such as the excellent Set We Free which reflected his interest in reggae) and others which showcased his biting and sardonic sense of humour (as in the classic The Bingo Crowd). Here’s a live performance of that song from the short-lived 1978 TV series Revolver:

Patrik Fitzgerald’s growing reputation in this period eventually led to his being signed by Polydor Records in 1979. At the time, some punks saw his move to an established record label as an act of betrayal. Indeed, one outraged fan wrote to the NME complaining that “punk died” on the day Fitzgerald signed to the label. In retrospect, however, it is clear that such claims had very little validity. Indeed, Grubby Stories, the one album which he made for Polydor was just as resolutely uncommercial as all of his previous recordings had been. Unlike his other work, however, the LP did feature a number of backing musicians including John Maher of the Buzzcocks on drums and Robert Blamire of Penetration on bass.

It also featured a number of Fitzgerald’s most enduring songs. Among then, I have picked out the starkly beautiful Lovers’ Pact and the prophetic All The Years Of Trying. The latter song features one of Fitzgerald’s finest lyrics and, in my opinion, the way in which he pronounces the word ‘success’ late in the song is also one of the great moments in his career. Here’s a fine later performance of the song:

Despite its sustained excellence, Grubby Stories had very little commercial success and this led to Polydor letting him go soon after its release. Following this setback, Fitzgerald returned to performing, usually as a solo act but also occasionally with a number of backing musicians. These included Charlie Francis on bass, Colin Peacock on guitar and synthesiser, Leslie Broad on saxophone. It was with the last two that he recorded the excellent five song EP Tonight on the independent Red Flame label in 1980. Here’s the title track, Tonight:

Like many of his songs, this is a superb depiction of an individual who is living a life of quiet desperation. The other stand-out track on the EP, Animal Mentality, reflected Fitzgerald’s own anger at the injustices of a social and economic system which left so many people to lead essentially empty and unfulfilled lives. In this sense, there was always a clear political element in his work.

Fitzgerald’s next release, Gifts And Telegrams, appeared on the Red Flame label in 1982. It is one of his very finest albums. It also represented something of a turning point in his career. For example, the lyrics appeared to be much more directly personal in character than his earlier ones. As a result, the best of them had a greater emotional depth than had some of his previous work. A key example of this was the excellent Personal Loss which can be heard here. The song also showed Fitzgerald’s willingness to show his sensitive/vulnerable side and this distinguished him from the macho posturing which characterised some sections of the punk movement. There is also a fine cover version of the song by Kevin Hewick which can be heard here.

There was also a change in the style of musical backing on Gifts And Telegrams with a greater use of synthesisers (perhaps reflecting the influence of Fitzgerald’s musical hero, David Bowie) and of backing tapes. Both of these were used to good effect in the strongly autobiographical, One Little Soldier. The song also displayed his incisive wit that still remained as sharp as it had been in his early days.

If alienation has long been a key theme of Patrik Fitzgerald’s work, then possibly his greatest song on the subject is Island Of Lost Souls. Although it first appeared on Gifts And Telegrams, I have included the version which Patrik recorded for the later compilation album, Floating Population, for inclusion. Although the earlier version is excellent in its own right the later one has a stark quality to it which fits the theme of the song perfectly. Here’s Patrik singing it at a gig in Athens in 2012:

My final choices come from three of his later albums. The first of these, Volcano, was recorded for his 1993 compilation CD, Treasures From The Wax Museum. It is one of his finest bitter-sweet love songs and brilliantly describes a disintegrating relationship. Like many of Fitzgerald’s songs, the minimalist and stark musical backing gives it an even greater immediacy and raw power than it might otherwise have possessed. It can be heard here.

The second, Background Paints The Picture, first appeared on the excellent album Pillow Tension which was released by the Greek label, Lazy Dog, in 1995. This was the first album of his where the supporting musicians (Sam Appleby on saxophone and keyboards, Peter Dover on drums and keyboards, Alistair Roberts on bass) were fully integrated into Fitzgerald’s sound The song’s lyric also features a sharp response to some of the lazy clichés about ‘criminals’ which abound in the contemporary tabloid press. Among the other outstanding tracks on Pillow Tension, perhaps the most surprising is the fine ballad, Give It Up, which, from another artist, might almost be described as ‘radio- friendly’.

My last choice comes from Fitzgerald’s most recent album, Subliminal Alienation, which was released by Crispin Glover Records in 2012. In my opinion, this song, Inside Me There Is Nothing, is probably the finest of his career. Using beautifully observed details, (the “smell of cooking and of bleach”, the radio that “says nothing to anyone”, the father “who dreams of winning some big race”), he builds up a detailed portrayal of a dysfunctional family’s life. While in some respects the song is an extremely bleak one, it is also marked by a keen empathy with the individual members of the family. It makes clear that their lives have essentially been determined by forces outside their control. Here’s a live performance:

Inside Me There Is Nothing also clearly displayed that four decades on from his entry into the music business, Patrik Fitzgerald remains a compelling, distinctive and completely individual voice. He has also retained an anti-establishment edge and an artistic integrity which few of his contemporaries can match.


Patrik Fitzgerald’s website

“All The Years Of Trying” Patrik Fitzgerald Documentary

Safety Pins, Secret Lives and The Paranoid Ward: The Best of 1977-1986 (2015) 52-track compilation from Cherry Red Records

All Sewn Up: A Tribute To Patrik Fitzgerald (Crispin Glover Records ‎2009)

The Unknown Soldier : A Patrik Fitzgerald documentation (includes discography)

Patrik Fitzgerald’s first session for John Peel (1978)

Jon Wilde interviews Patrik Fitzgerald for “Sabotage Times” (2012)

Patrik Fitzgerald biography (iTunes)

Andrew Shields is a freelance historian, who grew up in the West of Ireland and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. Along with an interest in history, politics and literature, his other principal occupations are listening to and reading about the music of Bob Dylan and, in more recent years, immersing himself in the often brilliant and unduly neglected music of Phil Ochs ….

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Kevin Coyne, Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Clash, X-Ray Spex, Buzzcocks, Penetration, Kevin Hewick

TopperPost #701


  1. Rob Webb
    Mar 1, 2018

    Fascinating, Andrew. Thanks for that. Like quite a few people I expect, I only knew the Safety Pin EP from 1978 but there’s a lot of great stuff in his later songs too I realise. You liken him to Kevin Coyne, which is a good comparison. I can also hear something of Wreckless Eric too, another maverick performer. A well deserved Toppermost anyway!

  2. David-Lewis
    Mar 2, 2018

    What a unique performer. Probably the most punk of the punks.

  3. Dave Stephens
    Mar 3, 2018

    I’m way out of my normal stamping ground here but fascinating stuff. Thanks, Andrew, very much.

  4. Andrew Shields
    Mar 4, 2018

    Rob, David & Dave, thanks for the kind comments. Agree that there are some similarities between Patrik and Wreckless Eric- John Cooper Clarke is another possible point of reference.. However Patrik is such an individual performer and unique character that I think he has created a ‘stamping ground’ all of his own.

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