Music interview: Patti Smith

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Leeds Academy has hosted many great artists, playing every genre imaginable. In September it will be host to the godmother of punk, Patti Smith.

Smith’s debut album, Horses, released in 1975, was the prototype for punk as we know it. Rolling Stone magazine declared it number 44 on their ‘500 greatest albums of all time’ list.

In the UK she is probably most famous for her 1978 top five hit, Because the Night, a song she wrote with Bruce Springsteen.

Smith is also an accomplished poet and author. Her memoir Just Kids won the 2010 National Best Book Award.

Smith is currently on tour promoting her latest album, Banga. She has already played sold-out shows all over Europe. She will return to the UK to play shows, including Leeds Academy, and the Trades Club in the West Yorkshire town Hebden Bridge, where she will donate her £3,000 fee to the town’s flood appeal.

In November she will return to America to tour with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, playing arenas including Madison Square Garden.

Speaking to her before the first gig of her tour, Smith revealed that she never intended to make a record.

“I didn’t plan to ever do an album, but when I got a contract and was asked to do a record. My motivation for doing Horses was to create a bridge between everything I had learned and come up with and that was now gone because of the deaths of so many great people.”

“I was very worried about the changes. We had the Nixon administration in America. We had a lot of assassinations. All the hopes that we had in the Sixties and all the work we were doing, and all the evolution of our voice through people like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan… the evolution of rock and roll, and I was concerned that it would become a commodity. I was just trying to make a statement and inspire new people to have a loftier approach to rock and roll.”

Smith certainly achieved this objective. Many artists have cited her as an inspiration, including Madonna, Bono, The Smiths, Shirley Manson and KT Tunstall, who wrote Suddenly I See about the photograph of Patti on the cover of Horses.

Inspiring so many artists and releasing such critically acclaimed albums, it should be no surprise that Smith is a member of the Rock and Roll of Fame. However, it is surprising how many times she was nominated before she was actually inducted in 2007.

“I was nominated seven times before I actually made it, so it’s not like it was a big surprise.

“I didn’t even want us to have a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When I was younger I lobbied against it. I thought rock and roll didn’t need a hall of fame. We have our gods, but we still have to choose them.

“But they did make a hall of fame, they invited me in and I accepted.

“No matter what one thinks of these things, there’s always a small amount of pride attached.

“In the whole arena of rock and roll to be chosen, whether one is cynical or not, for someone like me it was obvious that someone like Elvis Presley would be there. I’m not an obvious choice. It’s gratifying to know that what we do seems important to people.

“I always dreamed I’d write books, so it’s very gratifying to know that it endured like a book, and I’m proud of that.”

Smith has released many books of poetry, drawings and prose. The limited edition version of her new album, Banga is actually in the form of a book, including the CD.

“We put out a limited amount. I like the special edition because I like a book. The CD is relatively modern but it gives you the permanence of a book.

“I worked very hard on it. I think all of our records as sort of an oral book or an abstract movie. When you put the records together it’s like a soundtrack for a life, and I always put records together for people to listen from beginning to end at least a few times.”

Smith, now 65, shows no sign of slowing down. However, although nerves play no part in it, she can still be a little insecure people will come to her shows.

“Sometimes I’ll feel a little nervous when we’re going into a place we’ve never been and I think ‘will anybody come?’… and then I go out and there are thousands of people. But that’s my only worry. I still worry people won’t come, but they do… oh, they do.”

September 9, O2 Academy Leeds, Cookridge Street, Leeds, 7pm, £25. Tel: 0844 477 2000.

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