Introducing the Ultimate Music Guide to Patti Smith

As she celebrates the release of her new book, Uncut takes a look at archived interviews and in-depth reviews of every Patti Smith album, from Horses to Soundwalk Collective

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It’s June 2009, but that’s about all that we can really say with any certainty about time and space here: on the stage, there’s a bit of a melée in progress. We’re at the Royal Festival Hall, and this is notionally a set by Ornette Coleman, who has curated this year’s Meltdown festival here on London’s South Bank.

Ornette is definitely up there, and so are his band, but the number of additional players is proliferating. First, the Master Musicians Of Joujouka add to the swelling sound. Then, a figure in a black jacket strolls unannounced to the front of the stage. Once she’s there, she begins a freewheeling incantation, rising and falling with the music like she’s surfing a precipitous wave.


As a tacit introduction to Patti Smith, this is just about perfect. As it turns out, Patti is a longtime Ornette fan. She has improvised with him before and will do again, but there’s something in the spontaneity of what happens here – the power and scope of the music; Patti’s ease riding its currents – which is completely electrifying.

It’s a tightrope act of improvisation and art that we celebrate in our latest Ultimate Music Guide. As you enjoy the in-depth new writing on the following pages you’ll find the story of Patti’s unwillingness to commodify her music, a journey which begins with the free-roaming seditions of Horses and continues – with a break to raise a family – to this day in questing and allusive work. Whether it’s with her own group, in collaboration with a musician like Kevin Shields, or with her latest collaborators, Soundwalk Collective, she continues to try open up new and more adventurous perspectives.

As you’ll read in the archive interviews we’ve selected here, in an era of corduroy and scarves, not everyone was taken by Patti’s crashing of boundaries between songwriting, poetry and jazz improvisation. With the British music press, things frequently get hostile. Having slated Horses already, one writer decides to travel and meet the Patti Smith Group in person, the better to more fully address their many shortcomings. At one boozy press event, hostile remarks and sandwiches are thrown. Throughout, though, Patti remains much as we see her when she performs in Rolling Thunder Revue – A Bob Dylan Story. Facing down the sceptics, she creates her own momentum by sheer focus and conviction.


Around the time of Meltdown in 2009, Patti spoke to The Guardian newspaper, praising “music that conjures up words, poetry, portals to another dimension.” She was speaking about Ornette Coleman’s work – but she could just as easily have been evaluating her own.

Enjoy the magazine.

Buy a copy of the magazine here. Missed one in the series? Bundles are available at the same location…


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