Music

Keeping Up Appearances is a resonant farewell to Patrick Doyle

Prolific cult musician Patrick Doyle took his own life in 2018. But the release of a posthumous album is a fitting tribute to a unique talent.

Posthumously released music has become an industry of such practised bankability it sometimes seems to lose sight of honest remembrance. Sales of Basic Plumbing’s only album Keeping Up Appearances won’t turn a profit anything like recent sets by, for example, Leonard Cohen or David Bowie – and anyway, what proceeds it does generate will be donated to mental health charity CALM and the Los Angeles LGBT Centre. Yet as a fond and resonant farewell to a fine and talented soul, its intentions could scarcely be truer nor better realised.

Patrick Doyle was a restlessly prolific multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who, in his all-too-short 32 years, played with more bands than there is space to list – most prominently Veronica Falls, with whom he released two albums of haunted jangling via Bella Union that will never grow old. I knew him only vicariously through his music and through mutual friends in the Glasgow indie scene, but I always felt connected to him.

It was at a gig by one of Doyle’s earliest bands Dot to Dot back in 2005 that I first met my future wife. I watched him play countless times over the years, whether on guitar with The Royal We, or on bass with Correcto or on drums with Veronica Falls. Even after moving away to London and later LA, he returned to Glasgow often on tour. Like any peer easily taken for granted during young years lived in the illusion of invincibility, he was just… there. Until suddenly he wasn’t.

Doyle took his own life in March 2018, a few months after the death of his husband, publicist and journalist Max Padilla. A guy who had given so much would give no more. But true to form, Doyle had worked furiously until the end, bouncing ideas back and forth with London musician Helen Skinner and LA producer Andrew Schubert in a project which he called Basic Plumbing.

Released in his memory two years on, Keeping Up Appearances is Doyle’s final album, a collection of sun-kissed lo-fi guitar, bass and drum gems, imbued with all the irrepressible personality and wicked charm we’d come to expect from a man who revelled in his music once being likened to that of “a gay indie Nirvana”. His yearning way with a melody on Constant Attention is as unmistakably his own as his fingerprints or his smile. As You Disappear is a song plainly written in the full, stark glare of loss – ‘I won’t call you on Monday’, he sings, ‘I won’t see you on Friday’ – yet it feels light and lustrous. In a difficult world, making music was something that came easily to Doyle.

Keeping Up Appearances follows the posthumous publication of a book of Doyle’s photography, his first love, which he compiled before he died. Titled MAX, it opens up his inner world at home in LA’s Silver Lake with the man he shared some of his best times with, telling a story of gay intimacy and sexuality through candid snaps of skinny dips, pool beers and boners in boxer shorts. Two lives lived together at gentle odds with the world in a way that, on a good day, must have felt romantic as hell, and on a bad day, unbearably lonely. It would break your heart if it didn’t make it soar.

Keeping Up Appearances shouldn’t be Doyle’s last album – were fate kinder it could have joined records by Veronica Falls, Correcto, The Royal We, Sexy Kids, Boys Forever and the rest as just the latest in an uncultivated canon that continued to blossom and wilt and re-seed and grow like wild flowers late into a long life. But its natural and immutable qualities – of scrappy energy, slanted melodicism and screw-you queerness – ensure that it’s as apt a final testament to his life and work as about any record could be.

Keeping Up Appearances is out now

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