The NEW First Lady of Soul

This is Clash’s first female cover-shoot. And the female cover star in question is none other than Duffy. Newly crowned and walking on air…

Having teetered into the nation’s consciousness on the eve of 2008, Duffy’s siren-call has enraptured a captive audience, shape-shifting back to a time when the female voice was more then just a sashaying popsicle in a mini-dress. The mixture of young and old is palpable in debut record ‘Rockferry’, as is Duffy’s own blend of worldly maturity and self-confessed inexperience. This is a singer who is still getting to grips with who she is and just what wonders her defiant vocal-chords can achieve.

The influences are easy to roll-call: the husky tone and grace alludes to Dusty Springfield; the all-encompassing gutsy warbles and trills shriek of pint-sized Lulu; her melody and tales of heartbreak strike of a concoction of Carole King and Karen Carpenter; whilst the syncopated soul rhythm, most notably on heart break’s swan song ‘Stepping Stone’, simmer to Dionne Warwick’s ‘Walk On By’. Yet in the face of past tradition, Duffy’s vocal identity is defiantly Duffy: here and now.

It’s not a weakness to have a smile on your face. In London, one thing I’m sceptical about is that being positive isn’t cool.

Congratulations on being the first female front cover for Clash.

I’m the first girl! That’s amazing. What an honour – I’m getting cold shivers and stuff. Thank you. That’s going down in my list of major things I’ve achieved.

Do you think it marks a change in the music scene? Even at this years BRITS, the awards seemed dominated by strong female artists in an industry that was previously reigned by their male counterparts. How does it feel to be a part of this?

I feel as though I’m watching from the outside. I don’t feel like I’m in it yet. I think I’ll always feel like that though with everything that I do. I mean, they all know each other - they all went to the same schools – there seems to be a scene there.

Well, you’re still so young. You’re only twenty-three but you are singing with a mature voice that reaches beyond those years. That juxtaposition has created this media frenzy around you at the moment. It’s been a hell of a year for you so far and we’re only in February… Has this all sneaked up on you?

It has, it has… How can I explain it? It was a slow process and then as soon as the doors were open it went mental. I mean, I get chased by people on motorbikes and things. It’s not something that anyone can really prepare you for. I never realised, because I live in my own little world really and you don’t really realise the fascination that people find in your music. For me, it’s just something that I do. The celebrity thing, it’s different now, isn’t it?

It’s been said that there was “no compromising” - with you as an artist, your voice or your record. Did you ever come across difficulties in achieving this, taking into consideration that the music industry often caters for “niche” markets?

I don’t really want to be a covers artist, although it’s tempting to go and thrash out all my favourite obscure Northern Soul songs.

No, not at all. I made that record so honestly with my manager Jeannette who’s like my best mate as well. We enjoyed the process together. I never thought it would reach this far. When you make a record – it doesn’t go anywhere. It will always exist, even if it’s in someone’s dusty old shoebox in fifty years, so there’s no rush. That’s why I don’t think I’m looking for anything else now – I’m not wanting new highs from it. I put myself under a lot of pressure to make the album, though. Nobody put me under pressure but me. I think Bernard [Butler] has been misquoted, saying: “If you don’t do this then you’re going back to Wales”, but that really wasn’t the case.

Are you ever tempted to indulge in some of your favourite covers?

I don’t really want to be a covers artist, although it’s tempting to go and thrash out all my favourite obscure Northern Soul songs. I think I’ll hold back on that, just for now, introduce people to my music first.

Why the title, ‘Rockferry’?

It is a place. It does exist geographically. But I’ve never been there – I’m self confessingly saying that. It’s on the border between Wales and England and I just caught a whiff of the name, and just like anything in my life, I’m always looking for clichés. I don’t think it’s at all an insult to say something’s a cliche. I thought ‘Rockferry’ sounded really strong and almost defiant and it’s a song about struggle and it’s about overcoming something. It’s not a love song. I mean, what is love? Love is such a whimsical word. ‘Rockferry’ is a place that everyone is trying to get to if they’re trying to achieve something in their life.


The full version of this interview can be found in Issue 26 of Clash Magazine onsale now.


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