Singing sensation Duffy shows her emotions
Nov 30 2007 by Steffan Rhys, Western Mail
Having been compared to the likes of Dusty Springfield, much is expected of Welsh singer-songwriter Duffy. Steffan Rhys finds her intriguing mix of open emotion and cautious anticipation the basis for some absorbing songs
SITTING in London’s Hilton Hotel drinking endless cups of tea and smoking cigarettes, Duffy is taking a break from recording her latest music video.
After three years, she has finally finished recording her debut album, which will be released in the new year.
The open – if vague – way she bears her feelings with a soft North Walian accent that is slowly being betrayed to a London lilt makes her instantly endearing and goes some distance towards explaining the intense emotion in her songs.
Despite her appearance on Jools Holland’s Later show last weekend, Duffy is not yet a star but, without a trace of arrogance, she sees her own potential and is already slowly adapting herself to what could soon become a probed life.
“I’m more cautious now about people wanting to get in touch,” says the 22-year-old.
“A lot of people I’ve been on dates with don’t have my number or know where I live.
“It’s odd to think that people are going to want to know all about me and I’m a little scared.
“Everyone has a bit of baggage in the past. I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of – everything you do is a chapter of your life. But there are things you take for granted about who you are, and parts of your story suddenly become a story for everyone else.
“I was thinking the other day that I’ve been working with my band constantly for several months but I speak to journalists who know more about me than my band does.
“They want to know all about you and you have these intense conversations with people you’ve never met. And when you open up, you open up old wounds.”
“I did everything I could to get where I am now and I want to be the best. When I was younger I wasn’t as worldly and probably got myself into situations I wasn’t comfortable with.
“I had to compromise and sacrifice a lot and they are the wounds I often have to open. Now that I’m sitting in the Hilton smoking a cigarette and having a cuppa, it’s easy to forget there was a time I didn’t have a penny, and there were once people who bullied me to do what I didn’t want to.”
Duffy’s parents divorced when she was 10 and she moved, with her mother and two sisters, from the small, close-knit village of Nefyn, near Porthmadog, to another village near Fishguard.
She kept secret her burning desire to be a singer from a very early age.
“I knew I wanted to be a singer when I was six. But it wasn’t like prancing around the house in pink and a bowler hat and a karaoke machine. I was never into pageants or carnivals,” she says.
“I was thrown out of the school choir when I was 11 because my voice didn’t fit and no-one ever held my hand. I had to work my arse off for everything, even money for the bus. But I would never bear grudges. Life is too short and you have to do things for yourself. It just made me hang on a little tighter.”
In her late teens, Duffy – whose full name is Amy Anne Duffy – toured Europe struggling to make ends meet before returning home “battered and bruised”.
“I felt lost and that I had sacrificed so much. My friends were finding boyfriends, getting drunk, taking exams and passing driving tests but I was striving for this,” she says.
She was spotted in Cardiff in 2004 by Rough Trade, the name behind some of Britain’s biggest cult acts, like The Smiths and Antony and the Johnsons.
They pointed her in the direction of Bernard Butler in London’s Crouch End, and the fruit of their labour was Rockferry, her debut single, which was Jo Whiley’s “Pet Sound” on Radio One earlier this month.
“They found me just when I was losing hope. I had done nothing for about three months, which is massive for me because I used to do something every day,” she says. “But I was happy. I was working as a waitress and had a fan base in a soul and blues bar in Chester. It’s funny how things start to happen when you’ve reached a happy stage.
“It took me a while to trust [Rough Trade’s] Jeanette Lee after everything that had happened. People had been trying to sell me as a singer but with Jeanette I found a haven where I could relax and that encouraged me to write.
“If I hadn’t met them it might all have been different. I don’t know what I would have done. Maybe be a washed-up singer with one record.”
With the intensity of the spotlight slowly growing, Duffy is, for now, in little danger of being the washed-up singer, and with what appears on first impressions to be a sea of emotion inside her, she should be able to draw on substantial reserves of material.
Still, she won’t whole-heartedly throw herself into being the wounded female characterised by country music or folk songs.
“I don’t write self-indulgently about my feelings. There have always been highs and lows but I’m a positive person. All I can do is tell my story but I can do it with a smile on my face. And this reflects in my songs,” she says. “All the songs show a different side to me and I can’t wait until people have the whole record and can see them all.”