Friday, December 28 2007, 06:00 GMT
By Nick Levine, Music Editor
There isn't exactly a dearth of female singer/songwriters in Britain at the moment, even if they do have an irritating habit of getting pregnant/ cancelling all promotional engagements until the end of the year, but north Wales' Duffy is talented enough to stand out from the pack. Her debut single 'Rockferry', released last month, is an epic, sixties-style slice of pop melancholy, sung in a voice that quivers with longing and positively bristles with determination. We gave the Welsh songbird a call to find out about her journey towards musical greatness.
When did you first think 'I'd really love to be a singer'?
"When I was really young. It was always around, but I remember announcing it to myself when I was just a baby. I knew it was going to happen, I was dedicating myself to it."
Did you ever doubt that it might happen?
"No. I used to think to myself 'this is going to kill me if I don't do it'. Never."
When did you first sing in front of an audience?
"When my family all got together, I'd always get up and entertain everyone, but it was all a bit of a joke. My first real memory of singing for people was when I was about eleven or 12. I'd just started a new school and my new headmaster pointed at me and said: 'YOU! SING!' It was really embarrassing, but I remember thinking it was a little moment, because I'd never told anyone I wanted to sing before. I didn't rush home and tell my parents or anything - I kept the moment to myself."
Did your parents support your ambition to be a singer?
"Well, because I always knew, I never looked for reassurance or acceptance from anyone because I knew it was never going to go away."
How did you go about realising your ambition?
"I just did everything I could to get to where I am now. Every day I advanced a little further - whether it was ringing up directory enquiries and asking for the number of a record company in London, or getting into a different band, or getting a job in a recording studio. I did it all on my own at that stage - my family didn't know where I was half the time."
Was there a moment where you suddenly thought 'Aha! I'm definitely on the right track now'?
"Yeah - when I met Jeanette Lee and Geoff Travis from [my record label] Rough Trade about three-and-a-half years ago, just after they'd heard my demos. We've made the record together over the last three years - it was a really shared experience - and it was the first time really that I ever let anyone in."
When did you decide to go by Duffy, your surname?
"It was never a conscious decision - I was introducing myself as Duffy and my friends were calling me Duffy, so I just knocked off the first half of my name. For me it's no big deal, but a lot of people want to unearth why I've called myself this. It's just what I'm known as, you know. A lot of people expect me to be a boy. Taxi drivers turn up and say 'you're a girl called Duffy?!'"
You've worked with Suede's Bernard Butler on your album. Were you starstruck when you first met him?
"I didn't know who he was when I first met him! I thought he was just some guy at Rough Trade, hanging around and saying hello. Then we got together that afternoon and I had no expectations of what might happen. But, as I've found out after working with him over the last few years, he's truly amazing. I'm a genuine fan. It's just a really natural working relationship. I don't walk into the room thinking 'Oh my god I'm in the studio with one of the greatest guitarists ever'."
How's the album turned out?
"There's ten songs on the record, and I think they're all very different, but there's something that relates them to each other. I was conscious about making a record that sounds fluid, even though I worked with a few different people. It's not a concept record, but it sounds like a record, you know."
'Rockferry', the single, has a big, sixties-style string arrangement. Are any of the other songs in a similar vein?
"'Rockferry' has a cousin, shall we say, on the record called 'Just A Dreamer'. It's got a really nice, luscious string arrangement. Some of the songs have big arrangements; some have smaller arrangements; some have modern arrangements. The album's really made up of all different shapes and sizes."
What's 'Rockferry' about exactly?
"It isn't actually about the place geographically; it represents something other than that. 'Rockferry' is a song about trouble. If you're trying to achieve something in your life, if you're trying to get somewhere, 'Rockferry' is that place."
Where would you like to be five years from now?
"I'd like to be very wise. I hope I know a lot more than I do now! I'm learning all the time at the moment - every day there's a new challenge for me. I'm only just learning what language to use when I want my microphone turned down, you know, because it's all so new to me. It can be quite difficult on a daily basis to communicate with the people I work with, so I'm just looking forward to knowing more."
'Rockferry' is out now. Duffy's debut album follows early next year.