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Duffy, the newly fated heir to the British soul diva’s crown, has a secret: “In terms of music, I’m only just learning about soul,” says the 22 year-old singer/songwriter. “I came from Nefyn, a little village in North Wales where there weren’t any record stores, so I just listened to the radio. I’m only just becoming familiar with Motown and all the great blues artists.”
This admission is a bit of a shock when you consider Duffy’s voice – like a roll of velvet being unfurled, it is a medicine of unaffected emotion that seeps through the new Bernard Butler-produced single Rockferry, a soul soup of 60s pop and Motown grandness. Her voice sounds like the product of countless late nights pouring over Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin records, not the result of a youth spent listening to Radio 1.
Although her sound may be indebted to American soul, it seems the emotional core couldn’t be more British. “When I lived in Nefyn, London was my furthest horizon. So we were consciously making a British record, because for me living in a small village and going to London was so massive, I couldn’t think about going anywhere else.”
“There was also Bernard Butler bringing the British rock ‘n’ roll, and me, somehow, having this blues element,” she says, quickly adding “and as much as I appreciate what Bernard brought to the record, how he set the tone, there was a big pressure on me - I had to live up to it and write songs to the standard that people expect, or give up and go back home.”
Luckily, there was no added strain of working with one of Britain’s most prominent guitarists: “I have to say, I didn’t know who Bernard was when I met him. I mean, I knew Suede because I’m a girl of the 90s, but as I say I only had the radio. So I wasn’t a crazy Bernard Butler fan when I met him, but now I’m up there – I’m aware of everything he’s done.”
Once you get over the age and accent, neither of which fit with the weather-beaten voice on the records, it’s clear that Duffy is relishing each step into the limelight. This is especially clear when she talks about the people that ‘discovered’ her: “Jeannette Lee and Geoff Travis from Rough Trade heard some demos I was singing on, and I met up with them in a pub one afternoon and we instantly connected. I think they could see that, although I didn’t know music, I had this drive and passion, so together Jeannette and I embarked on making a record.”
On the strength of a few demos Rough Trade introduced her to Butler and session man Jimmy Hogarth. “Nobody knew what I was capable of - I had never put pen to paper,” exclaims the singer.
And the result? “Rockferry and Warwick Avenue just came out. They were about hanging on for too long and breaking up - it all just unfolded. The moment that I delivered those demos to Jeanette she got quite emotional and told me how amazing they were and… it was fucking great.”
For someone who professes to know little about music or the industry, Duffy doesn’t appear overwhelmed at her rising success, though this too is new to her: “I only feel that now,” says the singer. “At the beginning I was so unconfident, unsure, and very scared. I was battered and bruised from everything I had gone through and if it wasn’t for Rough Trade finding me at that point, I might just have been a washed-up singer who stayed in Wales.” Battered and bruised? “Emotionally. From being in different relationships with men I shouldn’t have been with… Just being a kid I guess.”
And of course now there are the comparisons: Duffy’s mentor and manager Jeanette Lee has already been cast by some as a modern Vicki Wickham, Dusty Springfield’s manager and confidant in her 1960s heyday. But what does Duffy make of being compared to some of the greats she’s only recently discovered? “At the moment, everyone seems to say Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin, but I can’t say I comprehend that.” There’s also something of Holly Golightly, I chip in, immediately wishing I hadn’t. “I’ll check her out,” she quickly answers. “Comparisons are fine - it’s part of our culture. It’s good to create associations and, fortunately, I’ve had great ones. But what I’m excited about is over the next year for people to get to know other songs of mine. There’s no rush,” she concludes. “I’ll be here for a while.”