May 15, 2008 12:00am
SOUL singer Duffy may be a million-selling chart-topper now, but she explains why she was one of the music industry's biggest secrets.
Newly minted Welsh chart topper Duffy could be excused for possessing some soul-diva-in-training qualities.
Her management asks journalists for no questions relating to fellow British soul girl Amy Winehouse or Dusty Springfield, the woman with whom Duffy has been compared since emerging with her hit single Mercy.
Born Aimee Ann Duffy 23 years ago, Duffy's reticence for commenting on Winehouse is fair enough. If you can't say anything nice about a junkie train wreck, don't say anything at all.
But Dusty is a legend and surely worth a tip of the influence hat.
"Since the '50s, it's all about new. Gimme more new, new looks, new sound, new this, new that," Duffy says.
"The new Dusty Springfield . . . why do I have to be labelled something? Why can't something be pure and accepted open-mindedly? The public aren't that stupid.
"My mum can't switch on a computer, she can't face any kind of technology, yet she has the mental abilities and intelligence to make her mind up about what my music is and she says my songs don't remind her of Dusty Springfield."
Duffy joins a new British invasion of young female artists retooling the US soul sound, 40 years after Springfield began her reign as the queen of white soul.
Just two months after topping the British charts with her debut album Rockferry, Duffy has the occasional moment when she finds it incongruous that millions of people now know about her "secret".
"It's a very personal thing to make an album. But I have to remind myself I'm not just making music to satisfy me," she says.
Duffy was a secret, albeit a poorly kept one, for several years in British music-industry circles.
Her manager Jeannette Lee, co-owner of Rough Trade records and former member of PiL, got one of Duffy's demos and immediately put her under wraps.
For the next four years, Lee introduced her to producers -- including former Suede member Bernard Butler -- and Duffy would travel up to London to spend hours in the studio. She'd then play the fruits of her labours to strangers on the way back home on the train.
Not even her family were given a preview, but that had more to do with the singer's desire to shield them from potential heartbreak should it all amount to nothing.
"I'm still someone's daughter and someone's sister and someone's best friend, and it's hard for them to see me as a performer or an artist expressing themselves and their emotions," Duffy says.
"I didn't want to freak them out or to look for reassurance. I didn't think my family could enjoy the songs at that point. It was a very insecure point in my life."
Butler gave her a musical education, downloading soul tracks to her iPod.
"The music I grew up on in the '80s and '90s, none of it had a massive impact on me. We didn't have a record store or a computer, so I only had glimpses of the history of music. When I started making this record, I was really nervous that I didn't understand their history. These people came from very honest places in terms of their writing."
Rockferry (Universal) out now.[End article]