Sunday, February 22, 2009

22 Feb: Star Duffy was always set for fame

WalesOnline have this article today:

Star Duffy was always set for fame
by Darren Devine

In 12 short months she’s gone from being a virtual unknown to conquering the music world with three Brits and a Grammy.

But now Duffy’s name is arguably the biggest on the UK music scene, while her debut album Rockferry reached number four in the US.

However, though it may seem like the songstress has emerged from nowhere to dominate the global music scene in 12 months, the truth is very different.

Here, DARREN DEVINE speaks to the people who knew Duffy before she was famous and nurtured the fledgling talent that has made her one of the world’s biggest singer songwriters...

SHE never had a record collection of her own and her introduction to the music world she would one day dominate was through her dad’s video recordings of 1960s rock show Ready Steady Go!

The view from those who knew Duffy

Those who knew her when she was still just Aimee Ann Duffy remember a driven 16-year-old drama student working long and hard to reach the peaks she’s now conquered.

Though born in Nefyn, Duffy moved with her mother, twin sister Katy Ann and older sibling Kelly to Pembrokeshire after her parents divorced when she was 10.

Her father John still lives in Nefyn and following her success at the Brits on Wednesday, told reporters he was “ecstatic”.

But just six years after she went to Pembrokeshire, Duffy would return to Nefyn to begin studying for her A-levels at Coleg Meirion Dwyfor, in Pwllheli.

Duffy in school

Duffy’s former drama teacher at the college, Mair Gruffydd, said the qualities of modesty and humility that marked her acceptance of three Brits this week were always in evidence as a student.

“She was very modest, yet bubbly, full of enthusiasm and determined to be a songwriter and sing her songs.

“I keep saying that this was more important for her than the fame aspect – she just wanted to sing and perform.

“I was her drama teacher and she was a good actress as well.”

Miss Gruffydd, from Caernarfon, acknowledged that while she had the outward modesty of the girl-next-door, Duffy’s lofty ambitions were also clear to all who knew her.

“People think she’s come from nowhere, but when she was in college she was studying drama and doing design and technology and also arranging her own gigs and going out singing.

“As she said herself, it took her five years. Then a year ago, the album was released and the last year has been amazing.

“She was a natural talent. In her drama classes, she had excellent stage presence and she played a range of characters and would enthusiastically throw herself into everything. She wanted to succeed and she had that drive.

“I knew she had that extra something and it wasn’t a question of will it happen, but when.”

College manager Liz Saville Roberts echoed her colleague, saying years of unseen toil went into the Grammy and Brit Awards successes Duffy has just enjoyed.

She said: “She was very capable and very self-possessed.

“She’s really worked for it and she’s got a genuine talent.

“You can see it’s down to hard work and she’s kept at it.”

Ms Saville Roberts, 50, added: “You’ve just got to admire her really because she’s kept a steady head on her shoulders even though she has an extraordinary and unique voice.”

After college, Duffy eventually hooked up with Richard Parfitt, the former lead singer with Newport rock act the 60ft Dolls.

He immediately sensed her massive potential and took her to meet executives at his label Rough Trade Records.

Duffy is on record as crediting Parfitt with a big hand in the success she’s now enjoying.

Parfitt, from Cardiff, recalled how he was bowled over by the then teenage girl from Nefyn with the retro ’60s soul star voice.

The songwriter, who penned two of the numbers (Oh Boy and Enough Love) on the deluxe edition of the four-million selling Rockferry, said: “I worked with her quite a lot in the early days and she’s done a few of my songs.

“I always thought she was great and believed she had a real, raw talent.

“She’s a pop star and my thing is rock, but I went to Rough Trade Records and said: ‘I think this girl is special.’

“They agreed, but it didn’t happen straight away for her. This all happened about five years ago and they had to develop her.”

Now Parfitt believes Duffy can go on to become Wales’ biggest ever pop performer.

He suggests Duffy, whose single Mercy last year saw her become the first Welsh woman in 25 years to have a number one hit, can eclipse past greats like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey.

Parfitt, 45, said: “She’s proved herself to be world class. She’s won a Grammy and she’s the best we’ve got in Wales right now.

“Maybe she’ll become the biggest star ever to come out of Wales.”

Duffy, 24, is often compared to other female soul stars like Amy Winehouse and ’60s diva Dusty Springfield by those suggesting she’s little more than a sound-a-like mimicking a style that’s not truly her own.

But Parfitt insists Duffy has not been trained to sound like Winehouse, as fellow singer Alison Goldfrapp suggested last year.

Parfitt, who now lives in Cardiff, said: “I’ve got demos of her from way back and she sounds exactly the same.

“I wrote ‘Oh Boy’ on the deluxe edition of the album and that was recorded five years ago before she was even signed and she sounded as she does now.

“I’m sure prevailing fashions and styles have had an effect on the way her videos are made, but her voice has not changed one bit.”

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