Friday, March 13, 2009

14 Mar: Australian Article

This article appeared here today. The Face: Duffy

WELSH pop singer Duffy believes she could be "the best has-been there has ever been". Judging by her success in the past month, it could be a while yet before we discover whether she's right.

The 25-year-old star has capped a glittering, short career in recent weeks, winning a Grammy and picking up three Brit Awards on the back of her soul-fused debut album, Rockferry.

It's been a remarkable rise for a young singer and songwriter, even for one whose ambitions for pop stardom were formed in her early teens. Dreams are one thing, but making them reality isn't easy, is it?

"Well yes, actually, if I'm being brutally honest," she says, propping up the bar in her Sydney hotel.

"Of course I've had difficult times," she goes on, "but life has a really weird way, if you look back ... you look back and say it was a piece of cake. It's not always easy, but I'm not going to start boring you about how difficult it was. Once I started it all fell into place, really."

Brutal honesty, or at least honesty, is all you get from Duffy. A more down to earth pop diva would be hard to find. Even with a basket of awards and international hits such as Mercy, Warwick Avenue and Stepping Stone under her belt, she has no delusions about who she really is. Not for her guitar-shaped swimming pools or bucketloads of bling. She doesn't even have a car and lives in a modest two-bedroom flat.

"I'm not buying a car," she says, adamantly. "I think that's something you do when you're 30 or something."

Duffy is one of the main attractions at this year's V festival, which begins its Australian run in Sydney on March 28. She'll be sharing a stage with seasoned professionals such as Madness and the Human League, as well as more contemporary rock acts the Killers, Kaiser Chiefs and Snow Patrol.

If this seems like exalted company, Duffy is not intimidated or indeed particularly impressed by it. As she said, she has been planning pop stardom since she was really young, so she's quite prepared for it. It's all about seizing theopportunity.

"Now is the time to do it," she says. "you have to do it while you are young. No point in being 70 and saying: 'Oh, I could have had a chance. I could have done it.' So, one chapter down, 15 to go."

The prelude to this opening chapter isn't always pretty. Aimee Duffy (she dropped the first name when she was 12) was born in Bangor but moved to Pembrokeshire with her mother and sisters after her parents' divorce. She became a bit of a rebel. A committed singer by the age of six, raised on the pop and soul of her father's record collection and on BBC Radio 2, she was asked to leave the school choir in Nefyn in North Wales because she didn't fit in.

She ran away from home when she was 15. Then there was the time she spent in a police safe house while a plot to kill her stepfather was being investigated. His ex-wife went to jail for the crime.

"But what you're dealt in life makes you stronger," Duffy says. "As kids my sisters and I were equipped, able to adapt. We moved a lot. Our parents divorced when we were young and my mum remarried. There was a lot of change all the time.

"For many many years I didn't trust anyone at all. Even my mum, bless her. I love her, but I don't listen to her."

Although on good terms with her parents today, she finds it difficult to look back at how she was brought up.

"The more I know how other people were raised then, I think: 'That's not fair. What anightmare.'

"It makes for a good read, though. Even Ithink that when I see it. F--kin' 'ell, not evenShakespeare could make that crap up."

After a succession of gigs in pubs and clubs with various musicians in her mid-teens, Duffy got her first big break when she met Jeanette Lee, a music manager who had once been a member of John Lydon's band Public Image Ltd.

Lee, who remains Duffy's manager, convinced the young singer to move to London. Once there, she met guitarist Bernard Butler, formerly of Britpopsters Suede, who took Duffy under his wing and introduced her to the music of soul classicists such as Al Green and Doris Duke as well as pop craftsmen Burt Bacharach and Phil Spector. All these artists would influence the writing of Duffy's album, which was released to great critical acclaim in Britain in March last year.

At the time the talk was of a new Amy Winehouse, given that both singers were comingfrom a similar place musically, but theirvoices and stylings are quite different.

"People thought the album was a bit too traditional to begin with," Duffy says, "but I don't want to reinvent the wheel. I just want to do something that I enjoy."

If you can enjoy it and sell more than 5.5million copies of your album then you have to be doing something right. Much of Duffy's success has to do with that voice, which has a mix of pop sweetness and soul earthiness that has seen her compared as much to Dusty Springfield as to Winehouse, and the former comparison seems more apt.

"I don't know where I got the voice," she says. "My mum can't sing ... (she's) not musical at all. The Beatles could have played down the road in her day and she wouldn't have gone. But one thing we did have in our lives was the radio. I liked Diana Ross ... singers who have a bit of vulnerability in their voices. Soul music is that mix of tenderness and strength. That's what makes me feel."

She says she has never been aware of her voice "as a tool".

"If I lost my hearing I think I could still get away with singing. It's like a muscle more than anything. I can feel it more than hear it."

Instant fame brings with it certain demands and pressures. Duffy has hardly stopped working since her album's release and she's keen to keep working, despite the pitfalls.

"I'm 25 now," she says. "You kid yourself that you can do it all and then one day you realise, 'Gee, I really do need to sleep."'

She will begin work on a new album later in the year. Career-wise, she's not taking anything for granted, however.

"I think if you were born with confidence it would be a problem," she says. "Confidence comes with age and experience. I've been making all the mistakes. I don't feel like I'm totally in control ... that I know what I'm doing. I let myself down all the time. I have regrets, but at the same time I couldn't do anything else. I feel compelled to do it."

Nevertheless, after this Australian visit Duffy will force herself to let go of work, just for awhile.

"I need to switch off," she admits. "It's time to take the foot off the brake a bit, let go and see what happens.

"Still," she adds, "I haven't done too badly so far. Hopefully I'll be remembered when I'm some old spinster with a couple of dogs back in Wales as someone who had good music in me."

Duffy plays V Festival, beginning in Sydney on March 28, and the Sydney Opera House on March 26.

No comments: