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Duffy - All About Soul

Author: Andrew Weaver
Monday, 23 March 2009

3D’s Andrew Weaver chats with multiple Brit Award winning chanteuse Duffy, who hits Sydney this week for V Festival.

The ascent of Aimee Anne Duffy is the sort of stuff that dreams are made of, that Hollywood turns into films, and that are chronicled in the annals of history forever more.

Little more than a year ago, the Welsh songbird was playing sets in front of a polite audience of two. Fortunately, those two turned out to be none other than Geoff Travis, of Rough Trade Records, and Jeanette Lee, formerly a member of Public Image Limited and now a full-time artist manager. So perhaps you could say it was ‘right place, right time’.

Or perhaps you could say that Duffy, with her booming voice and striking resemblance to Dusty Springfield, was always going to be ‘discovered’ – it was just a matter of when, and by whom. But by being picked up by sensible folks with their heads screwed on right who had no intention of screwing her around, she lucked out, and was given the time and space required to make a debut album like Rockferry with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, which went on to be the best-selling album in Britain throughout 2008.

That’s got to mess with your mind.

“It’s made me realise how small the world is,” she says of her whirlwind year. “I realise how clichéd and obvious that is, but it really is quite a small place to live in!”

Nevertheless Duffy describes herself as an old-fashioned girl – four years ago she wouldn’t have sent an email, but these days she Skype-chats with her mum back in Wales while she saunters around the world. “I’m still getting used to how it all works with mp3s and downloading,” she admits of the modern musical world. “I know it sounds ironic but it’s all kind of new to me.”

Perhaps that’s why the sound of Rockferry has such a classicist approach – like fellow retro diva Amy Winehouse, there’s something delightfully old school to Duffy’s sound, taking its sound from the 1950s and 1960s. Where Amy Winehouse is obviously influenced by the great soul divas of that time period, if anything the sound of Rockferry, with its lush strings and structured arrangements, has more in common with Burt Bacharach.

“I didn’t make my record in America, and I didn’t make my record with a slick, programming producer,” she asserts. “So of course that’s going to make it sound from a different era, because today everything is so contemporary and programming. That’s why I really battled with myself during the process of making the record. I’m 24 years old, and I like to go out and have fun, but I am a little bit maybe old school in my approach to life. 90 per cent of my wardrobe is vintage and my favourite thing is to drink a glass of red wine and smoke a cigarette at home when listening to the radio.”

She laughs, and it’s a casual utterance – there’s simply nothing contrived about Duffy. She is, unfathomably, completely unaffected by her fame. “I don’t know what that says about me actually,” she says of her preferred night in, “but [when making Rockferry] I really try to get a balance between the classic and still being young. I didn’t want to be a singer that appealed to my mum or my grandma; I wanted to appeal to a similar age group. That’s why I strove to get a balance between the two.”

WHO: Duffy
WHAT: Plays Sydney Opera House / V Festival, Centennial Park
WHEN: Thursday 26 February / Saturday 28
MORE: vfestival.com.au

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