Wednesday, 18 November 2009

God like Genius - Stephen Duffy

This God Like Genius is one of this country's most under-rated songwriters. He has

- recorded one of the best early 80s pop singles

- formed a folk band

-been in a britpop supergroup

- written and toured with an ex member of one of the Uk's biggest boy bands

- released an lp with Nigel Kennedy

- been an early singer with a bunch of New Romantics

Most people know that Stephen Duffy was one of the original members of Duran Duran before he left and was replaced by Simon Le Bon. He then went on to form a group called Tin Tin and kept the Tin Tin name as well as one of the songs " Kiss Me" when the band broke up. Kiss me, released in 1985 became one of those singles that everyone probably knows without really knowing much about who recorded it. Rather than post this which I'm sure you can get on 100 80s compilations or 80s blogs I've gone for the other great single from the first lp "Ups and Downs" (which was strangely part produced by Smiths and Blur producer Stephen Street)

Icing on the Cake - Stephen Tin Tin Duffy

After a second failed lp (this time without the Tin Tin in his name) and a one off lp under the name Dr Calculus (with Roger Freeman ex of Pigbag) he resurfaced in 1987 in the Lilac Time a band formed with his brother Nick Duffy. The lp was first released on an indie label before being re-released on a major. I've posted the first single. I remember it being played on radio one in a you'll never guess who this is type section. Against the rush of dance music and rave a gentle folk pop song didn't stand a chance. The single is one of those catchy songs that you think must be a cover as you cant believe that no-one else has come up the tune

Return to Yesterday - The Lilac Time

After supporting Dr and the Medics and appearing on TV with Roland Rat (boy did the record company know what to do with this band) Stephen Duffy started on the second lp "Paradise Circus" released in 1989. In his own words "I was obsessed with Crosby Stills and Nash , Neil Young and Iris Murdoch and thought myself an amalgam of all five" whilst "I would get on the train to Phonogram to meetings that confirmed our belief that they had signed us by mistake. They wanted a hit. On the way home a girl waved. You are the girl that waved at trains through the cool September rain. It didn't even make the top 100"

The lp is a bit of a mixed bag, you can hear the struggle between the style of the first lp and the pressure to have a hit.

Much to everyone's surprise the band weren't dropped and the option of another lp was taken up by Phonogram. This time they called in Andy Partridge of XTC to produce. Again the resulting lp has an element of conflict. There are 6 tracks produced with Andy Partridge who layered harmony on top of harmony. The remainder were rushed out in a week with John Leckie after Phonogram cut the budget half way through recording. The Andy Partridge tracks show a glimpse of what might have been. "And Love for All" was released in 1990 and needless to say none of the singles charted

To promote the lp the band embarked on The Free Love tour.

"It was a shambles, setting up in parks and playing for a handful of people, or Peterborough town square where a clock started to chime as we began playing and continued throughout the set"

The Laundry - Lilac Time

After finally leaving Phonogram, The Lilac Time signed to Creation records for 1 lp "Astronauts" a much more stripped down sound, closer to the essence of the first lp now that the pressure from Phonogram to have a hit was no longer there.

In Inerva Gardens - The Lilac Time

The Lilac Time went into a prolonged hibernation during which time Stephen Duffy recorded "Music in Colours" with violinist Nigel Kennedy (after discovering a shared love of Aston Villa) in 1993 as well as solo lp "Duffy" in 1995.

Natalie - Stephen Duffy and Nigel Kennedy

 He finally also had another hit. After all the great songs he'd written, this was the annoying "Hanging Around" recorded as Me Me Me with Alex James from Blur and Justin Welch from Elastica. Thankfully it was a one off.

1998 saw the release of the next solo lp "I Love my Friends" and one of the strongest sets he has produced. The lyrics felt more autobiographical. The music is a bit of mix of a guitar sound which reflected the trend at the time with gentler acoustic songs more in line with the Lilac Time.

I've posted two tracks that reflect the 2 elements of the lp

In 1999 Stephen Duffy reformed the Lilac Time and since then the band have released 4 lps all on different labels. These records are much more consistent in sound with a big reliance on acoustic instruments

Family Coach from Looking for the Day in the Night 1999

My Forest Brown from Lilac6 2001

We Used To Be So from Keep Going 2003

Happy Go Lucky from Run Out Groove 2007

The final incarnation for Stephen Duffy is the one off Devils lp. The story goes that he found an old tape of songs he'd written with the early version of Duran Duran and after a chance meeting and reminisce with Nick Rhodes the two of them got together and recorded the songs ( not changing the lyrics and using only early synths) and released them on the "Dark Circles" lp in 2002. If you are thinking Rio or Planet Earth then think again. These are more like the early synth bands such as pre Dare Human League , Cabaret Voltaire etc. A glimpse of what might have been and not a whiff of a beach in Sri Lanka.

Dark Circles - The Devils

Signals in Smoke - The Devils

In 2004/05 Stephen Duffy finally hit payday in that he co wrote 2 songs for Robbie Williams greatest hits package and then co wrote the whole of the singers next lp (The one before the career threatening Rudebox). This turned into to touring as guitarist on the accompanying world tour.
Anyone who has followed the downs and downs of Stephen Duffy's career wouldn't begrudge him his time in the sun and the royalties should pay for a few more Lilac Time lps
This post was partly inspired by the fact that a documentary film has just been released. "Memory and Desire - 30 years in the wilderness with Stephen Duffy and the Lilac Time.

As his the lyrics form his last lp says
 My epitaph will be
“In dazzling obscurity
He played his songs for free
And a royalty

Finally his website is worth a visit where he writes a very entertaining if erratic blog with photos
For those that want more a great site is duffypedia


  1. Good shout! Stephen Duffy is surely one of the best songwriters out there.I've just ordered the new 'Memories and Desire'compilation from e-bay (a fiver for a double CD ,not bad eh?!)
    Currently listening to newly discovered American band ,Tryst,whos vocalist sounds uncanily like Mr.Duffy.(By the way their 3rd CD can also be found on e-bay for a dollar but it'll cost you 7 for shipping.Still great value for a very good album)
    Tel Aviv

  2. Well i'm listening to family coach , such a great songwriter , great live too .

  3. Thanks for the comments - will give Tryst a try.

    I've never seen Lilac Time live, I'm onot sure if they are touring with the memories and deisre lp - definitely going to try and get the film on dvd though


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