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STEPHEN DUFFY INTERVIEW [2008]

YOUR DEBUT ALBUM 'THE UPS & DOWNS' IS ABOUT TO BE REISSUED AT LAST, HOW INVOLVED HAVE YOU BEEN IN THE PROJECT?

I always try to lend a hand. I've been pretty good at keeping pictures and tapes, which are still quite useful when a compact disc is being produced. Also I'm the only one who remembers what might remain unreleased. But basically I like changing the sleeve's track-order and mixes just to piss off the pedants.

LISTENING TO IT AGAIN AFTER ALL THESE YEARS IT STRIKES ME WHAT A DIVERSE ALBUM IT IS, SOME OF IT REMINDS ME OF DAVID BYRNE, OTHER BITS RECALL THE BLOW MONKEYS AND SWING OUT SISTER, AND JJ JECZALIK'S WORK ON 'KISS ME' REMINDS ME OF WHAT HE DID WITH ART OF NOISE... HOW DOES IT FEEL FOR YOU TO RELISTEN TO IT ALL AFTER ALL THESE YEARS?

I never liked it. I enjoyed mixing with Stephen Street and making 'The Icing on the Cake' but the rest of it is just a mess. Some tracks I did with Booker T Jones and the rest are just demos recorded on a barge in Little Venice in the middle of the night. It was the Virgin jingle studio.

THERE ARE SEVEN EXTRA TRACKS ON THIS EDITION OF THE ALBUM, WAS IT EASY TO PICK THE BONUS MATERIAL OR WAS IT A CASE OF SIFTING THROUGH MASSES OF OLD TAPES AND THINGS TO FIND STUFF?

Unfortunately the running order became fixed before I'd had time to think about it. There is an early version of 'She Loves Me', a song that was in a John Hughes movie, and other bits and pieces that never came out.

PART OF THE ALBUM ARTWORK INCLUDES A LETTER TO YOU FROM HERGE STUDIOS, CREATORS OF THE TIN TIN CARTOON, TELLING YOU TO STOP USING THE NAME WHICH MADE ME LAUGH... HOW PROBLEMATIC WAS IT FOR YOU, NOT BEING ABLE TO USE THE 'TIN TIN' NAME? TO BE HONEST IT USED TO CONFUSE ME... I WASN'T SURE IF TIN TIN WAS YOU OR A GROUP OR WHAT WAS GOING ON AND IN THE USA THEY SEEM TO KNOW YOU AS JUST TIN TIN WITHOUT ANY REFERENCE TO STEPHEN DUFFY AT ALL!

Tintin was a group. Mulligan and Dik Davies from Fashion and Stoker from Dexys Midnight Runners. Luckily Stoker was on WEA with The Bureau but Artista weren't happy as they had Fashion. So on the first cover there was only a picture of me and a bag of flowers and on the second was Stoker and I – styled by Ray Petri if I remember. I had no interest in being Tintin, the record company however did as the second record had got to number 55 due to it being shrink wrapped to a t-shirt. How much were singles then? I think you got the 12inch record and a t-shirt for a quid in the chart return shops. So I became Stephen 'Tintin' Duffy, it was an Evelyn 'Champagne' King thing. I hoped Herge would put an end to it but people still say 'As in Stephen Tintin Duffy?' so they were too late. The joke however is on me. The original 'Kiss Me' was big on KROQ & CFNY and in those places I will always be just Tintin.

THERE'S ALSO EXTRACTS FROM AN AMERICAN INTERVIEW YOU DID AT THE TIME WHICH ALSO MADE ME LAUGH. HOW MUCH DO YOU IDENTIFY NOW WITH THE STEPHEN DUFFY BACK THEN?

I pieced that together from various other interviews by Warhol, Jagger, Dylan – I can't remember who else. It was like sampling. David Hepworth accused me of being pretentious in Smash Hits but he was reacting to a Mick Jagger quote not me. Still you can't beat pretension.

YOU WERE A PROPER, MAINSTREAM POP STAR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE EIGHTIES FOR A WHILE WEREN'T YOU? WAS THAT SOMETHING THAT CAME NATURALLY? SOMETHING YOU WERE COMFORTABLE WITH?

I was a very uncomfortable and hopeless pop star. Luckily it lasted for only 6 or so months. Luckily in that time I got to sleep with models, take designer drugs and holiday in Golden Eye so it was probably for the best that I only had 6 months – who knows what could have happened in a year. The public doesn't want uncomfortable pop stars, they want arrogance. Combined with a Radio One DJ thinking I was a supercilious cunt my days were always numbered. The first album was so bad I don't think shop owners would touch another Stephen Duffy record (hence The Lilac Time). Back then the buying teams bought huge amounts of records. I remember being on Top of the Pops with 'Icing On The Cake' and asking the marketing guy from Virgin where the record would be next week. He said it wouldn't go much higher as the team was behind Scritti as their album had been so expensive.

They didn't hype 'Unkiss That Kiss' at all and I was dropped shortly after. I paid off my debt of seeming aloof, not playing the game and rocking the boat in Radio One's eyes by being forced to go on the Timmy Mallet show in Manchester to pretend to be a good bloke. Appearing aloof can often just be crippling shyness but there you go.

THEN FAST FORWARD TWENTY YEARS FROM THAT POINT AND YOU'RE WRITING, WORKING AND TOURING WITH ROBBIE WILLIAMS, HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT? HOW WAS IT TO BE BACK IN THAT VERY HIGH PROFILE WORLD?

Being a supercilious cynic certainly helped when working with the Robbie Williams industry, conversely being the exact opposite was best when working with Rob. I really enjoyed making Intensive Care as we just messed around in his house for a couple of years both of us playing everything. It was quite an electro record at one point; we had a Juno 60 and an old Linn2. Quite like old times.

I was very lucky to meet Rob when he wanted to experiment and play with instruments and styles he hadn't been involved with before. Everyone around him told him how great it was to be experimenting to his face but really they just wanted another 'Feel', if you pardon the expression. EMI asked me how many hits I thought we had when we had a couple of electroclash jams; something that sounded like it had been left off the Primal's third album and a song called 'Fuck Off'. Still it kept us off the boulevard. And of course went on to sell 8 million, his biggest worldwide according to Wikipedia and when have they ever lied to us? It sold a million on the first day mainly because back then his demographic hadn't worked out how to download.

I knew I'd never be involved with another record that would sell a million records in a day; I didn't realize perhaps no one ever would. Being with extremely famous people is very tiring as everyone behaves completely differently around them. One end of the spectrum are the fainting screaming people, the other are the ones who just want a piece of the action. I've seen people blatantly steal things just because x or y was rich and famous. I think people who want to be famous are morons, which puts me at odds with the times. I align myself more with F. Scott Fitzgerald when he said, 'I would rather impress my image upon the soul of a people than be known. I would as soon be as anonymous as Rimbaud, if I could feel that I had accomplished that purpose and that is no sentimental yapping about being disinterested. It is simply that, having once found the intensity of art, nothing else that can happen in life can ever again seem as important as the creative process.'

YOU ORIGINALLY STARTED OUT IN A BAND WITH NICK RHODES AND JOHN TAYLOR, WERE YOU CALLED DURAN DURAN AT THAT POINT? I HEARD A RUMOUR THAT YOU WERE ALSO INVOLVED IN THE WRITING OF AN EARLY VERSION OF 'GIRLS ON FILM', IS THAT RIGHT AND WAS THERE ANY OTHER SONGS YOU HAD INPUT IN AT THE TIME THAT THEY WENT ON TO HAVE A HIT WITH?

Yes always Duran, it was my first proper group. 30 years ago next April 5th was the first show but we'd been rehearsing since October/November 1978. I was the singer in the 70's which means I can't really talk about on this website really now can I? I never had anything to do with any of the songs that made them famous. I certainly could have helped them become as big as Suicide.

YOU WENT BACK WORKED WITH NICK RHODES UNDER THE NAME 'THE DEVILS' A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO TO MAKE THE 'DARK CIRCLES' ALBUM, RE-RECORDING SOME OF THE VERY EARLY DURAN DURAN SONGS YOU WROTE WITH HIM PRIOR TO SIMON LE BON JOINING THE BAND. HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT? WAS THERE A SENSE OF UNFINISHED BUSINESS THERE, AND IF SO HAS IT NOW BEEN PUT TO REST?

Nick hates waste and we obviously had an albums worth of material that no one had ever recorded. It was great fun pretending that it was 1979/80 and that we had never heard any music made after 'Stop Making Sense'. It was very creative, strangely, to impose these parameters. I bumped into Nick at a Vivien Westwood fashion show; I hadn't seen him for 20 years or something. He looked up at me and said, 'Why did you leave?' and then it appeared that I hadn't. It's a shame we didn't get John in, but I think he was in LA and we were having fun. We should have got the clarinettist in too. The most unwanted reformation in the history of music.

WAS THE DEVILS A ONE-OFF OR IS THERE A CHANCE YOU MIGHT WORK WITH NICK ON THAT AGAIN EITHER IN THE STUDIO OR LIVE ON NEW MATERIAL?

I think we'll do something again – although I have grown a beard. The last time we met - to record Radio 4's Lost Albums show - we decided to do a spoken word tour where we would sit in armchairs drink red wine and chat. Just think of the merch!

THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER YOU'VE BEEN VERY PROLIFIC, YOU'VE RELEASED AROUND FIFTEEN ALBUMS AS A SOLO ARTIST AND WITH THE LILAC TIME IN THE TIME THAT SOME ACTS TAKE TO MAKE THREE OR FOUR RECORDS... WHAT DO YOU PUT THAT LEVEL OF ACTIVITY DOWN TO?

That would be talent.

YOU HAVE RELEASED NEW MATERIAL WITH THE LILAC TIME THIS YEAR IN THE FORM OF A NEW ALBUM 'RUNOUT GROOVE' AND THE 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY PEACE' EP, THERE'S ALSO TALK ABOUT A FILM PROJECT WITH THEM FOR NEXT YEAR, CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT?

'Memory & Desire 30 Years in the Wilderness with Stephen Duffy and the Lilac Time' is the title of the film. There's a double CD on Universal next April too. The film will be in festivals next year and hopefully on TV and DVD by next Christmas 2009.

GOING FORWARD FROM THAT, WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS, IF ANY? I'VE HEARD THAT YOU ARE CREATING YOUR OWN LABEL SOON, SO YOU CAN RELEASE YOUR OLD AND NEW MATERIAL YOURSELF IN QUITE AN INTERESTING WAY, HOW WILL THAT WORK AND IS IT IMPORTANT TO YOU TO RETAIN THAT ELEMENT OF CONTROL OVER WHAT YOU PUT OUT?

Weird times for record makers. You have to make sure you get every penny and pray people buy the record and don't down load 2 songs. Small bands need the fivers; 40p just puts you out of business. Luckily we have enough gear to make proper sounding discs but I miss the hoopla and the razzle dazzle. Putting an MP3 on MySpace is never going to do it for me now.

We're working on a covers record as the Lilac Time which is now basically me Claire and Nick. We are all working on solo records although mine will be a Stephen Duffy & The Lilac Time album. Nick's is finished; it's called 'Sapphire Stylus' and it'll be out next year on our label Bogus Frontage. We have a live/soundtrack album that'll be ready next year. Also I want to release my second album 'Because We Love You' as it was when Stephen Street and I left the fallout shelter in '85 thinking it was finished, and before the record company sent me back in for more 'singles'. It was called 'Cocksure'. Also I'm going through all my cassettes for a demo’s album. So Bogus Frontage will be busy over the next couple of years.

NOVEMBER 2008

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