Thursday, January 24, 2008


I wouldn’t expect to go a bundle on the runner up of Welsh Pop Idol and I’m also a bit suspicious of singers who can only manage one name, Brazilian footballer style. (Mind you that would be quite a line up...Madonna, Kylie, Gabrielle, Adele ...Sonia).

I’m also a bit suspicious because the hype machine does seem to be gearing up behind Duffy. She came second (behind Adele...again) in a 6 Music “Singers most likely to” poll. (Possibly not the pervier “Most likely to...." poll that I’ve been running). I’m ready to suspend the scepticism though because she’s aiming to do exactly the kind of cinematic 60’s soul pop that I’m partial to. Dusty Springfield. Nancy Sinatra etc.

The video for debut single Rockferry made me think of my holidays and Julie Christie in Billy Liar. Sold!

Filmed around Porthmadog (Duffy grew up on the Llyn peninsular), it's a leaving town/leaving you kind of song, with lots of shots of railway lines, tea drinking, waiting on platforms, railings being aimlessly pinged and the whole thing is as 60's as the Prisoner style piping on her jacket.

It's also got a shot of Cob Records with Duffy walking past with a suitcase. Is the girl leaving town or going record shopping?

New single Mercy uses all the stock soul phrases. And just how many songs have talked about begging for mercy, release me etc and have expressed bafflement at the power and quality of the good loving that is on offer? Loads, but there's always room for one more.

Duffy's version of it has the line "I don't know what you do but you do it well. You've got me under your spell." Bingo. Another soul cliche. It's all done with a lot of love though and the video features Dusty style hand waving and Northern Soul dancing. So yes it's retro! But yes I like it a lot.

The only concession to a more modern sound is the elastic band twang of the intro and the spoken words that you can just hear under both the intro and the middle 8 which is the kind of thing All Saints would have done.

There's some footage of Warwick Avenue from Jools Holland last year, which has a bit more of a Gladys Knight style soulful sweep and the really good line "You think you're lovin' but you don’t love me".

The album is due out in March. I'm hoping that the fact that Duffy is managed by Jeanette Lee from Rough Trade (former “non musical member” of Public Image) and that Bernard Butler has been involved in some of the song writing is going to stop it from being (admittedly) top class karaoke.

Because she does sound great and looks the part but the songs are (to my ears) very close to their source material. After all what made Bernard Butler and David McAlmont’s Glam plastic soul records so interesting was that they shuffled their sources better.

The trick is to make a modern record that invokes the spirit of an older style. And you don’t need to be coy about it. You do need great big hits! There’s a quote from Stax songwriter Dave Porter along the lines of “Don’t talk to me about the records that didn’t sell. Talk to me about Soul Man.”

Although I'm naturally drawn to the obscure b-side, there have been some fantastic modern records that have used an obvious and infectious love of those old soul records. Songs like TLC’s Waterfalls (uses an Al Green /Teenie Hodges guitar style), Bouncy Beyonce’s Crazy In Love (partly Chi-lites but mostly big hair and hot pants) or Crazy by Gnarls Berkley.

On a similar old meets new there’s Candie Payne’s terrific single One More Chance. Image wise she’s giving it the full Audrey Hepburn, and there's a Mark Ronson remix too. It's Sandie Shaw, Beach Boys and bells and it's a modern re-creation of a sound rather than a copy.

One of the things that made Amy Winehouse interesting was the arrangements that Mark Ronson brought to her second album. The Motown feel to tracks like Tears Dry On Their Own or Addicted. Or the girl group doomed romanticism of tracks like Back to Black.

So while the strings gave it a Shangri-Las feel, there were also the Hip Hop shuffling drums and the fact that Winehouse wasn’t singing about the 60’s girl group staple of running away with a a bad boy on a motorbike who is also a bit of a rebel. (Apparently the parents don't understand). All powered by the brass section from Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. A bona fide proper soul revue style band fronted by a 50 year old ex Rikers Island prison warder.

Thankfully 23 year old Duffy is more River Island than Rikers Island

John Cooper Clarke

He's spent the last 30 years wearing the same clothes, often reading the same poems and his biggest supporting role has been to the Honey Monster in the 1990's Sugar Puffs adverts. John Cooper Clarke is still a one off though. He's been acknowledged as a major influence by Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys. You can definitely hear the JCC influence in Turner's scabrous sneer and interest in society's crusty white underbelly.

The rapid fire delivery came from trying to grab an audience's attention when he did support gigs for the Punk acts. The poems themselves are funny, clever and musical, even without the music. You get the sense that he could probably quote Baudelaire by chapter and verse, but is more likely to write about the clap clinic.

He's argued that "Poetry has always been and always will be a very different way of writing, a minority interest. It's language with its best suit on." The live show has always been a mixture of poetry and the jokes that he uses to cover the gaps while he's trying to find the next poem. That helped keep the audience interested in the early days, but he could also handle a heckler.

"I can't hear you mate... your mouths full of shit".

Like Mark E Smith that other Salford bladdered balladeer it's partly the sound of his voice that drags you in, those extra syllables aah. Words that you can chew on. Delivered in a voice that could strip paint and would melt the ear wax of any unfortunate ear that found itself on the receiving end of his whispered sweet nothings.

First single the Psycle Sluts ep came out on Manchester label Rabid records and debut album Disguise In Love came out on CBS in 1978. His records were often criticised by people who'd seen him live who thought that the music got in the way of the words. The music was supplied by the Invisible Girls a rag bag assembly including Buzzcock Pete Shelley, producer Martin Hannett and Karl Burns from The Fall.

You can hear echoes of what Hannett was also working on at the time. Evidently Chickentown from 1980's album Snap Crackle and Bop has a snippet of reverbed drums that fade in and out of the mix but sound like they came from a Joy Division session.

There was a live album Walking Back To Happiness that came out in 1979. It covers the full range of the entertainment spectrum. From poems about Flashers "Gabardine Angus, open your coat" to the package holiday hell of Majorca "I got drunk with another fella who'd just brought up a previous paella" and "where the Double Diamond flowed like sick". This being 79, it got the full gimmicky vinyl treatment. Walking Back To Happiness was released as a 10 inch clear vinyl album.

It's accompanying single Twat. (I'd loved to have been in the CBS office when the plans for the new single were announced….'so what's it called then John?'), came out on a double grooved single.

Which meant you had a 50/50 chance of either playing the full frank and foul version "Like a nightclub in the morning you're the bitter end, like a recently disinfected shithouse, you're clean round the bend" or it's edited, more refined cousin Splat. On the Splat version the expletives are drowned out by comedy sound effects.

The other single Gimmix came in triangular orange vinyl version. It's a roll call of past gimmicks from "The balmy days of the hula hoop craze to the skateboard panic of today." You can hear the contempt in his voice on the line "Teasmades, cushions that fart. The Lord of the Rings." It's like the Punk version of Peter Kaye's "Garlic Bread" line.

Although you should really buy them all, Snap Crackle and Bop is the best of his studio albums. Evidently Chickentown feels like late 70's Manchester when the whole city centre seemed to collapse into it's failing Victorian sewers. Like Venice without the views. Or the Gondolas. But with the pigeons. "The bloody pubs are bloody dull, the bloody clubs are bloody dull, of bloody girls and bloody guys with bloody murder in their eyes" and where "The bloody weed is bloody turf; the bloody speed is bloody surf."

Beasley Street's account of where Thatcherism descends into Dickensian squalor should be taught in schools. And there aren't many lines more chilling than "Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies in a box on Beasley Street." JCC's pronunciation of the words "Beasley Street" has more E's in it than Brian Harvey and takes about 6 months for him to say.

Everyone needs a prison song. 36 Hours is a jail guitar door clanging blues. Where if the regime of "Shit, shave shower and a shoe shine, That's it. Sack time" doesn't put you on the straight and narrow then the threat that "Everyone looks like Earnest Borgnine" surely will. There's a guitar line that that sounds like Pete Shelley reused it from ESP by Buzzcocks.

Zip Style Method came out in 1982. Musically it's the weakest of them, with the more polished synths and treatments actually making it sound more dated than the murky backing tracks used on the first 2 studio albums.

But you do know exactly what he's talking about on The Midnight Shift when he describes somebody's face being "Like a long abandoned baseball boot with the tongue hanging out"

So those are the records then. Due to his own self confessed disorganisation and possibly a result of living with Nico (wouldn't have thought their shopping list contributed much to their 5 daily portions of fruit and veg), the records dried up and promised books and novels didn't appear.

I saw him at Birmingham University at in 1985, ironically on the same bill as John Hegley's band The Popticians. John Hegley not only writes funny, clever poetry, but is also more likely to get the phone call when Radio 4 need a poet. On that night JCC just seemed dazed and disinterested. He rattled through the poems and then rattled home. No jokes, banter or interest. On a good night though he's unstoppable.

He was on stage for over 2 hours at a comedy night at Moseley Rugby Club in 1999. I saw the last 20 minutes when he supported the Only Ones in Wolverhampton earlier this year. A storming effort, with new material and quality jokes. He's pushing 60 but still got the shades and hedgecombed hairstyle and probably wears winklepicker slippers at home. And he's still following his key artistic principle. "I always try and talk in tune"