Duffy Rockferry

Duffy Rockferry
As Britain’s strongest musical export — rock’n’roll — suffers through another spell of recycled lad-led "guitarbage,” the Queen can be proud that gals like Adele, Estelle and Amy Winehouse have taken the reins. But my money’s actually on (Aimee) Duffy, a headstrong gog from Northern Wales who has the grace, voice and arrangements of Dusty Springfield in her corner. That comparison has followed her around like Chanel perfume but on her debut, Duffy evokes the spirit of Britain’s greatest soul singer. Co-produced and written with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, George Clinton collaborator Steve Booker and a handful of contributors, Rockferry is an immaculately conceived album that borrows from the cornerstones of retro pop and soul, helped by a strong Welsh air, courtesy of her scenic lyrics. Duffy’s voice has an extra rich texture to it, which can be brawny like Shirley Bassey belting out the hook on feverish chart-topping single "Mercy,” or emotive on an assortment of levels for the bluesy "Syrup & Honey.” While it can be argued that Duffy’s soft sweetness can get the best of her and hold her back from fulfilling her duties as a diva, it’s that sweetness (and her good old Welsh ways) that makes her and Rockferry stand out amongst the growing glut of retro soul/pop singers.

How did you develop your music coming from such a small Northern Wales town?
Well, I met an amazing woman [Jeanette Lee, formerly of Public Image Limited] who became my mentor and manager actually. I completely put 100 percent of my trust in her and she A&R'd everything and taught me what I was good at, y'know? Up until the moment that I met her though, I didn't have that solid belief in myself that I could write a record. When I met her she got me singing on some demos, so we really already had a record when we met four years ago. And basically, she just encouraged me to do my thing. So I went from Wales to London for writing and she just gave me so much support. The first song I wrote was "Rockferry," and it was because she fell in love with it and encourage me that it was a great song that helped me grow as an artist. It's all about having that person there to let you know what you're good at and what you're not good at because I know I'm not good at everything [laughs].

Did she help you find that timeless '60s sound the record has?
No, that was very much what I would do in the studio with whoever I was writing with. That was never planned. Really, everything we did was in small studios, even a loft attic, but was always done organically. There was never any producers who did much programming or sampling. It was all really raw, with real musicians and natural reverb in the room, as I wrote the melody and lyrics. It just went that way.

I wrote 50 songs, maybe even more, and it was just the ten favourite over the years that stood out and made the record. In a way, it kind of made itself.

I'm curious as to why you chose to sing in English instead of Welsh.
Like many things I did as a kid, I didn't think things through. I'd just find myself in situations where there were opportunities, and I took those opportunities, y'know, and it seemed like a good opportunity at the time, so why not? I was also living in Switzerland at the time writing, and I was in two or three bands. I'm really proud to be Welsh, but it was never a statement [to sing in English] that I was gonna go down that avenue. I'm glad though that it means to the people of Wales that I started singing in Welsh. Really, the phonetics and phrenology doesn't lend itself well to soul music [laughs]. It's quite tricky!

You were on an American Idol-type program in Wales called Wawffactor. How did that affect your singing career?
I was 16 and starting to make a name for myself in Northern Wales and this TV company came to my school, took some Polaroids and heard me sing and three weeks later they asked me if I wanted to appear on this talent show. It was before the days of Pop Idol. It was overwhelming — banners, a camera crew, a panel of judges, contestants with their families — and I just went on my own. I managed to get through all of the rounds and found myself in the final and came in second. It never aired outside of Wales and you didn’t win anything — there was no million dollars. So it was nothing but a bit of fun. It’s been blown out of proportion that I was on the Welsh American Idol.

The UK is really flourishing with strong female singer-songwriters at the moment.
For me, I feel quite removed from it because I’m just a girl from North Wales. I’ve never really met any of the other girls on the scene; it’s almost like talking about a movie you’ve never seen. I’m just doing something else; I’m not a part of it. I don’t hang out in London with the trendiest people. I’m not a cool kid. (Polydor)