Saturday, May 10, 2008

They Called Him 'tintin'

Stephen Duffy began his association with the world of pop in early 1978 (then aged 18) as a foundation member of a little outfit from Birmingham, England who called themselves Duran Duran. By April 1979 Duffy (known at the time as Steven Dufait) had finished his tenure as vocalist/bassist with the band (eventually to be replaced by one Simon Le Bon), and formed the short lived band Subterranean Hawks.

Duffy then formed the band ‘Tin Tin’ and soon assumed the name as a personal moniker. The band was largely a front for Duffy's creative energies. It was during this period that Duffy composed a song called ‘Kiss Me’ in a Birmingham basement during 1979 at age 19. By age 22 he’d recorded the song and a dance remix has surged into the top 5 on the U.S. Billboard Dance Chart. The popularity of ‘Kiss Me’ in the U.S. crept back to Duffy’s native U.K. The song was remixed again and took off at home reaching #4 on the U.K. charts in early ‘85 (at the second attempt - originally it had stalled at #78 in 1984). In Australia ‘Kiss Me‘ reached #16 in mid ‘85.
Duffy recorded three albums worth of material within 18 months during 84/85. Duffy described himself during this time as “Donovan trying to sing like Michael Jackson“, a somewhat eclectic mix of folk and dance-pop influences. The three albums worth of recorded material were condensed into a single collection titled ’The Ups And Downs’ which failed to climb higher than #35 in the U.K. Included on the album was the track ’Icing On The Cake’ - described by Duffy himself as “the only decent thing on the album“. Well, to me the song was more than just ’decent’. It was an excellent pop song - no more no less - with a cleverly written lyric (and yeah a bit Donovan like) with an infectious melodic hook. It didn’t perform miracles on the charts (UK#14, OZ#48) but in my humble opinion was far superior to ’Kiss Me’ as a pop song.

A third single ’Unkiss That Kiss’ flatlined on both the airwaves and charts and after presenting a very ’folk sounding’ album to the execs at Virgin Records, Duffy was as he recalls ’politely shown the door’. From the liner notes Stephen Duffy wrote for his ’Best Of’ CD, it’s clear he doesn’t have fond memories of the era during which he flirted with pop stardom. Though he does count the time as a learning experience, including as he harshly states about himself “learning how to sing in tune eventually”.

From 1987 to 1991 Duffy fronted the folk/pop outfit The Lilac Time, and all told they recorded four albums during this period, and had two minor chart hits in the U.S. with ‘All For Love And Love For All‘ and ‘American Eyes‘ during 1990.
Duffy has continued to record in the years since but has focused his career more on song writing and producing. His credits include work with Barenaked Ladies and one Robbie Williams with a number of tracks from Williams’ album ‘Intensive Care’ including the #1 ‘Radio‘. He also got together with original Duran Duran bandmate Nick Rhodes in 2002 as The Devils to release the album 'Dark Circles', a reworking of material they wrote together in 78/79 - a small clue as to what Duran Duran may have sounded like had Duffy not left the group.

And in case you hadn’t already guessed Duffy’s early career alias ‘Tin Tin’ was a reference to the Belgian comic character of the same name. According to Wikipedia Duffy also released an album of material entitled ‘Designer Beatnik’ under another Tintin related pseudonym ‘Dr. Calculus’.

And here’s the promo clip for Duffy’s top 5 effort ‘Kiss Me’:

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