Duffy - A Damsel for the Distressed

Written by David Evans
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duffy a damsel for the distressed david evans zani 1

I’ve never seen Duffy in concert. My biggest best-friend has; he got to see her in Cardiff.

Now, those of you familiar with Wales’ go-ahead capital city will straightaway be thinking of St. David’s Hall or the magnificent Cardiff International Arena. But you’d be wrong. My biggest best-friend was amongst a hundred-strong audience at the Clwb Ifor Bach – a small Welsh-themed music venue, more famous for showcasing local musicians than for hosting those already earmarked for international stardom.

And what made the low-key appearance even more memorable was that it was soon to be followed by a gig at The Apollo Theater, New York, and a spot on the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium. Crikey.

According to my biggest best-friend – who knows everything about anything that happens in Cardiff – she played as if she enjoyed it as much as her adoring fans; she laughed and joked with the crowd and was happy to keep the banter going with some quick-witted and often self-deprecating asides of her own.

Knowing how the cut-throat music industry has spawned a diva mentality and an asylum full of me-me wannabes, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had signed up for the gig as a little-known singer doing the circuit, and rather than go back on her word, she had chosen to honour her obligation even with a chart-topping single to her name.

And it’s this kind-hearted attitude that leads me to think that the down-to-earth Welsh lassie might well be receptive to my plea on behalf of a new generation of jilted-Johns and brushed-off-Brendas, all-too-often thinking that life is no longer worth living.

As daft as it sounds, the notion first sprang to mind when I noticed that she had recorded a classic ballad for the soundtrack of a movie with the wish-I’d-have-thought-of-that title, The Boat That Rocks. A comedy of sorts, it’s based on the comings and goings on a pirate radio ship, and although the producers reverted back to the original song for the film, Duffy’s cover version was retained for the 2 CD compilation of sixties hits.

The film was a flop on both sides of the Atlantic, and in the northern hemisphere the album made as much impression on the charts as the Titanic did on the iceberg.

And yet, with six million sales notched up on Rockferry’s mast, there was no way that blame for the abysmal failure could be laid at Duffy’s gangplank, and considering her chosen song held the distinction of featuring in more celebrity ‘top-tens’ than even John Lennon’s Imagine, it’s fair to assume that the record-buying public was simply gagging on a bellyful of old ship’s-biscuit compilations.

And so, now that she’s back in the studio, pressing on with her second album, if this musical absolution of sorts takes the weight off her slender shoulders, then maybe there’s a chance she won’t rule out another shot at that timeless classic, Stay With Me Baby.
   
You see, ever since 1966, when Lorraine Ellison first belted out Ragovoy’s and Weiss’ soulful tearjerker, the song has served as a last-ditch plea to hard-hearted lovers … a beacon of hope in the gloom of fading romance
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Plenty of others have carried the torch: The Walker Brothers, David Essex and Ruby Turner to name but a few. Even Janis Joplin gave it the treatment, although her Bourbon-basted barrage came across more as ‘set foot outside that door and I’ll rip your leg off and beat you with the jagged end’ than it did a clasped-hands cri de coeur.

Deborah Bonham covered the song on her 2004 album, The Old Hyde: an emotion-packed rendition that can make any man regret ever being peevish to his partner let alone harbouring smutty thoughts about Page Three’s nude du jour.
    
At the end of June, Deborah is due to appear at the Derbyshire Rock And Soul festival; a week later she’ll be wowing the crowd at the Cambridge summer music-fest. Go along and see her; if you’re a fan of blistering rock and soul, you’ll enjoy her set. Her voice is heaven-sent, she commands the stage like a back-to-basics Madonna (if ever there was such a thing) and her band are musically as tight as they are talented (I once read that the lead guitarist could make his battered black Gibson talk French … with a Belfast brogue. Mon Dieu.) … and there’s every chance she’ll sing Stay With Me Baby. But be warned: if there are any seedy skeletons lurking in your cupboard, don’t take a loved one along.

A couple of years ago, I saw her sing it live. Stone me. I finished up feeling guilty about playing doctors and nurses with my best pal’s sister when I should have been over the park, meeting the freckly-faced girl from the post office … oh, by the way, I was ten at the time.

Talking of which, when Mother Nature had done messing with my hormones, I bought the Walker Brothers’ version, hoping that if I practiced singing like Scott Walker, the world and his daughter – more so the daughters – would know that my manly bits-and-bobs had dropped into place … and if only I could master his knock-‘em-dead wink, then I’d be fighting off the girls with my hairbrush microphone.

I got to grips with the wink soon enough, but I didn’t realise at the time – I do now –  that only a chosen few are blessed with the same dulcet tones as the man himself (and if you think I’m a madcap lone voice, ask Alex Turner or David Bowie or Thom Yorke or even Duffy for that matter.)

/duffy a damsel for the distressed david evans zani 3

But, fast-forward twelve years, and I did manage to put the record to good use. My best friend at the time – Roger ‘Dickie’ Bird – had a fourteen-year-old brother who was known locally as ‘Pecker’; and when Linda Hewitt dumped him for the lad who played centre forward for the school football team, young Pecker was in pieces.

Now Linda wasn’t overly bright – her lips moved whenever she read Melody Maker – but her body was the stuff of teenage wet-dreams … and she was also a bit of a softie.

Knowing her weakness for weepy love songs, when Pecker heard Stay With Me Baby on the radio, he figured he’d chanced on a plectrum to pluck at her heartstrings.

Quicker than a bolt from Cupid’s bow, he was banging at my door begging me to lend him the record; and before the day was out, his brother had hand-delivered the lovingly-wrapped package to Linda’s house. She wasn’t in. Her sister said she was out playing bingo with her mum; but she must have listened to it on her return, because, the very next day she sent Pecker a letter – complete with lipstick imprint – and come the weekend, they were going at it as if nothing had ever happened.

I would like to tell you about a happy-ever-after ending, but sadly, when ‘Roy Of The Rovers’ (I can’t remember his real name) netted the winner in a hard-fought cup-tie against a team from the local grammar school, Linda was back playing hanky-panky with the soccer star even before his jockstrap had been given a proper airing.
    
But that’s not important; the bottom line is that Stay With Me Baby had given Pecker time to reconsider ending it all with an overdose, or a well-aimed slash to the wrist.
    
Okay, so he did have to put up with some physical pain: a fortnight or so before the shenanigans, he’d scratched the letters L H in his forearm. The scabs had barely flaked away before he was raiding his mother’s sewing box for another safety pin. Hoping to convince everybody that the initials stood for Debbie Harry, he changed the L into a D. He winced with every scratch. It bled a lot; but it was a damn sight better than having the snot kicked out of him, which would have been the outcome had he have made good on his dumb-ass threat to fight his tough-guy rival.
    
But getting back to Duffy: I noticed that she’s hitched up with Questlove – the production wizard whose magic can be heard on a couple of tracks on Paolo Nutini’s splendid and seemingly immortal Sunny Side Up. And I see that Albert Hammond is on board (mistakenly, younger readers will be picturing the Strokes’ snappy-dressing guitarist; others are probably already singing: ‘and I gave it up for music and a free …’ told ya)

Now, I’m not so sure if hip-hoppy Questlove is a bit of a romantic on the side, but that legendary old songwriter, Albert, sure as hell knows the power of a sentimental song.
    
So what about it, Duffy? Any chance you might squeeze in three-and-a-half minutes’ worth of hope? … if only for the forsaken Peckers of this world.

© Words David Evans/ ZANI

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Read 4225 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 15:34
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