“People think I’m a prat.”
“People think I’m George Michael with art school pretensions. Even Sounds call me untrendy.”
Well, all this is understandable, even if it’s not strictly accurate. Stephen Duffy is, after all, as one press release put it, ‘the notorious ex-fifth Beatle’, the man who once used to sing with Duran Duran. And then there was the ‘TinTin’ episode: after an abortive spell at art school, Duffy was kitted up with a cartoon name and a record contract and released his debut single Kiss Me, and the follow up Hold It (“not worth listening to,” he warns). Neither single broke any records, and even Duffy can’t muster much enthusiasm for this phase in his career.
“I was very disappointed,” he burbles, “because all my friends had hit records with their singles. I just assumed that Kiss Me would get into the charts.”
Duffy claims to have been something of an innocent at the time, easily led and unprepared for what would have happened if the records had been hits. Now after a few years of being under contract, he’s more cynical about the whole thing.
“The whole business is full of fools, but just because everyone else is stupid doesn’t mean you have to join in. Because that’s what I was doing. I was very stupid, and I didn’t think about what I was doing.”
So you count yourself lucky not to have been an overnight sensation?
“Oh, I think so. I’d have been another dickhead, another wally.” But then here we are four years on, and at the record company’s suggestion he’s putting out a new version of Kiss Me, produced by J.J. Jeczalik of the Art of Noise, and packaged in an elaborate gatefold sleeve which Stephen designed. The production and the romantic subject matter must make it his strongest chart contender yet. Duffy doesn’t really see it that way. The song, he explains, contains references to Dorothy Parker, James Joyce, and the Song of Solomon. It’s more to do with oral sex than romance, even if its release seems to have been scheduled to coincide with Valentine’s day: “That’s just some crap cobbled together by the press department!” he claims.
Perhaps he’s wiser than he was four years ago, but he still flounders between his talents as a writer of pop songs, his desire to be an artist, and the role that record companies would like to see him play. The cartoon name that he once thought up for a joke still lingers inbetween ‘Stephen’ and ‘Duffy’ on the single sleeve. Stephen ‘TinTin’ Duffy.
“Nobody,” he says ruefully, “is going to take someone called ‘TinTin’ seriously.”
But doesn’t it fit in with the image of your singles?
“I don’t know. It sounds like a ‘What the hell’s going on?’ image to me.”
Perhaps it’ll all become clear when he gets that hit single.
“If I was very popular,” he agrees, “it might have some rhyme or reason to it.”
But what if he isn’t?
“Well,” he says, “it has all been terrifically interesting.”
Listen carefully and you can hear the sound of press officers tearing their hair out in handfuls.