British Invasion: Duffy's Brand New Soul The young singer, part of a wave of British female pop stars finding success in the U.S., has been compared to Dusty Springfield and sparked rumors that her father is fellow Wales native Tom Jones. She talks about the tiny town where she grew up, and recording her first demos on a karaoke machine.

British Invasion: Duffy's Brand New Soul

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Once again, we're in the middle of a British invasion. Nowadays, it's a steady stream of young women with big voices offering a fresh take on some old sounds.

The soulful Amy Winehouse is easily the best-known, thanks to a combination of brilliant songs and bad behavior. This week, we'll hear from two others. Tomorrow, Laura Marling. She's an 18-year-old whose folk-pop sound and poetic lyrics bring to mind Joni Mitchell. And this morning, Duffy.

At 24, she made the Billboard Top Five with a sound that conjures American soul music of the '60s.

(Soundbite of music)

DUFFY (Singer): (Singing) You've got me begging you for mercy. Why won't you release me?

MONTAGNE: Duffy can sound like she came from Motown. In fact, Amy Ann Duffy was born and raised in a small town along the coast of Wales and learned most of what she knew about music from the radio.

DUFFY: We listened to a really classic radio station, BBC Radio 2, and you know, had such an amazing scope of music that went from 1940 to modern-day. So music never belonged to any specific time. And I'm still discovering the likes of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Doris Duke, all these amazing singers that made such a lasting impression in music, I could cry now just even thinking about those amazing songs.

MONTAGNE: A song that might make someone cry is one of your songs, called Warwick Avenue.

(Soundbite of song, "Warwick Avenue")

DUFFY: (Singing) When I get to Warwick Avenue, please drop the past and be true. Don't think we're okay just because I'm here. You hurt me bad, but I won't shed a tear. I'm leaving you for the last time, baby. You think you're loving, but you don't love me.

MONTAGNE: Did you start singing as a little kid?

DUFFY: Yeah, but it was always quite secretively. I wasn't kind of with my hairbrush in front of the mirror or anything like that.

MONTAGNE: Like hairbrush, like, as a mike?

DUFFY: Yeah, you know, none of that. I think music's the only thing that I'll ever really have, and it's very personal to me. So I kept it to myself many years, almost like greed. I didn't want to share it. Why should I have shared it? Because nobody ever thought it was good idea.

So I told people I wanted to be a singer, bearing in mind that I lived in a really remote part of the world. So pipe dreams were usually quashed in order to prevent you from being disappointed.

(Soundbite of song, "Distant Dreamer")

DUFFY: (Singing) Although you think I'd cope, my head is filled with hope of someplace other than here.

DUFFY: So I come from this very traditional way of living, where nobody ever wins the lottery. Nobody ever goes to university or really gets an education in the town that I live in. So the thought of becoming a renowned or well-respected singer, you know, that - so I just didn't tell anyone.

(Soundbite of song, "Distant Dreamer")

DUFFY: (Singing) I'm a dreamer. A distant dreamer. Dreaming far away from today.

MONTAGNE: There's a story that you had a little karaoke set that I think you'd been given as a present, really, as a kid, and that you used it to make demos.

DUFFY: Yeah. I got this really, really unattractive karaoke machine for Christmas once. I was hoping for big things, you know. It was the only thing that I thought I would want that year. And it turned up, and it was really grey and heavy. You couldn't give it a squeeze or a cuddle because it looked like it could, I don't know, detonate a bomb or something. You know, it was really that industrial.

So I was sulking in the corner, and, you know, afterwards, mid-January, I thought, okay. I'm going to use this thing, although it doesn't look that good. And it was so brilliant. You could record. You know, I really underestimated the value of this thing, and it became a dear friend to me for many years, and I started this, like, little enterprise. I'd record my songs, and then I would send them to myself, and, you know, copyright them. And then I'd have all these little folders, and I'd have them all registered with myself. And then I just started sending these tapes out to record companies with a school photo of myself. I had red, short hair and a little blazer, and I never heard anything back. I'm still waiting for a little bit of closure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DUFFY: But I would probably be very embarrassed if any of that surfaced.

(Soundbite of music)

DUFFY: (Singing) I remember way back, way back when. I said I never want to see your face again.

MONTAGNE: To some fans, Duffy's full-throated sound just couldn't have come from nowhere, which explains ongoing Internet rumors that she inherited her voice from one or the other of Wales' biggest pop stars, like Tom Jones.

I gather there's stories have been circulating about who your real father is.

DUFFY: Oh, I know. You know, my dad's such a sweet guy. He's from Liverpool, so he's, you know, he's like one of the Beatles - or he tries to be, anyway. And he runs a pub. He's so traditional. And I don't know if he's read about the accusations of potential fatherhood, but, you know, I'm dealing with this on a daily basis. You've just got to let go, you know, and almost learn to laugh at it because you can't control what people say or what people assume. It's kind of bizarre.

MONTAGNE: Your poor dad.

DUFFY: Yeah, my mum's got a lot of explaining to do, I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Rockferry")

MONTAGNE: The title song of your new CD, "Rockferry," it is - at least on the surface - it's about a place.


(Soundbite of song, "Rockferry")

DUFFY: (Singing) I'd move to Rockferry tomorrow.

MONTAGNE: A place that you've been?

DUFFY: Not necessarily. I was almost looking forward when I spoke about this place. It was somewhere that I didn't know. And it's a symbol, really, for that place that you're trying to get to, whether you're trying to overcome something, whether you want to achieve something. And it was just like in my mind's eye. I still don't know if I reached that place. I don't even know where it is or what it really means to me, but it was almost just leaving a lot of stuff behind and going forwards.

(Soundbite of song, "Rockferry")

DUFFY: (Singing) I'd leave my shadow to fall behind…

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

DUFFY: A pleasure.

(Soundbite of song, "Rockferry")

DUFFY (Singing) And I wouldn't write to you, 'cause I'm not that kind.

MONTAGNE: Duffy's debut album is called "Rockferry." Tomorrow, we'll hear from the young English folk singer, Laura Marling. To hear Duffy sing "Mercy" and other songs in the studio of member-station WFUV, go to our music section at This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Ari Shapiro.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.