Aimee Ann Duffy (born June 23, 1984 in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales), known professionally as Duffy, is a Welsh singer-songwriter. In 2008, she debuted at number one on the UK Album Charts with her album Rockferry, so far, selling over 3.4 million copies worldwide. Duffy is the first Welsh female to achieve a number one pop single in the past 25 years with her second single "Mercy".
Raised in Nefyn on the Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales, with her twin sister, Katy Ann, and older sister Kelly, Aimée Duffy grew up speaking Welsh as her mother tongue. Her parents had divorced when she was 10, and she moved to Pembrokeshire with her mother and sisters. She dropped her first name at the age of 19, calling herself Duffy professionally and personally.
Duffy's introduction to soul music and inspiration to get in the music industry occurred while watching Whoopi Goldberg's performance in the movie Sister Act. It is known that Duffy's watched father's videotape of the 1960s television rock show Ready Steady Go! – she says she grew up without a record collection of her own. Duffy started singing at age 6 and at that age carried around a notebook in which she scribbled lyrics. She was asked to leave her school choir because her voice was "too big" and she "didn't fit in."
In 1998 (aged 13), Duffy was briefly put in a police safe house when police uncovered a plot by her stepfather's ex-wife to pay a hitman £3000 to kill her stepfather, identified as Philip Smith. Smith's ex-wife, Dawn Watson, was sentenced that year to a 3½ year jail term for soliciting to murder. "I was so terrified. I felt so ill," Duffy recounted in 2008, as reported by the NME magazine and The Sun. A 1998 article in the Daily Mirror, another British tabloid, quotes a man identified as Philip Smith describing similar circumstances, though the stepdaughter's name is spelled Aimy — not Aimée — and the surname Duffy is not mentioned.
Duffy has admitted to smoking "not just cigarettes" during her teenage years at a time when she was "quite mischievous" and always looking for trouble. These activities with mates occurred as a result of boredom. Duffy cites the effects of her stepfather's ex-wife's alcoholism as well as her desire not to become a "celebrity" as reasons she does not use drugs or alcohol currently.
After finishing her GCSEs in Pembrokeshire, Duffy returned to Nefyn when she was 15, and started singing in various local bands. Following a 1-year long music project in Switzerland with co-writer and producer Soren Mounir under the name of Soulego, Duffy returned to Wales in 2003 and was invited to appear on Wawffactor, a Welsh television show on S4C, which has been compared to Pop Idol. She was expected to win, but came second to winner Lisa Pedrig. Duffy claims that she was conned into the appearance; she later called it "the unhappiest time in my life."
In her teens Duffy wanted (and expected) to be a world famous pop star, and as such felt that she let others use her "as a vehicle for their vision not mine." At age 18, thinking her dreams were not going to come true, she "became almost a quite withdrawn singer." After a re-evaluation she decided to just make music for no other purposes than her own fulfilment.
Duffy was elected president of the Students' union at Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor in Pwllheli, North Wales before transferring to the University of Chester in England. Advised by a lecturer to "Go on the dole, love, and become a singer," she left and worked for an optician, while building up a following at Alexander's, a local jazz and blues club, performing with guitarist David Burton from the band The Invisible Wires.
She recorded a three-song Welsh EP in 2004 written and produced by Paul Eastham of "Coast" and also appeared on two tracks on the album See You in the Morning by Mint Royale while working as a waitress and in a fishery. Owen Powell of Catatonia and Richard J. Parfitt of Newport band 60ft Dolls, introduced Duffy in August 2004 to Jeanette Lee, former Public Image Ltd. member turned music manager and part-owner of Rough Trade Records. Lee moved Duffy to Crouch End in London, and orchestrated a meeting between Duffy and Suede's ex-guitar player Bernard Butler.
After Butler had given Duffy a soul music "education" by downloading tracks on to her iPod that she could listen to while around London or travelling back to Wales—including Al Green, Bettye Swann, Ann Peebles, Beyoncé, Doris Duke, Scott Walker, Phil Spector and Burt Bacharach —the pair then co-wrote with her and helped create a new retro sound.
Duffy was contracted to A&M Records on November 23, 2007.
Duffy performed on the BBC Two television show Later with Jools Holland, which resulted in a second appearance on the related New Year's Eve show Hootenanny, on which, among other things, she performed with soul legend Eddie Floyd. On February 22, 2008, she appeared on Later with Jools Holland for a third time and performed "Rockferry," "Mercy," and "Stepping Stone." She also appeared on the BBC Two television programme The Culture Show on February 23, 2008 and performed "Mercy."
In January 2008, she came second in the annual BBC News Online poll of industry experts Sound of 2008, for acts to emerge in the coming year. In Wales, she seems set to become the "pop" equivalent of mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins. A number of commentators have remarked on her unaffected personality and natural charm. She reached the number 1 spot on Siart C2 with her Welsh language EP entitled simply Aimée Duffy. A review of her first major tour's stop at the respected King Tut's venue in Glasgow noted "her quiet assurance obviously stems from talent. When she let loose, her voice was awesome."
Butler and his musical partner David McAlmont, and a number of other musicians have formed the backbone of Duffy's band for her debut album entitled Rockferry, which was released on Polydor Records on March 3, 2008.
According to Duffy, "The album took nearly four years to make. We had to hire cheap, tiny studios and sometimes there would be three-week periods between writing and recording." Bernard Butler who was not initially paid, produced four songs for the album, including the single, Rockferry, which peaked at 45 in the UK charts. The big hits, Mercy, and Stepping Stone, were produced by Steve Brooker, and the Hit Warwick Avenue, by Jimmy Hogarth and Eg White. After releasing the debut limited edition single, "Rockferry" in November 2007, Duffy then released the Steve Brooker produced single, "Mercy", which went straight to number one on download sales on February 17, 2008. She was not expecting this much popularity, as she said to Fearne and Reggie (presenters of BBC Radio 1's Chart Show) she was aiming for the top 40. Duffy is the first Welsh female to achieve a number one pop single in the past 25 years, and the only female from the Llŷn Peninsula to ever top the UK music singles charts. "Mercy" spent a second week at number one on February 24, 2008, and set its full physical release on February 25, 2008.
She has revealed that "Rockferry" is written about the place Rock Ferry on The Wirral, where her father is from. She also has revealed that both "Mercy" and "Stepping Stone" are autobiographical. "Mercy" is about "sexual liberty" and "not doing something somebody else wants you to do" and "Stepping Stone" is about not expressing her feelings to a person she fell in love with.
On April 21, 2008, Duffy was at the top of the Pan-European Album chart for Rockferry and the Eurochart Hot 100 Singles chart for "Mercy". The second single from the album, Warwick Avenue was at the number 3 position on the U.K. singles charts on June 1. The video for the song was filmed at Warwick Avenue underground station and Merrick Square, London.
By May "Mercy" was a staple on VH1 and a hot Adult Contemporary radio hit, and had been featured in television shows ER, Smallville and the season finale of Grey's Anatomy as well as the soundtrack album for Sex and the City: The Movie. On May 10, Duffy released a remix of "Mercy", featuring rap artist The Game. On May 13 Rockferry was released in the United States to positive reviews. and debuted at number 4. In addition a billboard of her has been displayed in Times Square. By the week of May 22, "Mercy" was at the number 27 position on the Billboard Top 100 propelled by digital downloads.
Duffy won the 2008 Song of the Year MOJO Award for "Mercy". She was also nominated for Album of the Year and Breakthrough Act. The three nominations were the largest amount of nominations for any one act.
By the end of May Rockferry had sold more than 700,000 copies in the United Kingdom. In France, Rockferry had sold 159,583 copies between March 3 (release date) and the end of June. As of June 9 the album was at the number 2 position and had been on the charts for 14 weeks. On June 12 the album topped the European albums charts with Mercy at number 2 on the European singles chart. As of July 7 the album was set to become the first album of 2008 to sell one million copies.
Duffy was the fifth best selling artist worldwide in the first half of 2008 selling 2.25 million copies.
As of July 9, 2008, Rockferry has become the best selling album in 2008 in the UK so far. The Official UK Charts Company has confirmed it has already sold over 1 million copies.
By August 21 Rockferry had reached number one in 11 markets. By early September the album had sold over 3 million copies worldwide causing Duffy to be "gobsmacked". Because of its cheap production values the album is reaping Duffy substantial financial benefits. On 30 October Rockferry had been in the top 100 on Billboards Euro Albums chart for 34 straight weeks and was residing at the number 10 position.
Duffy received a 2008 Q Award in the category of Breakthrough Act and a nomination for the category of Best Track for "Mercy" as well as a Music of Black Origin Award nomination for Best UK Female. Duffy is scheduled to perform at the MTV Europe Music Awards where she has received three nominations in the categories of Album of the Year’’,’’Most Addictive Track’’, and ‘’New Act’’.
Duffy's "Mercy" is on a three disk sixty song compilation album entitled Now That's What I Call 25 Years released in October 2008.
By November 500,000 copies of "Rockferry" had been sold in the United States but she was not a household name. Attempts to associate Duffy with more established American stars with the exception of Stevie Nicks did not seem to be going down well with her. Duffy was quoted as saying “I don’t like how big American stars consider themselves an exception from humanity".
On 24 November 2008 the deluxe edition of Rockferry was released. In addition to the material on the original album are the songs Rain on Your Parade, two songs written with Bernard Butler, and a cover of a Drifters song written by Burt Bacharach entitled Please Stay which will be on the soundtrack for the movie Telstar a biopic about produced Joe Meek. Duffy was quoted as saying recording "Please Stay" was her highlight of 2008.
In November 2008 the single Rain On Your Parade was released. The song was first released on download sales only on 10 November 2008, and debuted at Number 22 in the UK Top 40 before being released physically on 17 November 2008. The single was residing at the the 15 position on 24 November. Duffy describes this song as "a big, disco-y dance song."
Comparisons with others
Duffy is the most prominent of the so-called "new Amys" (a reference to singer Amy Winehouse). Under the sub-title, "The New Amys," Adam Thompson wrote in The Times on 30 December 2007 that "Duffy, Gabriella Cilmi and Adele lead the charge to be the next Winehouse. First sightings seem to indicate that they are all bright-eyed innocents with bags of talent—a familiar starting point, no?" Duffy herself dislikes being referred to as "the new Dusty Springfield." She said at first she did not understand the comparisons to Springfield and believes the comparisons with others or putting her in a movement is "a gimmick" and noted that "nobody is replaceable". Singer-songwriter Alison Goldfrapp said while Duffy has a great voice she was trained to sound essentially like Amy Winehouse as part of a business plan, mistakenly believing that Duffy had attended the Brit School.
British hip hop singer Estelle criticized Duffy and Adele for misrepresenting genuine soul music. Duffy partially agreed with the criticism in that she is not trying to “define” soul music but disputed the assertion that race should be an issue.
In North America Duffy is seen as part of a recent wave of British singers or "British invaders" consisting of females with a unique take on writing and performing songs. This has been compared to the original "wave" led by The Beatles, Dusty Springfield, Lulu and The Rolling Stones. Motown has been seen as an influence in this wave.
March 2008 saw her first American performances at the SXSW conference and in New York City. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was her first festival gig. The performance started off with sound problems but she "delighted the crowd with 'Rockferry', 'Serious', 'Warwick Avenue' and 'Mercy'." On May 10 Duffy performed a selection of songs from Rockferry at Radio 1's Big Weekend in Mote Park, Maidstone. To coincide with the release of Rockferry Duffy performed at New York's historic Apollo Theater and made a number of television appearances. Duffy commented "Every time I'm in America, I feel there's some atmosphere -- I can't put my finger on it -- but there's some excitement that exists nowhere else. And I think it's because soul music, black music, is basically what started pop music".
Duffy has played a number of festivals in Europe, including the Vieilles Charrues Festival in France, the Hove Festival in Norway the Accelerator Festival in Sweden, Glastonbury and Evolution Festival's in England, the Electric Picnic festival in Ireland , Connect Festival in Scotland on Sunday 31st August, Wakestock in her native Wales, the V Festival on August 16 and the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. She also performed at Rock Werchter in Belgium. In North America she has performed at Lollapalooza on August 1 in Chicago and the All Points West Music and Arts Festival at Liberty State Park, on the August 8. She played the Virgin Mobile Festival at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on August 10.
On 3 September Duffy played an intimate club gig and then answered questions at New York's China Club.
On 4 September Duffy performed on The Late Show With David Letterman; she was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live on September 27 where she performed "Mercy" and "Stepping Stone". Her 45 minute concert at a East End of London church was aired on BBC1 on 12 October. During the show she performed a new song "Rain on Your Parade". On the 28 October Duffy sang "Stepping Stone" on The View. The singer became star struck when she was interviewed by co-host Whoopi Goldberg whose performance in Sister Act introduced Duffy to soul music.
Duffy is currently on a fourteen-city North American tour. Plans call for her to open for Coldplay on six of the dates. A performance at the Quicken Loans Arena left The Cleveland Leader to wonder why Duffy was not the headlining act. Duffy is using the tour to test new songs including "Rain in Your Parade" and "Fool for You". She is currently on a two month tour of the United Kingdom. She performed at the Live In London concert at the O2 Arena on 26 November.
Duffy accidentally set her entire left side of her hair on fire in a Cleveland dressing room. The incident occurred when after blowing out a candle that was melting she bent down not realizing the candle was still lit. The incident did not cause more harm than embarrassment.
At New York's Webster Hall Duffy apologized to the audience after briefly bursting in to tears for reasons she did not understand.
Duffy was quoted in a British tabloid as saying she is proud to represent the British Music Scene abroad and to explain that Great Britain encompasses more than London.
As of July 2008 Duffy has been constantly writing material for a second album, compiling "loads of books" of song ideas. Duffy said that she will not constantly reinvent herself for each album. Duffy with several other artists are working on the soundtrack to an upcoming independent film about the British northern soul scene of the early 1970s entitled Souled Out.
Duffy has recorded a cover of Paul McCartney's James Bond theme song "Live and Let Die" to be used in the War Child charity album entitled Heroes, to be released in February 2009. McCartney said that Duffy's version "is great - I was really impressed".
Duffy will be among several performers singing for Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall at London Palladium 11 December.
According to Duffy's website the singer will tour Australia where she will perform at the V Festival and Japan in 2009.
In August 2008 it was reported that Duffy will appear in a advertisement in Fashion Rocks Magazine for Nivea endorsing their new line of skin care and body care products.
Duffy says that she does not mind people illegally downloading her music because she believes most people who do are kids who cannot afford the CDs and will buy them when they get older. Duffy's single "Mercy" is in EA Sports FIFA 09.
Duffy performed at a BBC sponsored Children in Need benefit concert, singing her new single Rain on your parade and Mercy.
In September of 2008, Duffy mentioned that she was "on the borderline of a nervous breakdown" because of the pressure that fame has brought her. She also said that she had considered becoming a recluse, but eventually decided against the idea for the sake of her fans. Although acknowledging that most people do mean well, she finds it "scary" when people recognize her in the street, and has been fearful of her image possibly changing the person she truly is.
Johnny Rotten incident
Duffy's lowest point of 2008 was sparked by an incident at an awards show. Duffy attempted to say hello to Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten when, according to the singer, "I was literally slammed against the wall, pinned by his arm at my throat. He called me a cunt". She spent the whole night crying over the incident and felt awful about the incident for the following week.
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