a wee tintin
cf is proud to present an excerpt from stephen duffy’s incomplete lyric/memoir, memory & desire.
without the self discipline needed to learn to play the guitar, I settled with working out a couple of chords from the slider by t.rex and writing songs of my own. if I had persevered and worked out how to play “blackbird” perhaps I wouldn’t have started writing at all. it was summer in the suburbs, rolling down the urban grass. at twilight I would record on my brothers grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder, then play it back and sing along, whilst recording the results on a cassette machine, thus making primitive multi-track recordings in the kitchen. usually, though, I’d just jump around to records in front of the mirror in the hall. I was in rock and wrapped in its mythic sentimentality. naturally I told my careers teacher I would seek employment as a rock star and poet. it was therefore my good fortune punk came along to get me out of the house and on with my life.
in 1977 we moved across town from east birmingham to southwest. that summer, when we went on holiday, I finally chopped off my hair and found some new singles discounted in the welshpool woolworth. “marquee moon” and “prove it” by television. then two french students walked through town in tight jeans. it was an exciting day. on the drive home I thought of the dark days of the winter coming, wearing my father’s old brown overcoat I’d adopted and of maybe getting up the courage to go to barbarellas on my own. barbarellas was the epicenter of punk within the west midlands conurbation and where all the work in front of the mirror and my two chords would pay off. I modeled myself on richard hell and nick kent. I rocked like a young girl in her mother’s shoes. I embraced everything silently. I craved soul mates or failing that an entourage. richard hell was introduced to us like many others (sam shepard, jim carroll and his basketball diaries, rimbaud and tom verlaine) by patti smith. the original bass player in television & inventor of punk rock. I loved him before I heard a note. the voidoids became my passion. I became the sleeve of the “blank generation” single by staring at it so much. I began a theoretical group called the urbanoids, wrote “please kill me” on my shirt but only wore it around the house.
and so it became a nice sunday afternoon a year on, hanging around outside barbarellas waiting for the clash to soundcheck. we were fans but we were punks so it didn’t seem too bad. on the tommy gun tour we got let in for the soundcheck and they filmed it for rude boy. two clash gigs in one day. in between I went home for my tea. I appear in the film for a frame or two. enough for to know I was there and not a complete liar. I lied a lot but could not pretend I had been brave enough to go down the steps to see the sex pistols at bogarts. I loved the clash; they made me believe I believed in something. maybe you can’t change the world but you can change your world. meanwhile I probably wasn’t even changing my own sheets. sitting on the bus to school the next day with your ears still ringing thinking in six months everyone will be a punk & we will take over the world. what then & how unlikely it was that my teachers and aunts would want to adopt punk stylings occur to me. would we all sit around listening to tapper zukie and the clash looking a bit surly and a bit bored. it could’ve been worse. and so it was.
going to barbarellas for the first time had been like sex. better for me at seventeen and a virgin. the long red corridor leading to the overstimulated throbbing heart. was there ever anywhere as exciting? it was kubrick and it was scorsese rolled into one but I didn’t know that then. you could see the clash, buzzcocks, subway sect, and (by far the best of all) the slits, steal a pint of lager, and still have change out of a pound. we would meet at the crown on hill street, by the old rep theatre where I’d sung as a folk duo with my brother in another life maybe eighteen months before. the crown was our new playground and not noted for its frills or fine wines. it became apparent there was no roof on the gents when the snow started to settle on my spiked hair. there were always fights and glasses raining through the air. but no fear. I went to see sham 69, because of a rave review by tony parsons in the nme, and for the pleasure of being there when my schoolmates were in front of the tv or in bed. there were no more than twenty-five people in the club and when the band came on they all started fighting.
off to art school 1978. later I was told that I’d only been accepted to liven things up. to add a little punk rock colour. at my interview I had presented a huge portfolio of black white transparencies showing birmingham in its pre-post industrial decrepitude. I abandoned photography completely at this point, when I should’ve really started. on that first grey september morning under that flat canopy of grey I walked down fazeley street. I was astonished to see the drummer of birmingham punk enigmas tv eye (and sometimes when their drummer was in prison the prefects). he was singing the theme tune of the banana splits to his friend. could they be going to my art college? I had visions of the birmingham punk community converging on the department of foundation studies. but it was only these two and me. everyone else on the course only wanted to do graphic design, get jobs and not live outside of society thank you very much. I’d have to make do.
too nervous to talk to the t.v.eye, I spoke to his spectacled friend. nigel john taylor I discovered to be the guitarist I had seen earlier that year playing upstairs at the crown with his (pre-post) industrial group dada, famous for their use of an ironing board as a keyboard stand and not much else. he smoked ten gold leaf and had bought johnny thunders a drink with his night-bus money at rebecca’s (the other punk hangout). soon I would be taking the bus with my bass over to the edge of town to rehearse in the bedroom of his parents’ house. devotional objects on the wall, we performed the rites and started a group. having no understanding of how to turn my experiences such as they were into songs I stole the lyrics from literature & art books; ‘hawks do not share’ (hemingway) ‘aztec moon’ (kerouac), and something vaguely warholian for ‘big store’. the music we stole from low and heroes, kraftwerk and the banshees. his friend nick joined in, deciding against further education or a job but bringing his sonorous wasp synthesiser and drum machine that spluttered fox trots and cha-cha-chas. we landed somewhere between the normals’ “warm leatherette”and the first bunnymen single.
john and I would sag off art college and meet nick in rackham’s department store cafeteria. we talked. of wanting to sound like the velvet underground produced by giorgio moroder. of loving street hassle and berlin, liza minneli in cabaret and new york new york. christopher isherwood I am a camera and the lions & the shadows. the idiot, lust for life and diamond dogs. radio-aktivitat and autobahn. pil’s first single, eno, chairs missing (& pink flag) the cover of horses, the music of easter, the slits and siouxsie & the banshees peel sessions. talking heads 77, more songs about buildings and food (I’d listen to this every morning before going to college). the scream, television that sort of thing. maybe I even made a case for aldous huxley’s point counter point being the first punk novel. warhol was important like the beatles and in a similar way. working-class success stories in art were hard to find then. we also knew (we had to know) that window dressing was an art.
that winter I watched roger vadim’s barbarella on television to appreciate the derivation of the name on the wall outside our punk venue. the next day taylor and I stood in the stairwell outside the college kitchen, victorian and untouched since the war. he asked if I’d seen the film and then said that we should call ourselves duran duran. it was an exciting moment. to hear the space age name in such a dark old place, to hear the future christened in the past. for some time it was by far the best thing about the band. before our first “concert” in the lecture, john covered all our speakers and amplifiers in white plastic. it was a lengthy job and we worried he may glue his fingers together, although this might’ve aided our post punk neu muzik credibility. we looked very smart standing in front of our white boxes. I didn’t mind that he’d covered my purple bass cabinet, but my beautiful snakeskin selmer amplifier? I felt that was unnecessary. (but not as unnecessary as wearing tights under my satin jodhpurs). elements of the school play never left my live work. as I got changed in the toilets I was completely aware that I was dressing for a legendary event. we were to perform something new that we had created ourselves and at the same time we were the next in a long history of art school bands. we played to the members of t.v.eye, the prefects, a couple of guys who worked in record shops and a girl who was waiting for her prints to dry. afterwards we were exhilarated, we had remembered the chords and the lyrics, sometimes simultaneously, and the wasp had behaved itself. we went to the pub and ordered pink gins. disappointingly not really pink and very ginny. four halves of lager please.
our second concert was in the puppet theatre at cannon hill arts center on my 19th birthday. we figured that maybe we could fill the puppet theatre although the puppets still got the larger dressing room. my mother, as I’m sure will still tell you, drove the gear round the park to the gig in her mini. for this performance we added back projection. we had studied the grainy black and white photos of the velvets performing at the exploding plastic inevitable. we knew what had to be done. although our set was barely half an hour long we didn’t have enough slides to avoid mind-numbing repetition, it was therefore only slightly surprising to turn during signals in smoke and see john’s geography field trip flashing up behind me.
our third concert venue was birmingham universities grand hall. we were supporting the doyens of the hippy commune, and distant cousins of gong, here & now. john had assembled a manifesto of do’s and don’ts from various roxy music articles and biographies. never perform without a proper stage we had already broken twice on the floors of the lecture and puppet theatres. another no-no was playing second synthesiser to anyone. the vinyl futurists were to support the batik past. the cigarette machine however carried gitane and although I was hardly a smoker I thought it could be a chic thing to do. backstage I’d almost finished a whole pack, lighting one off another. over my white bones I slipped a pink and black hexagonal blouse found in the sale bin at wallis. above my rag market suede winkle picker chelsea boots shone the reason I’d already been threatened with expulsion from art college. I’d taken two weeks off to earn money stuffing envelopes for the post office to buy a pair of leather trousers with red piping down each leg from oasis, birmingham’s answer to kensington market. after this performance my legs remained dyed blue black for two weeks. nick wondered if I wasn’t overdoing the makeup and before I could reassure him that in six months all men would look like this, it was too late as over the p.a. droned the legend “ladies and gentlemen all the way from birmingham, duran duran.” of course I was wrong; in six months only nick would wear as much makeup. on stage the organists’ accompanist pounded out a brisk fox trot through a fuzz box and a little practice amp. the wasp whined into action filling the hall with what we thought to be a v. good noise. john taylor, les paul copy in hand, straddled the flanging oceans that separated phil manzanera and johnny thunders, and played an angular riff. I danced self consciously to the microphone and as I opened my mouth to sing, the gitanes kicked in and my camp tenor was transformed into a lugubrious howard devoto baritone. bela lugosi was indeed dead.
my flouncing out was only one gig, supporting fashion at barbarellas, away. if I couldn’t commit to new romanticism, then god help my girlfriends. I’d come so far so quickly from longhaired folker to doctor martined punk, soon jumping into satin jodhpurs, a fey poet in makeup. with futurism about to go overground and gary numan on top of the pops I felt my next sketch should be brian jones and beatnikery. that too turned out to be another false start. I was very good at making the sketch but lacked the patience to apply myself to painting the masterpiece. after damaging the negatives whilst developing an early duran photo shoot I gave up photography. after playing on stage at barbarellas I gave up on life as stevie duranté. I was told no one liked my new opus ‘all the sad young men’ (fitzgerald) and I left with a wisp of cigarette smoke and a completely empty gesture. we all went out one last time. the symbolism is vivid roxy music at the birmingham odeon on the night margaret thatcher was elected prime minister of the united kingdom the socialist utopia that had financed the art schools and filled them with lennons, keith richards, kinks, hockneys, brian ferrys and enos was over. we were due for a season in hell. bonsoir old thing cheerio tin tin.
stephen duffy is in love with the modern world.