Mike Atkinson

Duffy – Nottingham Bodega Social Club, Friday March 7

Posted in Bodega, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on March 8, 2008

If Duffy’s swift and seemingly effortless rise to fame has sometimes felt like the work of an uncommonly slick and efficient marketing machine, then you have to wonder what glitch in the masterplan allowed her to end up playing a tiny venue like the Bodega. With Mercy enjoying at its third week at Number One, and with her debut album Rockferry set to enter the charts at the same position, she could have filled a venue five times the size — and so it was very much to her credit that she opted to honour the booking.

As the Bodega isn’t exactly in the business of hosting chart-topping acts, there was a palpable sense of occasion in the room, as the lucky few jostled for position. In keeping with the singer’s star status, a full-sized mixing desk had been installed, reducing the available space still further. If our applause seemed muted, it was simply because we were wedged in so tightly that clapping had become a physical impossibility.

For Duffy herself, the show represented a fresh opportunity: to play her songs to an audience who were already familiar with them. Her excitement was evident, and charmingly genuine. Instead of the cool, untouchable professional polish that might have been expected, she radiated an unspun, girl-next-door quality, still very much the former Welsh waitress made good, and with something of the friendly, homely appeal of a young Dolly Parton. Even her slightly gawky stage banter (“and my next song is called…”) worked to her advantage, bringing her appeal down to a thoroughly human level.

When a dramatic pause in one song accidentally exposed one audience member in full (and foul-mouthed) conversational flow, she milked the moment to full advantage: grinning in mock-horror, sharing the joke, and stretching the pause almost to breaking point before resuming the song to loud whoops of appreciation. “You’re so… fluffy!”, exclaimed one excited punter. “Yeah — fluffy Duffy!”, she beamed, lapping up the compliment.

Although breathless comparisons have been made with Amy Winehouse and even Dusty Springfield, these do not serve her well. Vocally, the 23-year old is a good deal more eager Lulu than measured Dusty — but as some clued-up commentators have already spotted (and as a few visits to YouTube will confirm), her singing bears a particularly striking resemblance to the long-forgotten early 1980s singer Carmel.

Right from the first few notes of the opening number Rockferry, it was clear that the bright young starlet had the vocal skills to justify the hype. Hers is a powerful, dramatic instrument, which can confidently ride a melody and sweep you up with its sheer force. Yes, it still lacks a certain emotional depth — but equally, it doesn’t seek to compensate with false shows of manufactured melodrama.

For Duffy is who she is: an essentially cheerful girl, who readily confessed that she had never truly been in love (“Or maybe I have? Oh, I don’t know! What is love, anyway?”), and whose strongest suit is a gently assertive, not-going-to-take-any-nonsense-from-you-mister approach. By and large, her songs are not yet written from personal experience, and nor do they claim to be. Either that will come in time, raising her artistry to greater heights, or else Duffy will settle into the sort of role previously occupied by the likes of Sam Brown: a happy trouper, with many years of guest appearances with Jools Holland ahead of her. It will be fascinating to see how she develops — and after last night’s wholly delightful performance, only the most grudging of cynics could fail to wish her well.

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