Duffy @ Birmingham Glee Club, 11/3/08

The (really quite good whoever it was) DJ was playing Aretha when I arrived at the Glee Club. I took that to be significant before remembering that no, Adele’s the new Aretha, Duffy’s the new Dusty. Of course. Whether or not she’s worthy of such praise, well, that was what I was there to make my mind up on.The crowd seemed slightly ill at ease with the concept of having to stand for a Glee Club gig and of having a DJ as a support act. Personally, I enjoyed the set-up although it was good to see the heavy-handed approach to security remained – too much change can be disconcerting.

When Duffy took the stage the first thing that was immediately obvious was the extent to which she’s been taught, and is still learning, her stagecraft. There was something very ‘showbiz’ about how she addressed us, posed, moved, smiled but those mannerisms looked more forced than natural.

That’s not a gripe, by the way, just an observation that Duffy is still a raw talent in the process of being polished. My gripe is in the direction that she seems to be headed. Comparisons with soul icons are all well and good, but there’s a more relevant comparison available – another young singer who appeared with a voice that belonged to another age. And what do we all think of Joss Stone now?

Anyway, enough of the comparisons for the time being, because when she raised her voice for the second half of opening song ‘Rockferry’ I have to say my socks were knocked momentarily off. Her voice has just got an extraordinary weight to it and the effect of that sound being provided by a young lady yards away is something no recording could capture.

In all other respects the album was almost recreated in it’s entirety. The slightly dull ‘Warwick Avenue’ and ‘Serious’ followed but were fine, perhaps because we were all still coming to terms with that voice. ‘Delayed Devotion’ picked things up with a gentle swing but the darker ‘Breaking My Own Heart’ was fantastic, as was ‘Stepping Stone’ for the same reasons.

The majority of the band left the stage, leaving Duffy alone with her gurning guitarist for ‘Syrup & Honey’. The pair leaving themselves wide open to some good ol’ Brummie wit, inserting extended pauses only for someone to shout suggestions for the next note. Actually, it’s worth noting that Duffy dealt well with the crowd and showed real charm and wit when she departed from her script.

‘Mercy’ came at the end of the evening and was a marked change in tempo from an otherwise stolid, mid-paced set. After a perfunctory exit from the stage she encored with album closed ‘Distant Dreamer’ “because it’s the last night of the tour”. It seems there was an excuse for every night of the tour – very showbiz.

So, yet again I’ve come to the conclusion that a heavily hyped young artist is good but not yet that good. Football clubs have learnt the habit of bringing young talent on slowly, nurturing talent and instilling robustness – why can’t the music industry do likewise? Well, because long careers aren’t a given and the labels need to cash in when they can. When Duffy announced that her shortish set was drawing to an end the crowd groaned; her reply that she should go and write more songs was well observed.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.