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British artist finds soul in Motown

By John Benson

Friday, October 17, 2008

By John Benson

Duffy is scheduled to open Tuesday’s Coldplay concert in Cleveland.

Odds are singer-songwriter Duffy is going to remember her first visit to Cleveland.

Not only is the U.K. artist, whose gold-selling debut effort, “Rockferry,” includes back-to-back hit singles “Mercy” and “Warwick Avenue,” going to see Coldplay at her Tuesday concert at Quicken Loans Arena, but as opener of the show she’ll be performing before her biggest stateside audience to date.

Oh yeah, it should be mentioned this is her first time seeing the Chris Martin-led Brit-pop act in action. So how did the opening slot opportunity come about?

“Well, I used to baby-sit for Chris Martin about five years ago,” Duffy, (born Aimee Anne Duffy), said laughingly while calling from Los Angeles.

While this would make a great story, the truth is Duffy is having a laugh.

“No, they apparently are a fan of what I’m doing and essentially said, ‘Hey, a British girl in America, let’s get her on this tour,’” Duffy said. “So it came together quite organically, and I’m really honored.”

Part of a trend

Something else that came together organically is Duffy’s association with the current British singer-songwriter scene featuring female acts channeling ’60s soul music. Whether it’s the train-wreck-in-waiting Amy Winehouse or artists such as Corinne Bailey Rae, Joss Stone and Lily Allen, Duffy is a part of a trend that actually draws parallels to the ’60s British invasion and classic rock movement.

Just as guitarists from the ’60s were inspired by black bluesmen from the first half of the 20th century, the current crop of female singers are finding a wellspring of influence from the classic soul and Motown sounds.

“Thank you, I really appreciate that,” Duffy said. “That is amazing that you say that because in a way, if I could represent anything, that would be what I’m trying to represent: British singer influenced by black music. I’m not trying to be black, I’m not trying to be something I’m not. That was the best time in music when Sam Cooke wrote ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ and when Al Green made his records and Smokey Robinson wrote ‘Second That Emotion.’

“These transcend decades and to me these don’t feel retro. They don’t feel as though they belong to a different time because they belong to me today. I listen to them on my iPod when I’m walking down the street. It’s just great music that influences me, and I hope in a way that I can be kind of a British version of that.”

Going strong

With over 3 million albums sold worldwide and plenty of American momentum behind her song “Mercy” getting airplay on “Grey’s Anatomy,” “ER” and “Smallville,” this 24-year-old girl from Wales is in the dichotic position of being called a success while admittedly not fully understanding its meaning.

“I just seem to be following my record around the world, and I don’t know what it is that’s doing this right now,” Duffy said. “If I knew that answer, I’d understand this whole experience a lot more. That word success is a funny one, and you kind of have to use it lightly when you talk about something that is quite life changing because I find to myself that I can’t measure success.

“I don’t know what it is, and yet people talk to me like I know it. It’s just success is the day you write a song and feel very happy with it that you really expressed an emotion. That feels like success, but seeing a bunch of numbers on a page that’s the number of records you sold doesn’t feel like success, and it’s strange. Because truly it is in a way, but it’s not what makes you tick. It’s really strange so I live in this world where apparently I’m successful but I’m still longing for more. I’m longing for more music and other things, and I don’t know quite how to understand it just yet.”