Thursday, June 25, 2020

Documentary Review: Suzi Q


Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet


Suzi Q
Directed by Liam Firmager
Utopia; Screen Australia; Film Victoria; Acme Film Company Production; Madmen Films
100 minutes, 2020

My first experience of Suzi Quatro was on May 5, 1975, when I went to see Alice Cooper play at Madison Square Garden as part of the Welcome to My Nightmare Tour. Our seats were literally the last row of the upper balcony, facing the stage; you could not get any further away. Suzi was less than an inch tall from that distance. As it is, she is petite, but her sound was humongous, and made an impression on me (more than Cooper, quite honestly; it was my second time to see him there). The next day I went out and bought the then-recently released Your Mamma Won’t Like Me album, during her funkier period (the same month I would see the Ramones for the first time).

Women in rock seemed to come in waves up until the mid-‘70s: the first innovators were in the 1950s who never really got the credit they deserved, such as Wanda Jackson, which lasted until after the Shangri-Las’ boom of girl groups through early ‘60s. Then there were the blues rockers, such as Grace Slick and ended with the death of Janis Joplin. The next wave started a few years after Joplin’s 1970 passing, when Quatro released her eponymous proto-punk/metal album in 1973.

With songs like “Devil Gate Drive” and “Can the Can,” through her MTV-fueled “Rock Hard,” her vocals and starting with the employment of a huge 1957 Fender Precision bass hit a strong note. It’s been over 50 years since she started at age 14, but the story of that journey is the bassist – I mean, basis of this Australian documentary.

Suzi was huge all over the world, selling tens of millions of records, but here in the US of A, she was barely promoted by her record distributor (though she did make the cover of the Rolling Stone) and her sales were flat in her own ‘hood, relatively speaking. That’s part of why, even though she was born and raised in the Grosse Pointe area of Detroit, she has spent most of her life in England, starting the very early 1970s when she was brought over by infamous producer Mickey Most. All across the globe she was a presence on television on shows like “Top of the Pops,” but I remember mostly import LPs in stores that dealt with those (such as Disc-O-Rama on 8th Street, off McDougal, where I bought most of the early punk releases, but I digress…).

With hits all over the world but never really respected on a level she deserved in her own country, no wonder she stayed in the UK. Though I liked Suzi’s music, I really didn’t know much about her or her career. That is part of why I was so excited about this documentary, for which Suzi is incredibly deserving and involved. The fact that her first big hit in the States was a limp duet with Chris Norman, “Stumblin’ In,” shows how shallow the tastes of the mainstream American audience had become at the time.

Most documentaries, including this one, focus mainly on the high moments of fame, but one of the aspects I found interesting was the earlier years, covered in the first 15-20 minutes, when she was part of a “family” band of her sisters, starting with The Pleasure Seekers, which transformed into Cradle. One thing missing from here that I found interesting is the lack of mention of the only male in Cradle, future New York Dolls and Heartbreakers (with Johnny Thunders, not Tom Petty) drummer Jerry Nolan, who became involved with one of the sisters. Not even a picture, and there are lots of the band. But then again, this isn’t about him or the sister, but more my own personal interests.

Upon her fame in the mid-1970s, this documentary touches on two points I would have liked to have heard more of, and that is how she challenged the Glam scene (nice comment here about how Suzi’s band didn’t see themselves as Glam because Suzi was the only member “who wore make-up,” much like the Ramones didn’t consider themselves punk), rivaling the charts with artists like Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and Sweet (guitarist Andy Scott is interviewed here). The other is more of a social context of Feminism pushback by the British press, postulated by the juxtaposition in that at first people complained that women weren’t allowed to rock like the boys, and then grumbled when they did just that, threatening the machismo machine of rock and roll. Both While this is not a complaint, really, Glam and Feminism are given a couple of minutes each. I am glad at least they were addressed.

I am amused that there is a section devoted just to Suzi’s first Aussie tour in 1974. Of course, this actually makes sense, as footage is more readily available there for this home-grown piece. Again, this is more of an area I’m not familiar with in Suzi’s career, so I am incredibly grateful for the footage and information.

The film also rightfully focuses on the magnitude of the influence Suzi has had on the lives and careers of other musicians. So many women have picked up music as a vocation thanks to Suzi, including members of The Runaways (here represented by vocalist Cherie Currie, guitarist Joan Jett looking “Cher-ized,” and lead guitarist Lita Ford), The Go-Go’s (bassist Kathy Valentine), and Talking Heads and The Tom Tom Club (bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Franz).

Interviews also include (but not only), alphabetically, Rodney Bingenheimer (KROQ DJ), Clem Burke (Blondie drummer), Mike Chapman (1970s British record producer), Alice Cooper, John ”Norwood” Fisher (Fishbone), Deborah Harry (Blondie), Garry Marshall (producer of “Happy Days”; d. 2016), Don Powell (Slade drummer), Donita Sparks (L7 guitarist and vocals), Suzi’s ex-husband and member of the Suzi Quatro band Len Tuckey, KT Tunstall, and of course, the Fonz, Henry Winkler (“Happy Days”). Members of her family, including her sister Patti, who would become a member of Fanny, and brother Michael, who was her manager in the early days, are also represented.

But don’t think that this is just another one of those talking head interview extravaganzas. Hardly. This is jam packed with rare footage of Suzi playing live, photos of her on and off the stage (childhood, backstage, onstage, living her life), press and magazine covers, and clips of rare interviews (e.g., on the radio such as Rodney on the ROQ, and television mainly in the UK and Australia).

The best, of course, is the direct interviews with Suzi herself. She is extremely candid, bright-eyed, and humorous looking back on her 70 years, nearly 55 of them in the public eye. It’s obvious that her contribution was taken over a period of time, because we see her in different settings, rather than just the one-camera-one-shot that is so common with these kinds of biography films.

Then, there is also the music. Lots of music. No song is shown complete, but there are clips of her recordings and live shows, and all of it is quite thrilling, actually, giving a decent overall picture of why she was/is such a role model. Most people with whom I have talked about Suzi seem to know her mostly as Leather Tuscadero, during her stint on “Happy Days.” In my opinion, this role kind of put a dent in her reputation as a foundation artist, but she bounced back. Also, it was the mortar to what would become a strong acting career.

So many life documentaries are formulaic with interviews mixed with some photos or videos. Firmager mixes it up quite a bit. There is also a nice intermingling of genders, which I find to be often lacking in these kinds of adventures, especially for that period of rock and roll. In addition, I would like to point out that nearly all the people who talk about Suzi are those who are first-person connections, rather than merely journalists or writers spouting second-hand retellings, (such as, “In [date] at [location], the story goes that Suzi did this such thing…”). This is an incredibly well-assembled account of the life of a career musician.

Though the main focus is the height of Suzi’s career in the mid- to late-1970s, the beginning and the later British West End stage acting phases of her life are not glossed over, which is good because I did not know a lot of it.

As the film was ending, I checked in with myself and realized I had an unconscious smile on my face. Honestly, I have been wanting to see the film since its Australian opening in November of 2019. Was it worth the wait? Oh, hell, yeah, it – err – rocks hard.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Review: The Transcendents

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet (click to make larger)

The Transcendents
Directed by Derek Ahonen
Erratic Behavior / Indican Pictures
96 minutes, 2018 / 2020

It is either here nor there that I recently reviewed a film about an indie rock band that has disbanded called The Incoherents. Now I’m reviewing a film about the formation and break-up of an indie rock band called The Transcendents, and of a person looking for its members. No connection other than just overarching themes, though. This one has done the film festival circuit for the past two years, and now it is time for a full release (on the usual online platforms).

Rob Franco
The central character that holds everything together is a severely damaged musician and songwriter, Roger (Rob Franco), who doesn’t imbibe (except…) and is celibate (except…). He is seeking a band that once existed that he has a connection to, called the Transcendents (not to be confused with the real Ohio band with the same name), which was formed more than a decade before (or as the title cards say in a flashback, “5,479 days earlier”). This version of The Transcendents is harsh realist lead singer and sitarist Kim (Savannah Welch, definitely in a Kim Gordon pose as I remember her in the 1980s; Welch’s real band is the folk-country The Trishas); the bassist is starry-eyed Foster (Ben Reno), who has his own dark streak.

This film is full of music and music-related personalities in both large and small roles; for example, there’s Kathy Valentine, better known as the bassist of the Go-Go’s… yes, that Go-Go’s... who plays the dominant character of Jan, a bar owner where “shitty bands” play and who takes Roger in. The bartender, Matthew Pilieci, is a co-founder (along with the film’s director) and Associate Artistic Director of the Amoralists Theater Company in New York, whose mission is to produce work of “no moral judgment.” A small yet pivotal role is played by Billy Leroy, who was the owner of the infamous Billy’s Antiques on the bygone Lower East Side.

Savannah Welch
Speaking of music, the background soundtrack throughout is mostly operatic or chamber-like. Odd choice, but it works considering the depth of the storyline. The focus is on the quite different levels of despair and the twisted lives of the people involved, both during the rise of the band and in the present, years later. Essentially, there are two basic styles that are used to convey time periods: the present uses sharp angles to signify how off-kilter the personalities are, and the past employs handheld cameras, but not shaky in that annoying found footage way. It’s more of a representation of the cloudiness of events over time, in the same way sit-coms and cartoons often use a slightly out-of-focus lens to represent a different era.

Another method to express emotion is the shifting of colors and lenses on occasion (but not enough to be much of a distraction). But most noticeable is the sheer use of color and then the drabbing down of it’s intensity, such as in Jan’s apartment. It could have looked really garish in real light, but the muting works well to keep it in perspective and just enough skewed for the personalities and story tones.

As far as editing goes, there are also a couple of completely opposite approaches used to convey intensity: first, there is the sharp, bam-bam editing, such as when Foster is yelling at Roger, and then there is the looooong, slooooow zoom in mixed with extreme close-ups, like during a 15-minute soliloquy by Kim.

One of the indirect fun things about films like this, frankly, is reading tee-shirts. Yeah, it makes sense that someone would be wearing a The Transcendents shirt, but also seen is one with T.Rex. There are some albums nailed onto the wall without sleeves and records on a shelf, and I found myself trying to see if I could read them (did I see Elton John’s Captain Fantastic back there? Note that I do not have a wall-sized screen. If so, not very indie, if it is; *self-righteous snicker*).

Franco, Kathy Valentine, and kitsch
The acting is a bit over the map, but there is no question that the two leads, Franco and especially Welch come out the strongest. They show a wide range of emotions, including some of the harsh ones, without letting you find ease, nor can you look away. Powerful acting.

If there is any issue with the film, in my opinion, it is that it felt a bit long. This may be due to a sense of art that it feels like the director was aiming for (this is his first feature), and it tries a bit too hard. Now it actually succeeds in being more than just a story, but it is just a tad overdone; like when you want a rare steak and it comes back medium: still pink, but not red; at least it’s not charcoal.

Anyway, the film, which is shot around Austin, Texas, and Rockland County, New York (what we Brooklynites used to refer to as “Upstate”), really is more about the personalities within the band and those around them, and of the harshness of the music business, more than about the music itself, hence a soundtrack that is polar opposite of the neo-psych indie output of The Transcendents.

If you’re looking for a light story about a band like The Thing That You Do! (1998), you are in the wrong spot. This is more Ingmar Bergman-esque than that. And are there resolutions? Well, see the film, and we can discuss.



Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Thoughts on Michael Wolfe’s Blogs About Jewish Foods


Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet


Around the autumn of 2018, writer Michael Wolfe wrote a piece on his Too Lazy to Write a Book blog titled “My Definitive and Absolutely Correct Ranking of 40Jewish Foods,” which was soon followed by the sequel, “MyJewish Food Rankings – the One’s I ‘Missed’.”  I would like to take a moment and comment on some of his two lists. While I am not arguing with the ranking (though I strongly agree and disagree on some), it’s the food I would like to focus on here. I won’t be commenting on all of them, just the ones that mean more to me.

I have said this before: when I was growing up as a lower-middle class Jew in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn (in a largely Italian neighborhood), most Jewish families I knew, like us, had five (5) sets of dishes. First there were the daily two for meat and dairy. Then there were the two in the closet for meat and dairy that were used only on the eight days of Passover. The one few talked about was under the sink for the rare times we ordered in from the Chinese restaurant (rather than eating out), or when our upstairs neighbor Madeline made her amazing lasagna and shared it with us.


Now to the first list in “My Definitive and Absolutely Correct Ranking of 40 Jewish Foods,”:

No. 40: Pickled Herring in Sour Cream. Michael hates it, but I like pickled herring. There was more than one occasion I remember my parents being mad at me for eating an entire jar, as they tend to be a bit on the pricy side. That being said, the one I prefer is in wine sauce, and though I like it okay in the white stuff, I agree with Michael somewhat because it is so much better without the sour cream.
No. 38: Whitefish/Whitefish Salad: My dad used to love whitefish. He would bring home the whole smoked fish, and eat it, leaving but the literal skin and bones. Not me. But I do like whitefish salad. It has a less fishy taste than tuna (which I also like); however, it also depends on how it is made. It can be really good or terribly gross.
No. 37: Kasha Varnishkes: Here is where I strongly disagree with Michael. I love Kasha Varnishkes, and always have. A friend where I live now made it for me last year to celebrate me getting out of the hospital, and it was just so satisfying. If made right, the onions and kasha, mixed with that particular kind of bowtie pasta, fills many taste sensations for me.
No. 36: Mandel Bread: My dad loved Mandel Bread; I thought it was okay, even as a kid. Dad liked an almond kind of a specific brand (that I can’t remember). Even though it was sweet when it was fresh, if you waited too long… Well, Michael put it perfectly: “It can be BONE DRY, like a biscotti that you find in the back of your cupboard that’s been left unsealed for a few dozen years.” I haven’t had it in over 20 years, and I’m okay with that.

No. 34: Halvah: I love Halvah in doses but haven't had it much in the last decade; it’s not easy to find here in the Canadian Prairies, as there are no Jewish Delis in my neck of the woods. I have bought it on rare occasion from a Halal shop, though. My dad didn’t buy the Joyvah bars, but as a brick from the local deli. As much as I enjoy it, it seems Michael is correct when he states, “But everyone else I seem to know truly hates it.” It’s best when it is fresh and melts in your mouth.
No. 32: Macaroons: The closest you can find where I live is something called the macaron, which is nothing like a macaroon. I like coconut macaroons, even though coconut is not my favorite flavor in the world. We used to buy them in the round tins when I grew up, and I’ve had them on occasion in the last few years, but I’m not fan of most of the other flavors. They tend to be chalky.
No. 31: Chocolate Coins: These are usually given out at Hanukkah. Michael said it best: “They weren’t usually the best chocolate, and almost always ended up melting in my pocket by the third night. Still, chocolate is chocolate...
No. 30: My Mother’s Roast Chicken: Again, Michael said exactly what I was thinking: “Perhaps this is blasphemy, but the truth hurts: my mother (bless her memory) was a terrible, terrible cook…My mother’s roast chicken…was as rubbery as an elementary school eraser.” There were things my mom cooked okay, but this was not one of them, and she made it often. And don’t ask about her cardboard steaks…

No. 29: Schmaltz: For those who don’t know, Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat, in that it is cut up and melted down, and used like butter. It sounds gross, but it tasted great. There are obvious health reasons why I haven't eaten it in 30 years, but my mom made great homemade schmaltz. We only ate it on Passover, though, for the reasons I mentioned. I remember telling someone in high school about it and they were grossed out, so I brought them some on a cracker. They reluctantly ate it, and loved it. It’s also known as the original “schmear.”
No. 28: Manischewitz Wine: Well, this is true for all Concord Grape wine, not just that brand. I agree totally with what the author has to say about it being “alcoholic Grape Fanta without the bubbles.” I only drink it about every 5 years (on Passover, of course). I once got drunk when I was 5 years old by downing a glass of it before my mother could stop me, and passed out at the Passover table. The kind of booze a kid could like.
No. 26: Chopped Liver: I'm odd in that I like any kind of liver, but especially chopped liver. Chopped, the liver loses a lot of its graininess and has a smooth texture that doesn’t taste “liverish.” Plus, it’s moldable into animal shapes.
No. 25: Gefilte Fish: I actually like the kind from the jar (Mothers brand) more than freshly made, with horseradish (red or white). But Michael is spot-on correct when he states, “Without the gross jelly, please.” My parents loved the clear jelly, but the texture always made me gag.

No. 24: Matzoh: As a kid, I grew tired of it by the 4th day of Passover, but now I love Matzoh, except you can't find it here other than through the Lubavitch Rabbi, which is expensive. If you ask for Matzoh at the supermarket, they bring you to the cheese section (that's what they call Mozzarella – mozza – here). My mom used to prepare it a special way I haven’t had in 40 years, but loved as a kid: she would loosely wet the matzoh (moist but not soggy), put on a layer of chicken fat, and then course Koshering salt. So tasty.
No. 23: Knish: My favorite Knish is the potato ones you buy off the hot dog stands in NYC streets, with mustard (spicy kind, not just yellow). The homemade ones tend to be kind of glommy.
No. 22: Matzoh Brei: I've always loved matzoh Brei; on the rare occasions I get matzoh even today, I make it myself. Michael says maple syrup is a must, but for me, no syrup. I like the taste of the egg and matzoh together, with some course salt.
No. 21: Maror/Horseradish: We eat horseradish all the time, both red and white (though white is much more available in supermarkets where I live). We have a jar of it in the fridge as we speak. Great with any white fish, like Basa.


No. 18: Kosher Salami: While Kosher Salami is better than bologna (a friend once compared bologna to “uncooked hot dog,” and that felt accurate), I still like Genoa and Hungarian salami better, even though they are not Kosher.
No. 16: Kreplach: Kreplach is a dumpling for soup. It’s good, but Kneidlach (or Knaidlach) is better. This will be covered more in “Matzoh Ball Soup,” below.
No. 15: Challah: Challah, in a single word, is mmmmmmmm. With or without raisins (Michael finds raisins superfluous). Needs to be fresh, though; supermarket brands tend to be bland.
No. 13: Brisket: I didn't like brisket much as a kid because of the grainy texture, but love it now, if it’s cooked right (i.e., not over- or under-done).
No. 12: Corned Beef/No. 11: Pastrami: Corn Beef is good, but nothing beats Pastrami. Real Pastrami, like from Katz's Deli. I’ve been jonzing over their Pastrami on Club with Mustard on the side, and pickle, with a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda (see below) for the past couple of years. The Pastrami up here tastes like ham or Montreal smoked meat, with a weird aftertaste. They also slice it way too thin, like pressed turkey roll. It costs $85 to ship a sandwich from Katz’s to Canada, which is not worth it (it also needs to be fresh sliced). But next time I’m in NYC…
No. 10: Dr. Brown's Cream Soda: See above with Pastrami. The only time I drink it, but it goes together so well. Michael thinks the Cel-Rey flavor is terrible; I concur.

No. 9: Blintzes: My dad loved blintzes; I think they're okay. However, I like the potato ones best, fried and with sour cream. For now, I’m settling for unfried lefsa.
No. 8: Noodle Kugel: No one made noodle kugel as good as my Aunt Elsie, period, who would always make sure I had some when I’d stay at her house for a couple of weeks each summer as a kinder. As a side note, one of my best friend since high school is named Bernie Kugel. The first time Bernie and I met Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators at CBGB in 1975 and Bernie told him his name, HDM’s eyes lit up and said, “Hey! Like the pudding!!”

No. 5: Chinese Food on Christmas: Funny, but this is not a tradition on which I grew up. In fact I never even heard of it until I was in my early 20s. But I did love when we went to the local Chinese restaurant on 86 Street, in Brooklyn. My mom knew the owner, Helen Chan, who lived a block over from us.
No. 3: Latkes/Potato Pancakes: I like Potato Latkes, but I find them greasy these days; gives me the runs if I eat too much. Yeah, getting older. Oy.
No. 2: Matzoh Ball Soup: I will fight to the grave insisting that there is no such thing as matzoh ball soup. It's chicken soup with matzoh balls. You can’t make soup from matzoh balls; they are added in afterwards. Anyway, it's good. Something my mom made well, though we bought the matzoh balls in a jar (again, Mothers brand). Good matzoh balls are truly hard to make from scratch to get the right consistency and not have it fall apart in the soup.
No. 1: Bagel with Lox and Cream Cheese: Most Sunday mornings, we'd have a bagel with cream cheese and belly lox (which is nearly impossible to find nowadays). There is a place here that makes it mostly right, except they put capers on it, which I don't understand. My dad used to make what we referred to as "the killer bagel," which we ate once every few months: a salted bagel, butter (yes, salted), cream cheese, belly lox, anchovies, and raw onion. You felt that on your side for days, but it tasted so good. Definitely not recommended for high blood pressure patients.

The second list is “My Jewish Food Rankings – the One’s I ‘Missed’.”:

Tongue: It’s hard to explain to those who didn’t grow up with it how delicious this is. I haven’t had it in decades, but I can still remember the yummy taste. The only time I was grossed out was that one time I got the top of the tongue, which had all the taste nodules, which was rubbery. Not fun. I miss tongue (keep it clean, folks…).
Egg Cream/Chocolate Egg Cream: Just delicious. I like the Vanilla Egg Creams as well. RIP Gem Spa on St. Mark’s Place, where the Egg Creams were infamous. There was also a candy store in Brooklyn on the corner of Bath Avenue and Bay Parkway that served an Egg Cream I enjoyed (this place does not exist anymore either).
Potato Kugel: Good, but cannot come anywhere near Noodle Kugel.
Borscht: I’m not a fan, and besides, it makes me gassy as all get out. My wife is a huge fan.
Hard Boiled Egg in Salt Water: As Michael said, “A Passover staple.” It seems a lot of people dip the egg into the salt water these days, and look at me strangely when I drop in the egg and squish it into a salty paste. One of my favorite things about the Seder. I never eat it that way the rest of the year.
Stuffed Cabbage: Where I’m living now, you can find the Ukrainian version of cabbage rolls, which are similar, but they don’t add raisins. I like the Jewish stuffed cabbage, but honestly, I think they’re made too fat. In this case, the Ukrainians got it right by making them smaller. However, after, you may not want to be around me for a couple of hours as I toot away from the cabbage.
Bialy: Michael calls it a “poor man’s bagel.” I don’t agree, as I see it as something totally different to be eaten as a substitute bagel. We didn’t slice them on the Sundays when we got them instead of bagels. We’d butter the top and eat them that way, or add a slice of “American Cheese” (a processed form of cheddar that my family tended to get). Bialys were distant cousins to bagels that tasted totally different and had a different texture.

Friday, June 5, 2020

TIN TIN: Living Dangerously [1983]


Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1983
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue 11, dated 1983, by Julia Masi.

Tin Tin’s vocalist and songwriter, Steve Duffy, is arguably the “Pete Best” of one of the biggest bands of the 1980s (I’m not saying greatest, I’m mentioning popularity), Duran Duran. He was one of the founding members back in Birmingham, UK, but left (kicked out?) the year before the band signed to a major label. Apparently fixated on double names, he then formed Tin Tin in 1982. That was when he turned up on the “Videowave” cable access show, where Julia and I came to meet him. He was very quiet, eyes often darting around the room, and after he was interviewed on the show, he was caught going through our things (jackets, purses, backpacks, etc.) in the back room of the studio. Actually, I didn’t find out about that until after he left. He was kind of muted and the crew was wondering if he was in an alternative realm at the time.

Since then, he’s been in a few bands over the years, including Dr. Calculus, the Lilac Time, and the Devils. He’s still working his music in the UK. Honestly, I’m not familiar with any of these groups, and if you watch the video below (his big song that was later covered by Robbie Williams), it’s not hard to understand why. – RBF, 2020
 
Stephen Duffy on "Videowave"
(photo by RBF)
Their songs had been out in the U.S. for just about a week. The record company hadn’t even gotten their press kit in order. But composer/lead singer Stephen Duffy wanted to make it clear from the beginning, that Tin Tin was a different kind of dance band. Of course, he’s dealing with the same old clich├ęs of letting the music speak for itself, and taking risks. But the difference between Tin Tin and most other bands is that they don’t just talk about taking risks, they actually do it. Few musicians are willing to walk into a lion’s den of critics, rock’n’roll journalists and jaded New York audiences armed with only a one-song, 12-inch single to their credit.

This wasn’t an act of arrogance or stupidity but a carefully planned strategy to enable Duffy to feel out his audience and refine his art before releasing an album.

“In Birmingham, where I come from, there was, at the time, two camps (of music). There was the Dexy’s (Midnight Runners) camp, including groups like the Specials and ‘60s sort of soul/ska music. Then, on the other hand, there were groups like Duran Duran (of which Stephen was a founding member) and Fashion, and what was called futuristic avant-garde.

“The group is only me and the drummer, Stoker [Andy Growcott; two members of Fashion, John Mulligan and Dik Davis, would join later – RBF, 2020], who used to be in Dexy’s Midnight Runners. It’s, like, the first meeting of those two different schools in Birmingham. Actually, it’s a small place. We all really knew each other, obviously. We got together purely by accident. We were both free and we both had the same ideas about making dance music.

“The first thing that struck me when I was young was reggae. I got into very heavy reggae. Then, very shortly after that, the Sex Pistols and English groups like that. Obviously, if you’re 16 and something happens, you want to be there.” So Stephen and his friends decided to put together a band: Duran Duran.

“We tried to get away from the more aggressive side of it and tried to play more dance music. We were very young. And we hadn’t really worked out exactly what we were doing. So they went off in one direction, and I set off in another direction. I went away from synthesizers and stared concentrating on songwriting.

“I write verse/rhyming verse, which is a very untrendy thing to do. And I write a lot of songs. I’ve got 136 songs, but I did that for three years while I was unemployed for a bit. Obviously, I was concentrating so much on my writing that he only thing I could do was be unemployed. I couldn’t get anybody to pay me for sitting around writing rhyming verse.

“People kept on coming up to me and saying, ‘You write songs, you write lyrics; why don’t you get up and do it?’ I was quite ambitious but I didn’t want to do anything wrong. I didn’t want to sign to a bad manager or sign to any bad deals.”

So he held out until he got an offer from Warner Bros. Records to release “Kiss Me.”

Stephen developed a sense of what paths to follow and pitfalls to avoid in the record industry by getting involved with the local independent scene. “I spent a lot of time with the independent labels – not with me as an artist, but with other groups, just hanging around and seeing what was going on. And I independently distributed a single. It wasn’t a particularly good record, but I was more interested in dealing with the business people.”

He understands how difficult it is for a new act to gain exposure, yet he is optimistic about Tin Tin’s future. “You need to beat the bigger groups at what they do, without prostituting yourself in any way. You can compete. And you can beat them without losing your youthfulness and the ambition to make the music you want to make. It’s a matter of being more eloquent and making people understand what you do straight away, instead of saying, ‘You can’t categorize this’.”

Although he’s not opposed to people making comparisons about his music, suggesting that it sounds similar to music from the television series “Fame” made his eyes light up. He isn't wasting his time trying to pigeon-hole the band’s sound. Instead, he is channeling his energy into getting another single out and finishing up their album.

“What we’re gonna do now is the next single. We’re going to have the A-side with a vocal version and an instrumental version; then another song (that is) just a vocal version. We have so many songs. We don’t want people to think we have limited material.

We’re going back to England to finish the album. We’ve started a few tracks. Then we’ll come back over here. And I’m meeting with musicians to see what, with that kind of thing, I can do live without using tapes. What I want to do is actually play live, to play concerts, to see if not only the music can be brought together, apart from dance, but if we can do it live so that people can come see us – and if we can put together a concert, and if we can put across a dance performance and make people dance without getting bored of it.

“It all comes down to if we can make all the songs sound different and retain that dance quality.”



Bonus video: