Q Magazine

Stephen Duffy of The Lilac Time—Still Enthusiastic After All These Years

Even with a musical history that includes Duran Duran, "Kiss Me," Robbie Williams, and Barenaked Ladies, folk still comes first for the Lilac Time frontman

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Source: Two Cats In The Yard Photography

Stephen Duffy glares at the thought of another ''Kiss Me' hitmaker' headline

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"So what do you want to do today, Will?" asks Stephen Duffy at the start of our conversation. "What do you want?"

To that query, I respond with honesty: I want to do a career summary, but because I don't want to keep him on the line forever, I want to do the most succinct one I can.

"Well, you see, that's the problem," Duffy replies, sighing. "It's too long. It's impossible. Taking myself as seriously as I do and finding myself endlessly interesting, I could talk about any period for an hour, you know what I mean?"

[Yes, he does laugh after this bit.]

"We got a review for The Lilac Time," Duffy continues, "and I can't remember it word for word, but it was a tiny review—you know how big album reviews are now, if you're even lucky enough to get them—and this one was something about ''Kiss Me' hitmaker, first lead singer of Duran Duran, Robbie Williams co-writer...' Basically, using up the first quite a lot of words putting people off buying the record! Because the record... Any of those things are going to stop people who like country-folk. They're just gonna be turned off straight away. So that's the predicament I find myself in. It's, like, 'How do you get people to buy a country-folk album without any drums or bass when you're talking about 'Kiss Me' and all that? I mean, there's no way 'round it, because I have lived that life, but..."

He sighs.

I assure him that when I do a career retrospective, I always start with the current thing and then pedal backwards, as it's a much better way to emphasize what an artist is working on currently.

"Yes, because it's such a miracle that anybody's still working currently!"

Still, I assure him that although, yes, I have been a fan since first hearing "Kiss Me" on a friend's mix tape, the song was already several years old by that point, and it was only about a year later that I stumbled onto the first Lilac Time CD, which - after being startled to discover that this Stephen Duffy and that Stephen Duffy were one and the same - made me a follower of his career for the long haul.

This seems to satisfy him, and with that, we're into a proper conversation.

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Stephen Duffy, never more at home than whilst playing his guitar

Stephen Duffy: So when was the mix tape, then?

Right before the first album. I'm guessing that the tape was 1988, and then I probably picked up the first Lilac Time CD in early '89.

Yes, the Mercury release [of The Lilac Time] came out in '88, so that might be right. But "Kiss Me," I'm sure they were still playing it endlessly on KROQ and CFNY in Toronto. I mean, it had a life that just went on forever. So where are you from?

I’m from where I still am: Chesapeake, Virginia.

That's fantastic. That's a simple story. I wish I'd stayed in Birmingham. [Laughs.]

I always say, the internet made my career. I didn't find my first full-time job in journalism until I found one with a website. I've literally never worked in an office setting as a writer. As a telemarketer, yes, but never as a writer.

I worked for one week for British Telecom folding up magazines to get enough money to buy a pair of leather trousers in 1978, and that's the only job I ever had.

Well, at least you put the money to good use.

Yes. And I still have the trousers! Unfortunately, they don't fit. [Laughs.] But, of course, everything's changed, hasn't it? The strange thing about recording now... When I started, you'd go to the studio, and there'd be somebody to make the tea, there'd be the tech guys who had their own little office, and then you'd have an engineer, you'd have a tape op, you might have a producer...and then there might be catering! So you'd have this incredible team. And now...that's you. That's me. I'm back here at home, looking at bits of wire and thinking, "Is that the end crackling, or is it..." And then having to make your own tea! It's from the sublime to the completely ridiculous.

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Speaking of the sublime, let's talk about the new Lilac Time album. I presume this was at least partially a pandemic-inspired album, at least in terms of when you recorded it.

Well, the last one came out in 2019, and I actually was thinking we'd go out and play, so I played Rough Trade [record] shops and did one gig, and then it was the pandemic. But certainly "A Makeshift Raft" was started before that, because that was about the Syrian child who died on the beach, so that was before 2019. But because you write all the time, the pandemic didn't really change anything for me, because I was down here by myself a lot before then, y'know what I mean? And I certainly didn't do anything differently. I didn't do any sort of online stuff for the pandemic. I just carried on writing.

I certainly didn't want the record to be a "pandemic record." But I did take inspiration from that story of Bob Dylan writing "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" during the Cuban Missile Crisis and putting all of the bits he had into that one song, thinking that might be the end. So it was, like, "Let's write every song as if it's the last song you're gonna write...or maybe the last song anybody's gonna write! Let's not leave any threads waving around in the breeze. Let's tie everything down."

So that was part of the idea. And then it was decided that I wouldn't use bass and drums because I enjoy it so much that perhaps it's fun for me but perhaps it's not fun for other people. [Laughs.] So I got rid of that, and that then completely exposed my guitar playing and the singing. So this album, which I thought was going to be a quick acoustic record, just took an astonishingly long time, as I had to practice. Y'know, if you're just gonna be guitar and vocal, you have to get up to gig quality from nowhere. So it took quite a lot time to do that. But it came out well, and I think it's the strongest one we've ever done. I think it could be the best record I've ever made.

It's very good music to write by, I've found.

Good! No drums getting in the way. [Laughs.] Also, you take the drums and bass off, and it just says, "You're not trying to get on the radio. You're just doing your own thing."

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When would you say was the last time you actively did try to get on the radio?

Well, the last record came out on BMG, so we did actually have a plugger. And I did some local radio stuff. But it was the same thing: I'd be sitting there, and they'd say, "We've got Stephen Duffy coming up, talking about his gig in Nottingham this evening," and then they'd play "Kiss Me." And it's just, like, "Well, that's gonna stop everybody coming to see it!' If they'd played... Well, I don't know what they could've played, but something acoustic and dreary... [Laughs.] Then it might've tickled the fancy of my core audience!

When you do live shows, do you make any sort of acoustic attempt at "Kiss Me"?

I do. I mean, let's face it: if you've got a song that people know, you've got to play it. Because it's such a rare thing these days, isn't it? So, yeah, I do that. I quite often do "Icing on the Cake." But it's the same as doing interviews when you try to pick a set list, especially if you're playing in a Rough Trade shop and you've only got 45 minutes. And then, of course, there's all of the stories I have to tell as well. There's probably only time for "Kiss Me" after I've finished the stories!

Have you ever thought about doing a "Storytellers" sort of set?

I've been doing that all my life, I think. [Laughs.] It's nice to hear people laughing between all the sad songs!

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In regards to the evolution of the Lilac Time's sound, you take an album like this one and compare it to, say, And Love for All, there's a distinct difference in the sonic template you're working from. What led to that shift? Was it just the music you were listening to at the time that led you that direction?

Well, if you think about the first Lilac Time record, even though that had drums and bass on it, we were trying to be an acoustic folk band. And that was put out independently initially. The problem was, as soon as we signed with Fontana, inevitably they didn't want to make the second record in a cottage in Wales after giving us all this money. [Laughs.] And strangely, they thought that they were going to break us in America, with the Mercury thing.

How very optimistic of them.

Well, Paradise Circus got to #10 at College.

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I admit, I didn't realize it'd gotten that high.

Yeah, I mean, it was astonishing! So after that, they just said... Well, of course, XTC were flying high at that point with Oranges and Lemons, so it was the obvious thing for College: "Let's get Andy [Partridge] in!" So obviously we were put through the wringer. But he saw it as his role to kind of turn it into something that would be more of a battering ram to our usual sort of limp-wristed flailing. [Laughs.]

But unfortunately, in between making the record and it coming out, I changed managers. So I went from a manager who knew what Fontana were trying to do to then being managed by Alan McGee from Creation [Records], who was not at all focused on America at that point. He was only focused on Britain, where he was having the success of Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub. So instead of coming back to America to capitalize on our top-10 performance, we found ourselves playing lots of gigs in Scotland! So we didn't break Britain, and...nothing happened. Which was good to learn early.

But that was kind of disappointing, and that's why we split up for awhile. But the last album that did come out on Creation, which felt like the biggest failure at the time because we thought we were off somewhere, and then suddenly we were off nowhere, that's coming out [as a reissue] next, and it's going to be a triple-vinyl re-release with a live album from that time. And I put together this sort of writing and demos and outtakes thing. I found a recording I made walking on the Malvern Hills, and you've got all the dogs barking and the birds singing, and then I've got all of the cassettes of writing directly into a little cassette pro Walkman. So I've kind of put together this little... Well, it's like a little play, really. And then there's the remaster of the actual album. So it's strange that the album that was such a crushing and depressing defeat at the time is now going to be our Sandanista!

You kind of teased it a bit there, but how was Andy Partridge to work with as a producer?

Uh, well, he's not talking to me because I answered that question honestly once. [Laughs.]

That good, eh?

Well, you know, it was painstaking. Because we weren't really that good at playing in time or in tune or all of that kind of stuff, and instruments had never been set up. So there was a lot of screwdrivers and "you're rushing," and recording sixteen tambourines all playing the same thing. But I think that what he objected to was me saying that he treated us like Todd Rundgren treated [XTC]. I think that was too much for Andy to bear.

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Given what you said a moment ago, it probably won't surprise you to learn that the Lilac Time album that proved hardest to track down was the aforementioned Astronauts.

Yeah, well, I don't know even know how many they pressed, because we split up before it came out. I mean, I was so crushed by... Well, just the disintegration of the band, really. But when you're making And Love for All and you're thinking it's gonna be big, and then not only hadn't it been a hit, but I also felt that it had taken us away from what we were. So with Astronauts, I was, like, "Well, this is what we actually sound like." But then, of course, Alan decided that we should have a remix of "Dreaming," so we had this sort of acoustic album with this banging dance tune in the middle of it! So I just thought, "We're never gonna get anywhere like this." So I went off and made a prog-rock record with Nigel Kennedy immediately afterwards.

A song from which was included on a classic Q Magazine CD.

Yeah, "She Wants to Share Her Magic." And this is great! I'm so pleased to be new to Q at last...because we were never actually in Q! Never an article, anyway. Reviews, yeah. Probably saying, "The 'Kiss Me' hitmaker, lead singer of Duran Duran," putting people off. [Laughs.]

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How many people do you have telling you that they're a fan of "She Loves Me" by way of the Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack?

Well, there's just been that John Hughes compilation, and it wasn't on there. They couldn't find it! I mean, it was so strange, because it was made for the Hughes organization, so for them not to be able to find out who owned it seemed kind of odd. It was just one of those contractual failures. But I think we have found out who owns it now. But certainly there were a lot of people saying, "I only bought it because I thought 'She Loves Me' was gonna be on it!"

On the topic of John Hughes soundtracks, I remember being surprised that you were involved with the Dr. Calculus song for She's Having a Baby.

Yeah, that was... Well, obviously, it was good for Dr. Calculus! [Laughs.] But the funny thing about that was that there was a rap on the original version, and the producer of the film or somebody said, "Rap is just a passing fad, it's not gonna last. Can you take the rap off?" So we did. Because it was no skin off my nose. But that comes quite high on the list of Stupid Things That People Have Told Me to Do.

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All right, I’ve waited long enough to ask the obligatory question about being a founding member of Duran Duran. Was it you and Nick Rhodes who first got together?

No, it was John Taylor. John and I were at art college, and I recognized him because I'd been to see a band he was in called Dada. And the drummer was there, but I knew the drummer was in T.V. Eye and The Prefects. So I went over and said, "What are you doing? Are you in a band?" And he said, "Not at the moment." And I said, "Oh, I play the bass, and I have these songs." So I went over to his parents' house, and we had a little play. And he said, "My friend Nick has just left school..." He was 16, and his father owned a toy shop, so we would rehearse above the toy shop, with all these toys as soundproofing around us.

And we had a little drum machine, so it was very similar, I think, to Echo and the Bunnymen in that sense, and Nick had his first synthesizer. So it was very experimental. And it was 1978, so it was still the punk hangover. But I've always thought that moments like that and grunge, it's, like, "Well, anything is possible!" Of course, it doesn't mean that at all. It just means we want more punk or post-punk or grunge. But I've always thought, "This is it! This is the revolution! All bets are off, we can do whatever we like!" So I was enjoying the arty, esoteric nature of it. And we had this instrumental, and it was just Nick making whizzing sounds and John sort of playing through his flanger or phaser or whatever, and I'd sort of dance around. And I just thought this was amazing, that we were getting away with this sort of weirdness. But, y'know, they wanted to be Duran Duran. So it's a good job I left, because we would've ended up supporting Echo and the Bunnymen!

But you were technically Duran Duran while you were still in the band, right?

Yeah, there was a club in Birmingham called Barbarella's, and the film Barbarella was on the television, so we all watched it, and John came into art college the next day and said, "I know what we should be called: Durand Durand." Because I think it did have Ds on the end. So I went away to the print shop, and there weren't enough Ds to be Durand Durand. So we became Duran Duran! [Laughs] But I only did, like, three or four gigs. It was great fun, and it must be the ten months that I've spoken about more than any other ten months in my life!

Was it enjoyable to revisit your collaboration with Nick as The Devils?

Yes, because we bumped into each other and virtually immediately decided to go back. And it's a shame, because I don't think John was in Duran at that point - that was the point where he'd left for a bit - and it would've been fantastic if it'd been the three of us. But we had a hell of a time, because we just got all of the old equipment and drum machines and just locked ourselves away for a month, pretending it was 1978. And the last record that we allowed into our sphere was...the second or third Talking Heads album. That was kind of our cutoff point. Everything else was, like, John Foxx and Ultravox and The Normal. And we just took ourselves back. And I had lots of old lyrics that were never used, and I dug those out. So it was a fantastic time and incredible fun. But that didn't sell many copies.

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Strangely, though, it was just after that when Robbie Williams came to write what he thought was probably going to be a very depressing folk song, and he saw all the synths—because I'd just finished doing the Devils—and I gave him tape, and he said, "I want to do that! I want to do electro!" So it's funny how things work out. Who would've thought that going back to 1978 with Nick Rhodes would lead to working with someone who was then the biggest star in Britain and Europe and the rest of the world, barring North America?

The majority of my countrymen aside, I read Chris Heath's books about Robbie Williams, so I know a fair amount about his career.

Oh, yes. When the first one [Feel] came out, I said to Chris, "Why do you kind of stop when I turn up?" And he said, "Well, I didn't think the record was going to come out!" [Laughs.] But, of course, with my amazing self-belief—which you obviously have to have in doing this—I couldn't believe that anybody could ever think that it wouldn't come out! But listening to it now... There's hours of weirdness that would put people off of it, I thought..

I've got it. I enjoyed it.

Well, eight million people did! [Laughs.] And it actually sold a million copies in one day worldwide. And I took the call, and it was just, like, "My God, that is..." Because you obviously know that's never going to happen again. Little did I know that it was never going to happen again for virtually anybody, because that was still physical sales, no streaming.

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How was it to collaborate with Robbie as a songwriter?

Well, the first thing whe he came over, we did a few acoustic things, and then he came back the next day and said, "I just want to do electro." So I set up just a very simple sequence. I just turned on the machines and it started doing a very straightforward sequence in E. I didn't even choose a note. That was just what came out. And he sang the first verse of "Sin Sin Sin," with some of the words that remained! So it was incredible. It was just like turning on a tap sometimes. He could just come up with this.

So I thought, "Well, if he can do that with melody and lyrics, what would he be like if he was playing the bass?" Because he's just a hook machine. So "Tripping," which I think was #2 here, that's him playing the bass. That was one of the first bass lines he came up with. And then other things he'd just sit down at the keyboard and mess around a bit, and I'd play the bass. I'd put some drums down, and he'd start to play, and I'd join in, and we'd jam. And that's how we wrote the album. Because he did come up with the great hooks on everything he played. I mean, he called it Intensive Care because I don't think he'd ever been put through so much hell. Because, y'know, Guy [Chambers] probably played all the keyboards on the other records. But it was great fun!

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I still can't believe the story of how you and Stephen Page came to be collaborators. Was it really just him writing you a fan letter?

Yeah! But you could tell there was something about him. The strange thing for Stephen is that he thought he was a skinny British poet, sixteen years old and eight stone. [Laughs.] So what he looked like and who he thought he was were two completely different people, in a way. He thought he was this tortured poet...and he actually was, but he just looked very jovial on the outside! But, yeah, he came over, and he actually stayed in the house where...Oh, well, this was another one of my great ideas for the Lilac Time: I put us in a 14th century farmhouse without a telephone at the same time that Fontana were trying to break us in America, and we'd have to walk across the fields to the phonebox to call Fontana to see how we were getting on or to do anything.

So Stephen came and stayed there, and he couldn't believe it, because we'd smoke pot and then go and play badminton, and he'd have to go and lie down! But he sent me a tape even before Barenaked Ladies, and there was something amusing, yet there was an edge to it. And as soon as we started writing, we wrote "Jane" and "Call and Answer." And we've just written a new album, actually.

Oh, great! Is it going to be released under the Vanity Project moniker again?

I...don't know. [Laughs.] I don't know yet.

Well, whatever it's called, I look forward to hearing it. I've always enjoyed your collaborations.

Yeah, we did that in his basement. That was quite different. But, yeah, there were so many great songs. And working with him... I've got more of a Lou Reed three notes, and he's got this incredible operatic tenor, which... It's very odd to me, to write something that sounds a little bit whimsical and fey, and then you go and see him play it live, and it's this incredible operatic thing. I keep on telling him to sing quieter, but he doesn't listen.

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You also wrote a song with the late, great Terry Hall, one which appeared on his Laugh album.

Well, whenever The Clash came to play in Birmingham, at Barbarella's or wherever, The Specials—who were then called the Coventry Automatics—would turn up supporting them. And, of course, I treated them like any support band. Y'know, "When are they gonna get off?" [Laughs.] "And when can we see The Clash?" And I'd really had enough of "Too Much, Too Young" and their early set. And then they changed their name to The Specials and released it, and we'd still hear them every day over here, on the radio and stuff. But he was from Coventry and I was from Birmingham—you could actually walk it—so we had a similar upbringing and everything.

I can't remember how we actually got in touch with each other. I remember meeting him when he was in a band called The Colourfield. We did a television program together. But then it was so much later—virtually Britpop time, early '90s—and I was living in Camden. But we started having these phone conversations and calling each other, and the calls would go on for a long time. I don't even know that we talked about writing together! But then he said, "Have you got any music?" And I sent him what became "Sonny and His Sister." So we never actually met to write songs. It was a pre-internet collaboration, sending cassettes to each other! Very civilized.

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From the same general era as that Terry Hall song, I was curious about the experience of doing the one-off Me Me Me single, "Hanging Around."

Well, Alex [James of Blur] said, "I've got to do a little bit of film music for Damien Hirst," and we got together quite hung over one Sunday morning, and he taught us the song. It was just, like, a 12-bar. And after we worked out how to count it in, which probably took about 15 minutes... [Laughs.] We started with a drum fill in the end. Nobody counted it in! But I think it was virtually the first take, and I just thought, "Whatever the merits of the song, we've captured something here that's quite lively. We must pursue this!" But unfortunately at that point, I think Damien was going in a different direction...and I think he just hated "Hanging Around"! But the other track, "Hollywood Wives," is actually quite a moving and moody piece of music. But it was only ever going to be one single, that was for sure.

But we made the most of it. We got to #19. We went on Top of the Pops, and we finished playing the song and looked over to the other stage, and there was Suede, actually doubled over laughing at us. I mean, we were quite amusing. We obviously weren't taking ourselves very seriously. But to actually see another band virtually rolling on the floor laughing at one's performance was quite an achievement, I think. And that same day, on that Top of the Pops, Robbie Williams was #2 with his first single. It was a very small village we lived in back then...

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Here's a question from way, way back that I've never known the answer to: why did you start out as Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy?

After the Durans, I had a band called... [Holds up album.] Obviously 5 Believers. Have you seen this?

I have never seen that. Wow...

That's me! Age is a terrible thing, isn't it? [Laughs.] And that's David Kusworth, who went on to be in the Jackobites with Nikki Sudden. So this is what I went off to do after the Durans. But we were a terrible shambles. And this just came out a year or so ago, and it's all from cassettes and stuff. But we were called Obviously 5 Believers, and Bob Lamb couldn't fit it onto a cassette box, so he said, "It's just too long!" But then, of course, Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark came along and proved him wrong! But, of course, they were OMD. We could've been O5B! But it became too much of a shambles.

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The cover art for the Obviously 5 Believers compilation, 'The Hawks'

And, of course, by that point, everybody I knew had been on Top of the Pops, like The Beat and Dexys and the Durans. And I just thought, "What am I gonna do now?" So I thought, "Well, I'll either be an acoustic troubadour called Stephen Hero," which obviously would've been a precusors to The Lilac Time. But because I had that song "Kiss Me," which was the first song I wrote after I left the Durans, I thought, "Oh, I'll do electro!"

So I went into town—it was just before Christmas 1981, I suppose—and the first person I bump into is [John] Mulligan, from a band called Fashion. They'd just signed to Arista, and they had lots of synths and new equipment, and he said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm either gonna be an acoustic troubadour called Stephen Hero or..." And he said, "I can help you with 'or.'" [Laughs.] So we went off. And the interesting thing about "Kiss Me" was that it's Stoker [Growcott] from Dexys and Dik Daviss from Fashion, and they're playing to a click track, but they're playing live. And Dik is playing a Simmons kit, and Stoker's playing an acoustic kit, and they did it together, unedited. So that's why it's kind of got a strange life to it. But then the rest of it, obviously, is just synth. But it's got this strange driving acousticness which was very unusual, and it's such a shame that we never made any other records.

We should've made an album! I've no idea why we didn't. But that was the thing about Birmingham back then: everybody was stoned, and there weren't any grownups. If there'd been a grownup in the room, they'd've said, "You've just made 'Kiss Me,' at least do another one, for God's sake...'" But we didn't. But because there was four us, we thought, "Let's call ourselves something." And I thought, "Well, Tin Tin, we can fit that onto a cassette box." And it was that simple, really. Little did I know that, because Dik and Mulligan were signed to Arista and Stoker was signed to WEA because of being in The Bureau after Dexys, I actually became Tin Tin...and people still call me that!

Often in the opening paragraph.

Yes. [Sighs.] "'Kiss Me' hitmaker..."

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Looking back at the Lilac Time catalog, obviously some of the later albums were underheard, but is there one that you consider to be the most underrated of the bunch?

Well, you know, the whole thing about the Lilac Time for me is trying to get people to take me as seriously as I take myself. [Laughs.] I don't know. I'm putting together a 20-CD career retrospective at the moment, and...what you usually do is just put the albums in the box and you just release it. But I've given myself this virtually impossible task of making all the CDs completely new. So the first CD is the first couple of albums and singles, so I'm making a CD out of that. And then there's the Lilac Time. But there's going to be a live album and BBC sessions and unreleased material. There's actually a CD of 12" mixes which I will never listen to, so I think somebody else is gonna have to put that one together!

So it's a huge thing, but it's kind of like having an exhibition, isn't it? Like an artist, getting everything together. So I'm kind of enjoying it, even though it's so much work. But when you look at it, there's so much of it that's... Well, not underrated, but just so much that nobody's heard!

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So what are the chances of you getting over to the States anytime soon?

Well, I'd love to. Do you have any floor space? [Laughs.]

I could probably move some books around. Seriously, though, there's definitely a market for house concerts if you were of a mind to give it a go.

Yeah, I follow Simon Joyner, and it's appealing, but...I live in Cornwall now, at the very southwest of Britain. Well, they don't call it Britain here. Cornwall is a separate country. [Laughs.] But I get as far as Devon and turn back! It's such a long way to anywhere. Also, my wife has had Lyme Disease for four years. It's just about getting a bit better. Yesterday was the first time we saw it turn the corner a little bit. It's a terrible disease. But there's lots of illnesses like this, with long COVID and such. But that's part of the reason why I've been here. Because a lot of what the Lilac Time is now is us singing together. You know, the harmony of the two of us. I can't imagine doing it by myself.

Which reminds me that I was curious about the whole experience you and Nick [Duffy] working together for all this time. Is there ever any sibling squabbling, or have you just managed to make it work?

We make it work because I left him do whatever he wants to do. [Laughs.] Because I figure that that's what the Lilac Time is. Because none of his instruments seem to stay in tune for very long, and he's got the craziest collection of banjos known to man. None of them sound like banjos, and none of them stay in tune. I'd gotten dictatorial the first time 'round, and it didn't get us anywhere, so now I just think we've just got to be who we are. And, of course, at the moment we've got Ben Peeler playing with us, and what he adds to it is incredible.

Out of curiosity, what was behind the release of Sapphire Stylus? As far as I know, it's the only album where it's credited to Nick Duffy and the Lilac Time.

We're still trying to sell that, if you could put in a good word for it. [Laughs.]

Actually, I wasn't even aware of it until I found it on Bandcamp, so I'll definitely include that link.

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Well, for some reason I called a couple of records "Stephen Duffy and the Lilac Time," and the idea was to do Nick Duffy and the Lilac Time, Claire Duffy and the Lilac Time... We'd all do one. Because I'd just been away selling all those records with Robbie, and when I got back, the business had completely changed. Streaming had taken off, and...it just wasn't there anymore. And it was great that I found that out so quickly, because I came back and we did Runout Groove, and we did some gigs, and I recorded them on ProTools and I filmed them. I don't know who I thought I was. [Laughs.] But luckily we sold, like, 500 records, and I thought, "I'd better go easy on burning through the money, because there certainly isn't an audience anymore!" I mean, gradually we've got it back. But Nick's just an incredible musician. Did you hear his record We Are Muffy?

I haven't. In fact, that Bandcamp page introduced me to just how much solo material he's released.

Well, We Are Muffy is particularly interesting. Because I always say that the starting point of the band was when we went to see the Incredible String Band when I was 9 and he was 12 or something, and seeing something that magical at that point... It was transformative. And I always wished that I could be like that, but he actually naturally does have Incredible String Band way of playing, whereas I keep on falling back into more traditional tropes.

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Well, I think I've kept you long enough. Certainly I've dragged you through enough of your back catalog.

If you think of anything else... There must be something we've forgotten! [Laughs.] Interviews for me these days, it's kind of like raking up the leaves in a windstorm. You think, "Okay, I've got this little pile together," and then suddenly I'm talking about working with Booker T. Jones and him taking me to hear the string overdubs on a Willie Nelson album.

I mean, that does sound like a great story that I feel as though I should've asked about...

[Laughs.] It was the first time I'd met Booker, because we did some songs which were on my first album, and we actually wrote some songs together. But we had lunch to see if we got on, and he said, "I'm going to Olympic. Do you want to come down?" And I went down, and there was an orchestra. And I think it was the second Willie Nelson album he did of covers [Without a Song], I didn't actually meet Willie, but I certainly had my mind blown by all of this amazing string sound in Olympic and...it was as if the Stones had just walked out. It looked absolutely fantastic.

Is there anyone you've met where you had to fight from going full fanboy?

I spent a lot of time running away from David Bowie. [Laughs.] But, you know, musicians are all the same, really. My friend Nick Laird-Clowes from The Dream Academy, we went out to dinner once, and David Gilmour came into the same restaurant, and we ended up going back to his [place], and he played a mix tape that he'd made, and there was a Syd Barrett song on it. And you could tell that he was amazed that he'd produced it! That's what musicians are like. Well, the good ones, anyway. That incredible enthusiasm for the music just remains.


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