Credit: The Lilac Time
"The Ups and Downs", Stephen "Tintin" Duffy, 1985
"Designer Beatnik", Dr Calculus MDMA, 1986
"Because we Love You", Stephen Duffy, 1986
"The Lilac Time", The Lilac Time, 1987
"Paradise Circus", The Lilac Time, 1989
"& Love For All", The Lilac Time, 1990
"Astronauts", The Lilac Time, 1991
"Music In Colors", Stephen Duffy (with Nigel Kennedy), 1993
"Duffy", Stephen Duffy, 1995
"I Love My Friends", Stephen Duffy, 1998
"Looking For A Day In The Night", The Lilac Time, 1999
"lilac6", The Lilac Time, 2001
"Dark Circles", The Devils (with Nick Rhodes), 2002
"Keep Going", Stephen Duffy and The Lilac Time, 2003
"Runout Groove", Stephen Duffy and The Lilac Time, 2008
"No Sad Songs", The Lilac Time, 2015
"Prussian Blue" (release July 31st, 2015)
2014 may not have been a vintage year, but it had its moments. Like the time Stephen Duffy decided that putting out records was still worth it after all. So he shaved off his beard, sent the masters over to Tapete Records, and once again The Lilac Time was ready to face the world.
“No Sad Songs”, the Lilac Time's 9th album in three decades of being respected, admired but never quite rewarded at the folky fringes of the pop world, was finally released this April, 8 years after its portentously titled predecessor “The Runout Groove”. If the Guardian only recently called Stephen Duffy “the unluckiest man in pop history who hasn’t actually died”, “No Sad Songs” would suggest the very opposite. It is a celebration of the happiness that Duffy has found in out-of-the-way Cornwall with his wife Claire and their daughter, his old Lilac Time companion and brother Nick living nearby.
Thanks to its contagious spirit, in the few months since its release, the album has already proved something of a life-saver, its gentlest of battle cries “Bohemia Forever!” ringing out in the face of pettiness and adversity (let's not mention that election). “I didn't want, if I got knocked down by a bus, that people say, 'Well, he had a couple of jolly songs when he was young, but then he released all those incredibly gloomy records and died',” says Duffy, “It is a positive record and a poetic record in a time when people need to find the poetry in life again, and not be afraid to call it poetry.”
This mission in mind, it makes a lot of sense to single out a beautiful new mix of the album track “Prussian Blue” for this upcoming twelve-inch EP. Ushered in by some previously unheard vocal harmonies from Claire Duffy, the song perfectly encapsulates The Lilac Time's undying utopian ideal of a world where a pop record will take the listener as seriously as a novel or a poem would. Where songs begin with couplets such as “Diaphanous friendships/In transparent splendour/Icons in infancy”, alluding to “our lilac emperor” (Claire and Stephen's little daughter) on the way to a chorus that must have caused plenty of discussions around Lilac Time aficionados' kitchen tables (“Yes, but Derek Jarman didn't actually hand-tint 'Blue', did he?”).
On three immaculately recorded live tracks, featuring all four Duffys (Stephen, Claire, Nick and, no relation, Melvin) as well as bassist Micky Harris and drummer Michael Giri, we are taken right back to the beginning of The Lilac Time with a gorgeous rendition of the classic “The Road to Happiness” from their 1987 debut.
Side B starts with “A Day in the Night”, the title track of their 1999 album which back then marked the end of another eight years' hiatus for the band. The extended coda over a loop of an Indian woman speaking, featuring more prominently here than on the studio version, explores exciting psychedelic tendencies previously only hinted at. This is The Lilac Time for Heads.
To round it all off, “The Lost Girl in the Midnight Sun” (from 1989's “Paradise Circus”) effortlessly blends the bouncy bluegrass groove of the original with the most light-footed of Bo Diddley beats.
Even by their appreciators, The Lilac Time have not usually been credited as a mind-expanding, barn-storming live act. Time for another reassessment then.
To coincide with this release, The Lilac Time are going to play their first live show in seven years, their fifth in total this century, at this year's Port Eliot festival in their elected home county of Cornwall on August 1st.
"No Sad Songs" (release date: April 3rd, 2015) – press release english
A prose-poem, which Stephen Duffy composed especially for the release of the new and ninth album by his band The Lilac Time, contains the lines: "I was a flower child, now I'm a flower man."
It took a long time before one became the other. When viewed from space, Stephen Duffy's path may well appear labyrinthine, filled with loopholes and trapdoors. Yet a sober perspective reveals path of a musician and poet who is independent in the very best sense of the word.
Nevertheless: A lot has happened since the young boy kept his Praktica camera trained on street scenes in the Birmingham of the Cold War. Back in 1979, an 18-year-old Stephen Duffy was founding member of Duran Duran. Yet he did not board the train to superstardom. The visionary instinct of the young artist had other intentions. He might have had Bob Dylan, Nick Drake and The Incredible String Band in mind, but he himself was not allergic to success. He quickly understood that a songwriter with an acoustic guitar had little access to the merry-go-round of the charts in the early eighties. Instead, he emerged as Stephen "Tintin" Duffy, trading his guitar for a synthesizer and making chic, clever and sparkling POP music in capital letters. The young man with the melancholy expression even landed two international hits with Kiss Me and Icing on the Cake. But before the record company was able to put their plan into action and turn Duffy into the next Rick Astley, he took flight. He mothballed his pop persona and founded a band with his brother: The Lilac Time.
On their debut in 1987, they made what Stephen had long dreamed of: Flower Music. The single Return to Yesterday conjured visions of Simon & Garfunkel. In an era of slapping basses and smacking snares, the instrumentation was exceptional: mainly acoustic, with guitars, banjos, fiddles and accordions, all beautifully arranged by Nick Duffy, who was also responsible for composing the instrumental pieces on the record.
Keep in mind that the New Acoustic Movement, which brought forth bands like Belle And Sebastian and The Kings Of Convenience, was still more than ten years away. Often in diametrical contrast with this melancholy folk pop were Stephen Duffy's lyrics, with descriptions of suburban tristesse placed seamlessly alongside biting commentary on the issues of the times and courageous reports of the singer's moments of excess and aventures amoureuses.
Unfortunately, the studio marathons of their fourth album led to tensions within the band, and they dissolved as a result. Stephen Duffy continued to make great records, which were often shamefully ignored by the mainstream, such as Music In Colors, which was created in collaboration with the star violinist Nigel Kennedy. But whenever he was accused of apparent failures by the likes of the sardonic British press, he countered with the certainty of a free spirit: He felt obliged to make his music, not for a quick buck, but only for the sake of his ideas. Poetry, not Logic!
Thus in 1999 came the resurrection of The Lilac Time – with brother Nick as well as new members in Claire Worrall and Melvin Duffy – and the album Looking for a Day in the Night, a masterpiece of musical restraint, light and clear, almost white.
Robbie Williams also took note of this album. He invited Stephen to a songwriting session, which led to Duffy's first Number One single and finally in 2004 an entire Williams album with Duffy as co-writer and producer.
Then Stephen once again focused on his own projects: 2008 saw the original line up with Claire and Melvin play the Green Man festival and the release of Runout Groove. 2009 saw Memory & Desire: 30 Years in the Wilderness with Stephen Duffy & The Lilac Time, a documentary shown at film festivals around the world and an accompanying double best of anthology.
The Lilac Time waited four years to begin work on No Sad Songs. Stephen, Nick and Claire, who had also since become a Duffy, moved to Cornwall and recorded twenty songs, ten of which appear on the album. Their hypnotic effect is the direct result of the time and the love that was put into this music. It begins with slow-motion guitar picking, then a cautious, yet eternally reverberating beat of a tympani, strings appear, then Stephen Duffy sings more purely and meaningfully than ever before: "Have I told you that I love you" an entire five times in a row before adding almost silently… "today". And here, in the very first song, The First Song Of Spring, the mission of The Lilac Time comes to light. The title says it all: No Sad Songs. Enough cynicism. The angels have fallen, and have landed softly. Yet neither the music nor the lyrics have anything to do with smug sentimentality. The demons are there to be confronted. "There is no closure, no therapy, there's only the daily fight to be free" is the message in A Cat on the Long Wave. Slow down, arrive, but never cease to find new beginnings. Real life is a dream – one that is in at least 35mm and widescreen. So incredibly powerful and vast, yet light and transparent is the sound of this record.
In The Western Greyhound, Stephen Duffy sings, "I saw a sign in heaven: Bohemia Forever". Here they are. The flower people. And perhaps the best version of themselves, with their best album!
Francesco Wilking – Berlin, 2015