Kate Ceberano, this is how to Advance Australia

Posted on 3rd October 2015

ceberanoHear Jeff Duff singing the Australian national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, here:

Jeff Duff sings Advance Australia Fair

This is off the Wacky Live album by Ed Wilson’s Big Band featuring Jeff Duff.

This comes up for blogging given Ms Ceberano’s slip-up in delivering the anthem at the AFL Grand Final on this day, e.g., as reported here on news.com.au: Kate Ceberano messes up the Australian national anthem at the AFL grand final.

Duffo’s version is a cake of national enthusiasm, truly Australian, in its glam, bombastic way to mere sincerity.

See band-master Ed Wilson’s site for more samples of Duff and the Big Band.

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Duffo’s “Album of the Ear”

Posted on 3rd September 2015

NME_adMass aural infection was spawned by Jeff Duff across Punk UK in 1979. That was with his quasi-eponymous debut solo album Duffo on the Beggar’s Banquet label.

Here’s some stuff showing how Duff’s first solo album was marketed at the time. This is a half-page newspaper ad—in, viz., New Musical Express, of March 17, 1979, page 49, just under a review by Steve Clarke of the album “Cool for Cats” by UK-Squeeze.

So, actually, Beggars’ Banquet has nix directly to do with the late ’68 “return to roots” Decca album from The Rolling Stones.

The Beggars’ Banquet album on EBay: The CD is going from $AU 27.44 to $AU 68.52; see also $AU 27.86 and $AU 50.93.

We also herewith correct/expand the WankaPedia Beggar’s Banquet article as follows (in gold bold):

Beggars Banquet is an English independent record label that began as a chain of record shops owned by Martin Mills and Nick Austin, and is part of the Beggars Group of labels. In 1977, spurred by the prevailing DIY aesthetics of the British punk rock movement (then at the height of its popularity), they decided to join the fray as an independent label and release records under the Beggars Banquet imprint.[1] The first band on the label was English punk group The Lurkers; the first ever release on the label was The Lurkers’ classic 7″ single “Shadow”/”Love Story”.[1] They also released the first solo “Duffo” album from Australian big-band vocalist Jeff Duff, starting with the single “Give Me Back Me Brain”, as performed live by Duffo on The Old Grey Whistle Test, The Russell Harty Show on ITV, and German-TV’s Rock-Pop. Later in the decade and into the early 1980s, hits with Tubeway Army and Gary Numan secured the label’s future.[1] They have since released music by Biffy Clyro, Buffalo Tom, The Charlatans, The Cult, The Go-Betweens, The National and Tindersticks.

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Rock Brain of the Universe Extolls Jeff Duff

Posted on 23rd July 2015

Thrice-crowned Rock Brain of the Universe, Australian journalist  Glenn A. Baker, has recouped his often-quoted observation that Jeff Duff, had he been born in the northern hemisphere, would long have been cushy, in popular minds, alongside Bowie, Reed and Iggy Pop — noting "the presence about him … the astonishing voice … the capacity to fit into any environment …"

That’s in this exciting and informative vid with generous quotes from the Southern MainMan Himself [3 views as of posting]

For more about Glenn A. Baker, see bios at wikipedia and Penguin.

Actually, listening to Duff here, we hear the limits of Baker’s thesis. Duff admits he was “too way out there” even for British audiences. Yep, the data available to the Institute for Duffological Studies do not exactly gel with GAB’s proposition that Duff, alienated from Oz, found a perfect home in punk UK. Duff was gob-smacked and punched-up at his UK first gigs, abandoned by execs at a publicity stunt, and encountered groaned out enthusiasms from UK TV presenters even as he offered them masterful live performances—to(Russell Harty on ITV, and Annie Nightingale on the Old Grey Whistle Test). Maybe this is real punk-type celebrity; Duff still hotted up the charts, so much so that he’s become one of the elect "UK New Wave Greats", in line with Elvis Costello, The Jam, and Joy Division. But this historical status wasn’t led by bells and whistles, Rudolph and chorus-girls. It came by mighty slogs, against the odds—slogs and odds perhaps no less trying than what JD endured in Oz, after all.

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Golden Eve: The Premier Bowie Is @ ACMI Gig

Posted on 12th July 2015

Jeff Duff talk/performance on BOWIE IS opening night

July 16, 2015; followed by the Bowie Late Nights and Symposia @ ACMI:

From ACMI:

Step back in time with glam rock legend  Jeff Duff  as he explores his prolific music career and the impact of Bowie on his work and life.

From the glitz’n’glam of his Ziggy performances, to his trips beyond the stardust with his BOWIE Unzipped shows, Duff will take audiences on a journey behind the scenes of his onstage engagement with Bowie and his music, and lifts the glitter-spattered lid on a flamboyant career that spans the 1970s to today.

A very special guest of the program, the legendary Australian rocker kicks off the Strange Fascinations series, and will perform an intimate set of songs at the conclusion of the talk.

Jeff Duff and Glenn Rhodes: opening night: Bowie IS @ ACMI

Jeff Duff and Glenn Rhodes: opening night: Bowie IS @ ACMI

JD informs us, as follows, re the golden eve he performed with Rhodes on the grand:

my conversation/performance was very professionally organised. Jess McGuire interviewed amidst a steady flow of Duffo slides and anecdotes. My performance was with Glenn on grand piano on the main stage with a giant screen projecting duffo images. As it was opening night it was a wonderful audience and it sounded beautiful. I return in Sept to perform more at the exhibition.

Nobody can touch him, really, as far as the different styles of music that he’s attacked and developed. And also, not only that, but his incredible style. I think he’s without a doubt the coolest rock star on the planet.Jeff Duff re David Bowie on ABC Melbourne radio Nov 2010

jeff duff, david bowie

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MainMan: Jeff Duff in the Sydney Morning Herald, July 2015

Posted on 6th July 2015

2015_07_03_smh_! Article on Duff by Lawrence Money, July 3, 2015, in the Sydney Morning Herald — with lots of biographical detail, including information about the autohagiography.

For more of Duff in the mainstream papers, see here — including articles about Duff in the Sun Herald, the Daily Telegraph, and the Australian Women’s Weekly … and, indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald in 2004.

Article on Jeff Duff in the Sydney Morning Herald 2004

Article on Jeff Duff in the Sydney Morning Herald 2004

And seeing you’ve got your glass onions on, try also eye-balling this 1st Feb 2015 interview with Duff in the Gay News Network.

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Duff @ FOV: Tasmania’s Festival of Voices [Preview and Review]

Posted on 26th June 2015



 Jeff Duff  brings the songs of  David Bowie  to the Tasmanian Festival of Voices on the evenings of Friday 3 and Saturday 4 July. That’s Bowie × Duff @ the Hobart City Hall.

See here for the Bowie Unzipped Toolbox and other blogposts about the Duff/Bowie shows, like at the Sydney Opera House in 2014 and 2013 and 2012.

hobart_july_weather Going by the weather forecast for Hobart, it will be interesting to see how much of a Bowie Unzipped show this one will be.

From The Mercury about the Festival:

"SINGERS from across Australia will descend on Hobart this week for this year’s Festival of Voices … More than 2000 singers – the most in the event’s 11-year history – are coming to participate in the festival, about two-thirds of them from interstate. … About 12,500 tickets were purchased for Festival of Voices performances last year and organisers are hoping to increase that figure to 16,000 — including more than 1200 to interstate buyers — this year, with a 114 per cent increase in ticket pre-sales so far." … read more

Mind you, this time in 2014, the same paper reported that 25,000 tickets were expected to be sold for the last Festival. Hopefully this year’s estimate is more reliable; with Duff for sure.

From the venue:

"Hobart City Hall is being transformed for the Festival of Voices: "into a musical Luna Park … with cocktail and lounge areas, candlelight and cabaret performances, … a place of temptation for the senses." … read more

hobart_city_hallThe ABC also has this recent article about the history of the venue:

"From Dame Nellie Melba to AC/DC, a 1954 state reception for Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as trade fairs, exhibitions, political and religious gatherings, dances and balls, Monday night wrestling, school speech and social nights, the City Hall has welcomed all." read more


Exciting from the start what with the Strauss “2001 theme” reverberating through the hall, from ground zero, crowned, creamed and topped-off by Duff’s backstage baritone spruiking up the spectable to come. Glenn Rhodes, Jess Ciampa, and Jak Housden emerged in genuine NASA outfits, taking up positions at keys/bass, drums/percussion, guitar (respectively) … followed by Duff in golden angel-wings, intoning that revolutionary “la, la, la, la” of Bowie’s Starman. Then followed Ziggy Stardust, … China Girl

Duff, Rhodes, Ciampa and Housden performed some songs that are not always a common part of their Bowie Unzipped repertoire; or did them in previously unfigured ways (and way outs). Here are recordings from one or another of the 2 nights off my phone of the same: go your graphic equalizer.

Modern Love


Walk on the wildside

All the young dudes

Ziggy Stardust

These are just samples, tasters to keep us getting hither and smacked to the next Duff-does-Bowie gig.

And as for the “Festival”: City Hall was spectacular at least as it was magically caught in Duff’s earrings; there was nothing of the promised “Luna Park” of sensory smorgasbord that FOV’s marketeers spun about in its invitations. Against the often undistracting back-drops (a flat wash of purple here, then one of green, and so on, occasionally dispersed with bubbles and streaks), Duff’s two little earrings “blitzed” out like fire-flies, beguilingly sparked anew with his every twitch, encasing his pretty head with every idea we might yet know of Cleopatra and Elizabeth Taylor.

And as for the audience — All quickly warmed to Duff’s characteristic breaking of the 4th wall, through his ambient patter, and his frequent ambles down-stage and beyond, his conversational piques and prods. How’s this for a line?— "Does David Bowie get you aroused?" [‘yay,’ all scream]—then Duff asks “"How about the ladies?" (muted guffaws follow). On the first night, pitched royally front and centre in the auditorium, was the excellent presence of the late Premier of Tasmania, Lara Giddings, with the now Federal Labor senator Lisa Singh, also at table. Plain courtesy and discretion prevent us from reporting what exactly was the answer to Duff’s question, from this table, as he ad libbed to Young Americans, "Do you remember … your Julia Gillard …?".

On the second night, Duff got up three likely “Bopsy Twins” to perform the “Do-to-do” parts, with dance steps, throughout his rocky and then funky rendition of "Walk on the wildside.". So the crowd was lock-stepped with him all the way. Duff even cut through the 5th wall at the end of the 2nd night by getting the dame who called for “lights out” to come out and report why: a curfew, she alleged, was nigh. Duff carried on, obligingly, with a short but swelling song (“All the young dudes”), and no encore.

The night before, someone (who?) almost got JD excited enough to do “MacArthur Park” for an encore. But the crowd here in Hobart ,as elsewhere, are rusted on glam and dance fans, calling out for “Jean Genie” to the end, and giving much less than thunderous applause to the operatic arts of Duff’s “Wild is the wind” (rarely performed by Bowie himself). So, no post-“Let’s Dance” Bowie here, no “I’m Afraid of Americans,” “I’m Deranged,” “The Dreamers,” “Sunday,” “Where are we now?,” or so on. That’s all probably a whole ‘nother show worth. “Bowie Intime,” perhaps.

Bowie’s songs are more important than Duff’s own? That’s something JD announced, amid his patter. Explore. Everything Duff’s composed, from "Logical Questions to God" to "Mumbo Jumbo" would set free-men building coliseums across the Milky Way, all in the hope and herald of Duff’s showing, while saints come long and hard, cathedral-high, in photons and alabaster, delirious like automatons, into aeons of Renaissance, blinding all eternities in showers of Enlightenment.

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Duffo 4 Eurovision 2015

Posted on 14th February 2015


The Daily Telegraph reports:
"Australians responded with bewilderment and delight at a decision to allow them to compete in this year’s Eurovision Song …Contest – and immediately began pondering efforts to enlist Kylie Minogue or Midnight Oil. For some Neighbours fans, news that Jason Donovan ruled himself out will be disappointing, but the list below suggests there are a few strong contenders …"

Strong contenders and nonsense aside!
Duffo rules!
Specifically, c’mon, Daily Tonygraph, err, Telegraph, in response to your list of Euro-contenders, we at the Duffological Institute contend …


Samantha Jade

Were we internet trolls, we might remark about some "harridan" channelling Charlie’s Angels, and music-vids like screen-tests for Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde. BYO paper-clips and tooth-picks for fun. But there’s just a little, more basic problem, besides: Who is she? And so we need …


Kylie Minogue

If ever or ever there was a Judy Garland without herself, there is Kylie Minogue. And that covers the question of talent. If every generation has a voice (Sinatra, Presley, Lou Reed …), Minogue is there but at the same time isn’t, in her quizzical (Bowie-esque?) way. And humans like to show they’re not robots when they vote. And so we need …



Is this the swan who lost her wings while fixing her face to Graham Norton’s back-wall? Is this the diva who struggles to pronounce “chandelier” for beauty’s sake? Her Eurovision calling cards state that she’s “collaborated with Rihanna, Beyonce, Eminem & Katy Perry,” and proffer “her fondness for wigs & dance routines.” What, not Bowie, Warhol, and …


Tina Arena

Ms Arena’s bilingualism is certainly a strong point, but Duff, too, has long been cross-over cultural, even more than any other Australian artist. Who’s the only Australian artist among the UK “New Wave Greats” on Repertoire’s 2-CD compilation album of the same name? Who else in England topped the Argentine charts at the height of the Falklands War (with his “Walk on the wildside” – filmed with Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” make-up artist)? And Duff was already TV-smart as a 17-y/o on the Paul Hogan Show, still topping youtube lists. So the answer we’re searching for is …


Olivia Newton-John

If ONJ promises to reprise “Xanadu,” maybe. If she does it in Bob Downe style, certainly. But that’s not gonna happen. No, she’s a rainbow wide and long, and belongs with the immortals. She’d have to come down from Mount Olympus to pull this one off, between drinking nectar with the gods, to sing a fanciful song of pleasure, Athena and Diana for critics. No, “She startles like a botanist finding a rare flower,” is the best they’d admit, the bitches.

Who else, then, instead? It’s only, surely … Midnight Oil/Peter Garrett. Hunh? Go

Duffo_Jeff_Duff_2015_170wJeff Duff.

Dreaming on, imagine seeing Duff live, all over Euro, as in …

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New wave greats 1976 – 1983

Posted on 2nd January 2015

New Wave GreatsWho‘s the one and only Australian artist featured in this 2-disc, 36-track UK compilation of ground-breaking new wave musicians of the punk/post-punk eras?

The Birthday Party? The Go-Betweens? The Saints? Not a whisp or whisker of them. C’mon, there’s Icehouse, Split Enz, or The Church, for sure …

No. Instead, among artists like Elvis Costello, Madness, XTC, The Jam, The Stranglers, Joy Division, Psychedlic Furs, Tubeway Army … there is only one Australian artist, and that is: Jeff Duff.

That’s with a pressing of his single: “Give me back me brain.” As performed live all over Euro music channels at the time, including on the Old Grey Whistle Test

~ the Russell Harty Show:

~ and this German show:

Duff is also one of the select half-dozen or so solo artists who cut it as a New Wave Great on this 1999 compilation album. There’s Costello, for sure, and Jona Lewie, Graham Parker, Lene Lovich, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, John Cooper Clarke, Ian Dury, Ivor Biggun (!?), … & Duffo.

More about this classic album on this site here.

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Duff in Bowie Unzipped travels far in December

Posted on 2nd December 2014

lizottes_newcastle_tableDuff’s popular Bowie Unzipped show is travelling this December, firstly:

Tickets are selling fast, it seems, as all the red-spots in this latest booking plan for the Newcastle show indicate.

For reviews about Duff’s Bowie, Ziggy and other live shows, see this site here.

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Amazing grace

Posted on 29th November 2014

Returning from his Mullumbimby glory, then a Kings Cross street festival and a gala event at Sydney’s State Theatre, Jeff Duff sung "Amazing Grace" at a funeral of Terry Halliday, Friday, 28 November – which comments on his Facebook, with over 200 likes, report with great gratitude.

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We’re on the road to Duffo

Posted on 18th November 2014
Mullumbimby, that is

Mullumbimby, that is

The Duffo-pilgrimage of 2014 continues — now by way of a long road to Mullumbimby, courtesy and in the high company of fellow Duffophile Antonionio (I know how to spell his name, I just don’t know when to stop). Hope to document this travelling as it goes, and also to be so bold as to take post-worthy pics of the performances. The opening night has already sold out (but we’ll be there), and then there are afternoon gigs day-by-day (checking in). Potential plus! Duff is appearing in Kings Cross later on the same weekend, and then at the Rock Opera night at the State Theatre – from wearing flowers in his hair, to dodging king-hits, and then frocking up for something truly regal, all in a blink of days. Unless Antonionio is good for whipping, I don’t think we can follow Duffo all the way from Mullo back to Sydney so swiftly. But plenty of blinding spells to be reported soon enough and nevertheless, via this channel of Duffophilia.

So Jeff Duff played the Civic Hall on its opening nite, on a fly-in. A German lady I met, Duffo-dumb till then, thought he was on cookies! But she also said he struck her as like broaching the line between genius and madness, in league with “David Bowie” and “Kate Bush”. Well, I rose up to the challenge of discussing this stuff, slipped verbally up and down here and there … and that’s enough of that night.

Then there was the Poinciana Café the following night. I didn’t exactly shadow Duffo but kept somehow in his wake as he, pre-performance, ordered a vego meal. I was, as a matter of fact, on the look-out for the same. That’s how I’d just excused myself, for hunger’s sake, from the German lady of the previous night, who was there again at this gig. But, all feeding and gabbing aside, Duff was soon up on stage—only to be attacked by Xmas beetles from all sides. Glenn Rhodes (who had just improvised some legs for his keys, so prepared the venue was …) later remarked that they performed like a punk band that whole night long, as they batted away this plague. It was a distressing debacle. My meal arrived with a beetle upon it. Mullumbimby pavements were absolutely caked with Xmas beetle. Vegans filled the nut-house. Duff and Rhodes championed on.

The highlight was the St. Martin’s Hall gig the next day. There the masses fully thronged the pulpits. And Duff and Rhodes reached deep down into their whole armamentarium of sound to deliver potent renditions of “Yesterday,” “Walking’ in Memphis,” “My baby just cares for me,” among others, including a swag of Bowie, in the hour. Rhodes played with mesmeric power throughout, surprising with his every harmonic choice, and his basic legerdemain. He’s truly the pianist to Duff as Mike Garson is to Bowie. As he explained later, his wonderful arrangement of “Walk on the wildside” works by him taking the minor chords to each of the major chords in Duff’s vocal lines. It makes for a bold and novel, arousing working of the song. How the crowds flocked to Duff and Rhodes after this performance, after they marvelled in applause to each and every song.

Here’s a tube, courtesy of Anthony, featuring Duff on concentrated, sublime vocals, and Rhodes in bar-by-bar wonders referencing just about every jazz style—absolute mainmen of keys and cords (folds of membranous tissue which project inwards from the sides of the larynx to form a slit across the glottis in the throat, and whose edges vibrate in the airstream to produce the voice):

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Jeff Duff Trio spring into jazz

Posted on 4th November 2014

Duff performed at Milson’s Park, Kirribilli, this last Sunday (2 Nov 2014). Thanks to the man at another park (one I first found myself at) who promptly Googled me to the proper place. Duff’s voice piped its serpentine way to my ears over the suburbs, as I scaled, lunged and hurtled my way there, to land at the feet of his performance, eventually, on the grass.

This was the “Spring into Jazz” event organised by North Sydney Council, with the Jeff Duff Trio on show — that’s Duff, Glenn Rhodes, and Jess Ciampa. Glenn Rhodes is known to the Duffophile as a co-composer of Jeanne d’arc on Duff’s Alone and Paranoid album, as a back-up vocalist on the Ground Control to Major Tom album, and as seen on The Midday Show sharing the vocal to Bowie’s Sorrow. They did that again as an encore to this "on the green" show. Jess Ciampa was a percussionist on the Lost in the Stars album. But up to then …

There was Duff taking a seat on the down-stage bench alongside a lady with long black hair and eyes behind shades for him to sing Young Americans to. And Duff wandering all about the crowd, so way down into the throng that he even heard a delay between his patter and its pick-up, and Rhodes had to ask Duffo "Which suburb are you in?" There were uncontrolled children let loose to play with Duff’s percussion instruments, and even a vino offered to quench him (no, his herbal tea sufficed). There was also Walk on the wildside in a breezy jazzy canter, and Duff’s own Miles Davis rap re-configured into the Marvin Gaye rap; see this tube to relive that song at the Thredbo Jazz Festval, 2013 — also with Rhodes on keys. Another highlight: Does anybody really know what time it is?, taking the Duffophile back to HMV’s ’70s.

Many folk reached for their cameras to take in a visual swig of Duff — of his many photogenic-plus-musical moments throughout this sunny gig. This Duffophile is always too shy or high on the senses to do the same. Just go searching facebook for such stuff. Maybe searching for “Sydney at its best on a Sunday in Spring” will reveal and revive all for you about this sunny and especially magical Duff gig.

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Unzipped at The Vanguard

Posted on 1st November 2014

Managed a trip to The Vanguard this Thursday (30 Oct 2014) to see Duff doing Bowie Unzipped. And unzipped he literally was, in the second set, from his cat-suit down to the barest leotard. Duff kept the already enthusiastic audience in high gear throughout the night, what with his canters through the crowd, letting himself loose for celebrity selfies, and chiding us all into loud chorusses and dance; even getting friend Anthony to repeat a solo of the "Ain’t there one damn song" line. The following Friday night gig was apparently packed out, unlike this one, but Duff certainly didn’t just phone it in for this cheery Thursday throng.

JD at the Vanguard 31 Oct 2014 - via his facebook

JD at the Vanguard 31 Oct 2014 – via his facebook

And how many versions of Walk on the wildside can Duff do? Each one as mesmerising as the next. That’s when one chick, dame, lass, lady and gal after the other took to the floor for a dance. Barnesy would have had his hands full at that point; most Oz-rockers would have lept from the stage and reached for their pens and calling cards. Duffo kept the musical moment going, treating the crowd not with the usual flotsam and jetsom but a whole Titanic performance, all night long for all.

And it was great to meet a fellow Duffophile behind me, as I flashed Jeff Duff’s ’70s Easy Street performance about on my phone for any bod to see … (Thanks, lady, for the Duffo-chat.)

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Launch of Jeff Duff album Walking on Eggshells Oct 2014

Posted on 4th October 2014

The new Jeff Duff album Walking on eggshells is to be was launched at the Camelot Lounge, Marrickville on October 17 2014 at 7:30 p.m. Duff, with the help of his Duffmen, performed the entire album in the first set, then filled the second set with Bowie songs and some of his standards. About 16 members of the Rock & Soul Choir rose up from the audience to accompany Duff on his own God bless the dreamers, and then The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore (wonderful nihilistic rejoicing to that Righteous Brothers cover). Duff kept it all going up to midnight, with plenty of patter between songs, such as about his love of Scott Walker’s music (inspired his I have no regrets on the new album), and the popularity of his tribute shows ("I have to eat — a bit").

Here’s the official preview blurb of the show:

Jeff regards the brand new album as one of his very best and is pulling out all stops to make this launch one of the most memorable you will ever attend. For starters Jeff & The Duffmen will perform the entire album live along with some other Duffo classics. The extraordinary magician MANNIX (the magnificent) will dazzle the audience with his sleight of hand and Esmerelda the incredible singing goldfish will make a cameo appearance. Together with Jeff’s magic movie show and lots of audience prizes this will be a launch party to top all others!

Jeff Duff Walking on Eggshells album launch  at the Camelot Lounge 2014.10.17

The show included the premiere of the video for the single “Walking on eggshells” which Duff says, on his latest blog, was filmed “in a tiny studio in Sydney late in August … co-ordinated by my friend Marisa Zamora from ‘Loud & Clear’ advertising agency and directed by Tristan Baker.” Listen to the track on soundcloud here, or via youtube:

… and download for eternal listening from itunes here:

Not up with Duff albums? Check them all out on a single page here.

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Duff tube views reach 1/4 million at 1:36 a.m.

Posted on 23rd August 2014

Duff tubes currently online have exactly 250,000 views as of 2014/08/23 01:36:06 Aussie EST, given the latest Duff Rover report. That’s from 145 tested tubes, less some earlier removed tubes and multiple artist tubes, for a total of 131 tubes. Average number of views at this time = 1908.4. The tube with the max views of 51,037 is “Easy Street” on the Paul Hogan Show. Total play-time = 9 hours, 29 minutes and 34 seconds.

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On top of the Duff

Posted on 19th August 2014

Take the top hat, surmising how it crowns The Duff, and get more oxygen into your thinking, and more antioxidants into your brain, than, say, TV promises of Lucy …!


What do Uncle Sam, leprechauns and Dr Seuss’ cat have in common with Jeff Duff? Add the Mad Hatter to that, and you’ve got an "a–ha" moment: It’s all in the a–hat. A topper, in fact. Taller than a trilby. A large but trim brim, occasionally fluted. And its most enigmatic feature: a flat crown.

uncle sam leprechaun cat in the hat  / jeff duff


Authority of class and sex are key signals of a topper: to be worn at the Stock Exchange, at the races or riding to hounds, on the coach going to Parliament or a funeral, taking a box-seat at the Piccadilly, playing high stakes at the Pontoon, or signing an armistice. So entertainers could signal themselves as a class-act by donning a topper — like Fred Astaire in dance, or Howard Thurston in magic (— who would pull out not just a rabbit but trapeze artists and multiple mini top hats from his own topper; see youtube). It’s artistic mimesis, imaginal association — appropriating a cultural meaning by taking up its cultural cue.

mabuse stock exchange scene races coach astaire


At least as many entertainers, however, have used the top hat to create something different: to make an ironical statement, to show up the subversiveness of their acts and attitudes, including in song, dance and humour. Charlie Chaplin, before he came up with his bowler-topped tramp, was one of many English music-hall artists to use this theatrical trick. Performing in a top hat gave an ironical twist to their cockney accents, and upped their romanticizing about poor living, and reinforced the conservative values they sang into their songs. Among these topper-tiled curmudgeons and cads were Henry Champion (Any old iron?), George Leybourne (Champagne Charlie), Henry Vance (Walking in the zoo — a song that gave us the word “okay”), Charles Coborn (The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo), Harry Ford (Knocked ’em in the Old Kent Road), Rich ‘n’ Rich (The Court of King Karactacus), and Ernie Mayne (And the fog grew thicker and thicker).

chaplin champion leybourne vance

Keeping close to classiness, Marlene Dietrich made her own subversive statement in top hat and tails — simply in virtue of being a woman taking on this most masculine (phallic?) symbol. More in line with the music-hall subversion, there’s Bert Williams, with a top-hat plus lap-lap or feather-tail, on top of playing on being a Black American. Then we get, in their footsteps, several rock artists, including Marc Bolan, Alice Cooper and Slash, taking up the topper.

dietrich bolan cooper


As for Jeff Duff, look over the images he cuts in a topper. It’s not a mere Fred Astaire kind of classiness, and it’s also not a simple Chaplinesque twist. We’ve heard before about how a dialectical shift between opposites is a common feature of Duff’s lyrical work (blogpost). That’s a shift between the above thesis (the top hat’s class, authority, Uncle Sam, Lincoln, toffiness …) and antithesis (the leprechaun, Cat-in-the-Hat, Mad Hatter, music-hall artists, rocky fops …) So there are multiple voices, sources, signs and images in a Duff style – but the whole is more than the sum of these …

Duff in his toppers combines and goes beyond these elements. The image he cuts has both classiness and puckishness. He could be taking the best seats at the races, or treading the music hall boards, each with sure and sincere effect. He can’t really be slotted alongside any of the above reels, for instance, not with any depth. Naturally, it’s not just in the costume. The process is more prismatic than that. The person is the new synthesis himself. It’s the effect of the entity he is, accentuated by donning a top hat.

rockwiz throne jeff duff

+ P.S. Of course, other hats have fitted Duff’s crown — see the covers of Gonna Send the Boys Around, Ground Control to Frank Sinatra, Kiss My Apocalypse, and Fragile Spaceman, among his albums. Even a fez among his Great Gatsby appearances, and a propeller on a Countdown appearance, and whenever emergency portends. But in donning the topper, Duff epitomises and gives a key to something that is essential to his art — including in his words and music.
+ P.P.S. Further theoretical development could occur by referencing Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance, or Hardy’s theory of semantic fields, and their supposed parapsychological effects.

There was once so big a topper on Duffo
that all bods agreed was just troppo,
or too Viennese, or made them all sneeze,
which mightily pleased Maestro Duffo.

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– rodg.
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