Did Jeff Duff flee Australia in the late ’70s to find his natural home in punk UK? This is one thesis (see Glenn A. Baker on Duff); and corresponds, in part, to Duff’s own anticipations, as he marked off the days on his Sex Pistols calendar until he took flight; "Oh Lord, a one-way ticket out of here, please!" (TWEE, p. 95).
However, after landing on the Queen’s soil in 1978, some initial reactions to Duff from what remained of UK’s punk purists didn’t match these theses and enthusiasms. Gobbed off stage and beaten up by punk rock punters at his first Lyceum gig (where the Pistols played their first abortive gig, way back in ’75), Duff soon found himself pummelled by UK’s heavyweights of music broadcasting: by Russell Harty (on ITV, quite nastily) and by Anne Nightingale (on The Old Grey Whistle Test, tongue-in-cheekily). As for die-hard punk rockers still flailing on the street, there was a particular article in their latter day street-pamphlets that sought to bust the head of this brazen outsider. This was authored by punk-purist music journo Robin Banks—in the 10th anniversary issue of the music mag ZigZag.
While starting out as a hippie music mag, by 1979, ZigZag was a self-consciously low-brow champion of pure punk. Barely anyone other than the Sex Pistols and The Clash got a kind rap in this rag. Trying to copy at least the look of US punk mag Flashez, ZigZag‘s production values were poor, with cheap, ugly photography, and cramped, haphazard layout, while the text was often made up of a broken English word salad; an anti-literary complement to rubber-bands and piercings, as anti-jewellery, in their anti-Queen rebellion. So, for example, in this issue in which "Duffo" was featured, a journo starts writing about Lene Lovich with the words "This gourds-churningly terrifying sshhuck! noise whistles malevolently close to Debbie Harry’s collatoral on a Saturday loan …". And only pure punk will do; the issue also proclaims that a new Roxy Music album "veers from ordinary and not noticeable to good-when-its-on", and Jonathan Richman is all a "fairyland of kiddie-romance and nursery rhyme nonsense" (what they would make of today’s talentless, infantile pop …). Banks himself writes of being left "breathless" when first listening to some Clash album, and to this day cites little more than his Pistols and Clash articles as meriting the historical record. Even readers chime in at this level; The Clash is said, in this issue’s Letters, to be "the best band in the land and have never recorded a duff record".
This did not bode well for Banks’ interview with Duff—with one of Duff’s songs on his first UK album even entitled Duff Record; check it out on iTunes or GooglePlay. True to form, and to the appetites of ZigZag readers, the article begins by promising a report about "something totally ridiculous" as a way "to enliven our tenth anniversary edition". Banks claims that he made a "lengthy search" for someone who seemed to "fit the bill". Then he tries to be too clever beyond his ken in describing his encounter with this "someone" as "an insight into what might concur [sic] if Dr [sic] Spock met the Flying Doctor … and crashed".
Duff is then introduced as a creature found somewhere in Chelsea, in a grove (actually, Edith Grove, home of Duff’s esteemed publicist, Tony Brainsby) once associated with the Rolling Stones (who Banks also doesn’t like, writing that the Stones have since left this place for "puke-ridden greener pastures") … (see the pic, left, for another Duffo-Stones association). Duff first appears to him in (or as) "a freak glimpse of a pointed-ear-bearing character sporting bad make-up and striking velvet cloak". As for his music, well, because it’s not pure punk—Duff mashes it up with rock-n-roll roots, even cabaret of the Calloway type, with touches of Music Hall and Gilbert & Sullivan—Banks writes that Duffo’s first album contains 12 tracks "at least seven of which are stone cold turkeys".
Is music criticism like this of any use at all? Its yardstick begins and ends with what the critic personally likes; what is good is only what speaks to the critic’s own bit of space and time, as if the world is what is filled up by your very own drop in the ocean. Isn’t this just a low, banal, barely pubertal level of aesthetic appreciation—the aesthetic equivalent of egoism as the arbiter of moral reasoning (Kohlberg), or of the senses as the sole informant of the intellect (Piaget)? Asking why the musician does what s/he does is surely the start of a more developed critical approach, at least getting towards 20th century wisdoms of aesthetic appreciation, with more to offer readers than self-promotion of personal likes and dislikes, beyond childish liking of art as a choice between candy and brussel sprouts for tea.
span style=”color:#c0c0c0;”>Duff did not himself, of course, claim pure punk "credibility" for this early period of his Euro career; and he soon explored and immersed himself in other Euro trends—with peer and punter respect in tow. For example, as reported some months after his return to Oz, after a decade away …
Robin Banks does, however, eventually doff his mohawk to Duffo. Of the infamous Number 10 body-stocking stunt (see Chapter 5 of This will explain everything from Melbourne Books for more info), Banks offers a perceptive and sensitive appraisal …:
I should say here and now that Duffo struck me as more of a victim of cheapskate publicity endeavours than a straightforward media manipulator himself, quite the opposite. He came over as a person running hard to present himself in the only way he knows how, and for that he gets ten out of ten for trying. If he doesn’t quite cut it, then at least he’s made the attempt, and that’s far more than most people do. —Robin Banks
Banks then applauds Duff for the sense of humour he showed in giving the esteemed NME music journo Tony Parsons—now self-proclaimed "Tory scum"—an exploding cigarette. The story is that Duff, having been summoned to an interview with Parsons after getting some adulation for the original, self-titled Duffo album (Beggars Banquet, 1979), entered the journo’s club, in Carnaby Street, as a blindman, with dark glasses and walking-stick, and gave Parsons a cigarette that, exploding on being lit up, swept Parsons toppling off his seat, left him helpless on his hind, much to the mirth of fellow journos in the club.
Banks also notes how Duff has his fans—Duffo’s performance at The Venue was "well-attended and well-received", and "I have even seen people sporting Duffo badges (which he designed himself) so it’s obvious that some people do actually like the guy". (See the Duffo badge, above, as proudly worn by our house-model (my dear friend) at the Institute for Duffological Studies and photographed by GG.) Banks even uses the term Duffophiles to describe these creatures—much to the surprise of this writer, who independently came up with the term.
Banks also usefully records some quotables of lingering note re Duff on himself. Faithful to the low-brow ethos of the mag, Banks writes that he could not audio-record the interview because his tape-recorder was in a pawn-shop. Still, he seems to have scribbled down or committed to memory some notable words verbatim. So Duff could well proclaim that he was breaking new ground: "I want to prove that somebody completely different can come out of Australia and make it. That you don’t have to be Olivia Newton-John or the Bee Gees." And, whatever the reaction, he would not be deterred—like a Dali, his art was his life, and it was sanctioned to its freedom with entertainment as his mission:
I’m not just Duffo on stage or on record. Duffo’s whole life is a performance. But I do feel the need to sing and show what I can do. I don’t care if people laugh with me or at me, as long as they laugh. And I don’t mind being regarded as the Clown Prince of Rock ‘cos I guess I am. —Jeff Duff
(Summing up something of the Oz industry attitude to Duff at the time of his flight, the moniker "Clown Prince of Rock" was actually how a DJ, back in Brisbane only some weeks before then, introduced Duff to an audience; "which I thought was quite fitting", Duff himself added—TWEE, p. 96. So did Duff’s initial UK reception, as in ZigZag, just reflect, magnify and/or focus on that aplomb? A happy, even natural, outcome, after all? See TWEE [Chapters 5 & 6] for more by Duff himself on Euro-Duffo—and how all this early controversy actually gave him "keys to the city.")
For more about Euro-Duffo, see this Duffo album launch-poster in NME, his write-up in the German music press, and his German Rock-Pop TV Show performance, the interim 1982 report back to Oz in the Australian Women’s Weekly, this poster of his performance at The Factory, the inclusion of his Give Me Brack Me Brain single on the New Wave Greats 1976–1983 UK compilation CD, among other stuff.