Jeff Duff opened the Croydon Underground Club in February 1985 in his alter ego as Cyril Trotts—as indicated in this poster for the gig (click to inspect). The poster indicates the date of the performance on February 16, which fell on a Saturday in 1985.
Saw some memorable gigs at the Underground, devastated when it shut down. … 🙁 —jimble, 13 Nov 2006
The Underground was great :p And there was nothing quite like the friendly staff kicking you in the head if you nodded off on the stage 😀 [xab, 10 Nov 2006]
I used to go there religiously to see bands… it was a sad day when that closed down. 🙁 —Nork 1, 26 Jan 2008
my first and only stabbing in the underground / one of the door man / the guy just ran a blade over his back and quick as a flash run up the stairs / and out the doors / / in knew the door man and / the knife man—Mike Jones, 26 Jan 2014
The decor was often naff (flock wallpaper and sticky carpet), the beer sometimes watered down …, the food pretty iffy (what other club feeds you stodge like rice and French bread as soon as you walk through the door – thank you Cinatra’s), you got completely plastered on jugs of Double Diamond or Worthington E, alcopops hadn’t been invented, and if you were lucky you copped off with some bird that probably went to school with your Mum 😉 [La Bombonera, 10 Nov 2006]
The posters got somewhat more creative in the Club’s later years: a collection is here, and at songkick.com, including this. These show that, among other acts performing there, were Duff’s compatriots, the Australian band The Triffids.
Something of the feel of the club can be heared from this audio recording of a Sigue Sigue Sputnik performance at the club, six months after Duff opened it.
See the environs of the club today via Google maps here.
Pre-show promo pic of Housden, Stace, Ellis, Balbi and Duff
Jeff Duff—together with Steve Balbi and Brydon Stace—performed 3 hours of David Bowie songs at the Hope Estate, Pokolbin this last Saturday (15 Oct 2016). While the Stones, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles have played there before, this show surely topped the lot in having George Ellis conducting the Australian Symphony Orchestra as "back-up".
Set in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley wine region, it was a perfectly sunny, 360º cloud-free day, the show commencing at sun-down: circa 7:00 p.m., and not letting up by 10:30 p.m..
George Ellis is well-known for his conducting job at the opening of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and also his work in musical education. He comes with some rock sensibility as well, having been part of Sydney’s 1980s post-punk band-scene (Weekend Australian, 2010.04.10-11). Sporting the Aladdin Sane make-up, he also took the audience’s breath away from the start when, on first turning to face the orchestra to raise his baton, the iconic lightening flash was seen to adorn the back of his coat. So he set the stage ablaze! But then—we drew our breaths again—: by opening with the Bowie/Eno instrumental Warszawa (see youtube), we were offered an evocative sample from Bowie’s oeuvre, one that recalled how Bowie himself opened his “white light” shows of the late ’70s. So the show commenced by emphasising the art of the MainMan ahead of the party. So true to Ellis’ word ahead of the show, as reported in the Newcastle Herald (2016.06.30):
The Thin White Duke’s music lends itself beautifully to the array of colours of the orchestra. Rich textures and harmonies weave in and out of his songs, making them perfect to decorate. —George Ellis
Balbi opened the first song-set with Ziggy Stardust. He also took over most of the glam-era numbers, including Diamond Dogs, Rock-n-Roll Suicide and Jean Genie; as well as a stomping, über-funky, pleasantly mad Fame, coaxing it out in mind-splitting saxophonic treats from Ross Middleton. With Quicksand, Balbi reached back to Bowie as pre-funk, pre-icon poet-philosopher; and together with Life on Mars, had the orchestra making a particularly prominent and powerful contribution. Balbi’s stagework was as stunningly idiosyncratic as usual; the whole ecstatic messiah treatment (as also at, e.g., the 2012 Ziggy Show).
Stace offered his Olympian energy and polished vocals (a siren here, a tornado there) to a wide array of songs, from Ashes to Ashes to The Man Who Sold the World (see youtube) to Sorrow. Also as professional and breath-taking were the dazzling array of dance-figures that kept popping out from his every joint. Quite the stadium performer, commanding every possible precipice and pedestal of the huge stage with his muscular Freddie Mercurial stances.
The trio emerged to give a combined effort on Five Years, "Heroes" and (for encore) Rebel Rebel and Suffragette City, while Duff and Stace did their usual combo for Under Pressure (as also seen at the Enmore Theatre and the Sydney Opera House, and so Duff and Balbi on Space Oddity (as seen on Channel 10 TV). Costume-changes for every song, too; Duff, say, in his golden outfit for Golden Years (see youtube), then in red with top-hat (just his style) for Space Oddity, his new space-helmet with white Pierrot suit for Starman, and so on.
Jak Housden doing Moonage Daydream with a top-level voice of Bowie and guitar of Mick Ronson—as at the legendary Santa Monica gig. Interesting to see Jess Ciampa in his orchestral home, and to see more of the band’s newcomer Christo (Station to Station).
Lighting was exceptional, too. Working with a ring of lights about the huge disc above the stage—always projecting a close-up of the singers in song, or a deft selection of Bowie pics—the stage could be lit at times like the centre of a supernova, or the halls of Lang’s Metropolis. Sound was booming but bright; bringing out the aural delights of the orchestral strings to emotional splendour, as in Quicksand, or simply striking out the rhythms in body blows through, say, Fame. All radiating out from the huge, towering stage, the effect was of a constant tidal-wave of multi-sensory provocation.
Stage management was also interesting to watch; emergencies portended and avoided, mics arighted, and so on, with ardent precision.
It’s going to be challenging, this eclectic rock band with acoustic strings. [But] Bowie used a lot of orchestral arrangements, it suits David Bowie more than most artists. It will be really exciting. … It does sort of build up to this raging climax and we do end up rocking out at the end. Even the violins and cellos will be rocking out. —Jeff Duff
Harpist and singer-songwriter Anna Morgana opened the event. Blends of Keyes, Hagen, P. Smith, Bush, maybe, but certainly, as someone behind me said, "she sounds like some Australian singer". That was also a discovery to keep making.
For PIX of the gig, see Tania Smith’s album here, and Russell Cherry’s album here.
See the Bowie Unzipped site for more Duff/Bowie gigs—including his January 2017 tour including NSW, Vic, SA and WA.
~ And a thank you to the Zepher bus-blokes for getting me there and back to Central, and even championing me with a round of applause for topping their Bowie quiz! Did I get an extra point for getting Iman’s surname right? Or was it just that I didn’t confuse The man who fell to earth with The man who sold the world? We’ll never know. Meat-eaters aside, it was an easy and a glorious trip. Ta for stoking the flames with your Bowie Quiz—and for keeping a seat at the back for me!
The long-awaited Jeff Duff autobiography has been published — released in May 2016.
Crafted by Duff over many years, gloriously published by Melbourne Books, the work has a provocative promise as its title: “This will explain everything“, being a 248 page tome, hard cover printed on gold foil, beginning with a Foreword byMolly Meldrum. Here are some excerpts from Australia’s mainman of the popular music industry:
Unique is an over-used word in showbiz. But Jeff Duff is unique. …
Flamboyant, eccentric, cheeky, charming …
Jeff Duff is one of the greatest entertainers Australia has produced. —Molly Meldrum
FACT: It’s been a longtime coming. Already in 2004, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Duff was "putting the finishing touches to an autobiography that will be published next year". See the SMH article here.
From the launch of This will explain everything at Better Read Than Dead 265 King Street Newtown, NSW · Sun 19 June 2:00 p.m.:
Jeff Duff’s Ziggy: The Songs of David Bowie show returns to NSW venues in June 2016—as reported by noise11.com.
5 dates announced so far—from Newcastle to Wollongong—including a station to station dash from the Thirroul show down south on a Friday up to the Enmore Theatre, Newtown, on the Saturday. See the “Hot stuff” sidebar for dates.
Going by previous Ziggy shows, Duff might well lead the band and feed the crowd with performances of Ashes to ashes, China girl, "Heroes", Let’s dance, Sorrow, Space oddity, Starman, Young Americans and the ever-astounding rendition by Duff of Wild is the Wind à la Bowie.
With Brydon Stace on board for the high-top singing, he might also pull out Under pressure. And with Steve Balbi on board, there’s a good chance of burning off on a blistering Moonage daydream.
There are plenty of ‘tubes out there to get an early fix of the show, as performed at the Sydney Opera House, the Enmore Theatre, et al., in previous years. See the duffstuff catalogue of Duff tubes here—links to 17 tubes from the Ziggy Shows, + 31 from the Bowie Unzipped shows. For example, for starters:
The Norton Street Festa of Italian culture in Sydney this October 25 did not miss a Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr rat-pack. Short of the Festa being all pasta workshops, pizza, screaming bambini, screaming Mammas, groaning Pappas, beautiful people and cheesy French Fries, the Festa sported its own Rat-Pack in the form of Jeff Duff, Glenn Rhodes and Jess Ciampa on its mainstage from 1:00 p.m.
Well, at least the water-carrier was thanked by Duff for the vodka, and an appointment was made for whacky-backy with some happy bearded man in the crowd. All in good humour, of course, given Duff’s a totally clean machine. And that was really the extent of the rat-packery. The mood was merry, charitable and festive.
Some samples follow of the songs, complete with the festive sounds of the merry crowd.
Among the songs performed by the Duffo Trio were Walk on the Wildside, Walking in Memphis, Sorrow and Sailing ….
Sailing is the Chris Cross track. It’s not usually of a cool calibre. Specifically, if you were into Duffo when Chris Cross’ Sailing first came out in 1979, you’d’ve surely missed it, maybe even sneeringly. But if you’ve since expanded your tastes, thanks especially to Duff’s own evolving catalogue, it’s a cool beauty as performed by the Trio. Sure, Chris Cross’s own version is pretty nasal; he abbreviates and just about squanders every meaningful potential of his own song. In Duff’s hands, in His Master’s Voice, and the keys and beats of Rhodes and Ciampa, this song is now a musical experience of genuine and graceful optimism—primed with Duff’s elegant elocution, and the artful way he expresses melancholy as he offers hope. There is nothing so bombastic as Walt Whitman’s claim to “sing the body electric”. There is more of the angelic hope of Keats, ready to die in the wake of the nightingale’s sweet song. Optimism that soars while being deeply anchored. Sailing, indeed. Try it at the bus-stop (I did, in Blacktown, and never lived longer).
Love the one you’re with
The Trio of Duff, Rhodes and Ciampa was popular, driven to two encores, kindly over time. Amid these encores came the only really Italian track by the trio, given its association with "Dino Martino":
The song was recorded by Duff for the 2007 So Quiet album (available on iTunes), and Duff performed Sway on the popular nationwide Kerrie-Anne Show on Channel 9 TV:
Hard to get a shot let alone a vid at the Italian Festa without the various body parts of festival goers cavorting through every circumstance. So many of the shots from this occasion miss out on Duff’s feet. One tried hard to get a shot of what looked like a pair of particularly special Duff shoes; but whenever one got a frame on them, the Maestro’s mercurial spirit took him flying off left or right, and so on, over and over again.
For another experience of the Trio: Sun 29 Nov at St Leonards Park, Miller St, North Sydney, at the Spring into Jazz Festival from 3:00 pm. Read about Duff at last year’s Spring into Jazz here.
+ Is Jeff Duff being interviewed on ABC-TV's One-Plus-One program soon?—being promoted on TV; check out their website here
+ Jeff Duff performs his Euro-Duffo catalogue in From London to the Moon! – A Duff-Odyssey @ Leadbelly (ex Vanguard), Newtown as part of Sydney's Vivid Festival · 3–4 June 2017 from 6:00 pm · $30+ · book for 3 June here & 4 June here · more info about the show here · blogposts about Duffo here
+JEFF DUFF / BRITISH INVASION SHOW + Jeff Duff performs British Invasion @ Tuncurry Bowling Club · Fri 16-Jun-2017
Congratulations on the JDS site. It really is amazing, comprehensive and accurate … and very well written. Your research is sublime … Thank you for all the hard work … / You continue to impress me with your handsomely constructed and informative insights into ‘Duffoworld’— J. Duff [ 2011/07/07 & 2012/05/17]