Duffo opens Croydon Underground with split personality

Posted on 13th February 2017

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.

Duff’s Cyril Trotts EP was released in 1984. This is a 5-track album including a parody of Bowie’s "Heroes"—in mega-operatic mode—and of the songs Relax and Two Tribes by the contemporary superstars Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It’s available on itunes: Cyril Trotts to Bogna. For more about Duff’s Cyril Trotts act, see this blogpost about its track Santa is an Astronaut—an original Jeff Duff Xmas song.

Jeff Duff as Cyril Trotts (from album sleeve)

Past punters of the Club have offered reflections on the Underground Club, including in a post on the Bygone Croydon Facebook page and a CPFC forum:

Saw some memorable gigs at the Underground, devastated when it shut down. … πŸ™ —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 πŸ˜€ [xab, 10 Nov 2006]

I used to go there religiously to see bands… it was a sad day when that closed down. πŸ™ —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 πŸ˜‰ [La Bombonera, 10 Nov 2006]

Other artists who performed there included:

  • Sigue Sigue Sputnik (June-August 1985) [poster]
  • The Stone Roses (July 4 1985) [ref]
  • Rubella Ballet, and The Fur Bible (Sept 1985) [ref]
  • All About Eve (Dec 5 1985; Jan 16, Feb 20, May 2, June 22, Sept 21 1986) [ref]
  • The Fall (Thurs 11 Sept 1986) [poster, or on flickr]
  • The Stranglers (Sun 1 May 1988) [ref]
  • Gong and Tribal Hearts (Jan 1989) [ref]

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.

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– rodg.
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Jeff Duff celebrates Bowie at Hope Estate Vines with Australian Symphony Orchestra

Posted on 17th October 2016

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Pre-show promo pic of Housden, Stace, Ellis, Balbi and Duff

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.

And Jeff Duff. Doing the more emotive songs … an artful Lazarus (as previously seen at the Enmore and the Basement bio launch), and Wild is the Wind (as also seen at the Sydney Opera House). So He took to the stage with cool, meditative strides in the manner of Bowie himself, as he approached the Glastonbury stage. Also on board for the baritone singing; Let’s Dance, China Girl … Also a recall of his touching eulogy for Bowie. Of course there were doses of his "naughty" patter and moves, but the bulk of his challenges to the audience were to honour the MainMan who the "ten thousand peopleoids" or such had come to party in the spirit of.

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.

And so it ended as Duff prophesied ahead of the show in the Maitland Mercury (2016.09.28):

 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.

Good to see an Artist Merchandise stall. Duff’s autobiography for sale (it’s always tempting to get yet another one!), and the DVD of Colin Hay‘s Ziggy/Unzipped live show videos (see the TUBES database; I got mine, to add to the TRACKS database).

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!

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– rodg.

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