Sunday, 14 March 2010
Lesley Duncan, Singer Songwriter (1943 - 2010)
First there was the initial blast from the States in the 1950s to be answered by the British Beat Boom of the 1960s and so on back and forth throughout the 70s and 80s, a rivalry which has seen the emergence of some of the best music this century. But whereas the Brits had the upper hand in the 1960s when it came to floppy haired beat combos, they sadly lacked in the field of singer-songwriters and especially female singer-songwriters.
In the early 60s when A&R was God, performers and writers were kept firmly at a distance from one another but by the end of the decade, the writer inmates of the Brill Building had formed an escape committee and had tunnelled their way from under the piano to freedom. Thus we had a whole host of new performers who actually wrote their own stuff and on the distaff side the USA led with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Laura Nyro, Joan Baez and many others. Here in the UK we had…er…well, no one really.
On this side of the pond, the 60s was a hard time for women in rock. Whilst we had some great performers – Dusty Springfield leading the way, and one or two that wrote a bit but generally performed within a band context like the mercurial Sandy Denny, there were no true singer-songwriters who wrote and performed solo. Whilst there were a few false starts (Lyndsey De Paul, anyone?) it would not be until a teenaged Kate Bush crashed onto the scene in the late 1970s that Britain had a truly talented female SS in its ranks. Or did it?
Back in the early 70s there was a candidate that may lay claim to being the first British female SS and her name was Lesley Duncan. By the seventies, Lesley was not exactly a newcomer as she had spent much of the sixties in a backing singers' co-operative with fellow would-be pop stars Madeline Bell, Kiki Dee and even Dusty herself, singing on each other’s albums. But by 1971 she had written, recorded and released her debut album, entitled ‘Sing Children Sing’. It contained one true hit, ‘Love Song’, covered by Elton John on his ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ effort but her nervousness over live performance rather stymied any commercial success that was her due and her star never rose despite further LPs in the mid seventies. It seems she preferred the anonymity of session work and can be found in the chorus of many well-known albums including ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.
As far as I know, her first two CBS (and best albums) were not released on CD until the early 2000s and even now you’d be lucky to find copies of them and that’s a shame. It seems pioneers never benefit. Worse, the shocking news has just reached me that Lesley died on 12th March, aged just 66. As a tribute, here's a video of Lesley singing 'Earth Mother', the title track from her second LP and below that, a glimpse of the 'Backing Singers Co-operative' in action supporting Dusty Springfield at the NME Pollwinners concert in 1966. From L-R Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan and Kiki Dee.
Rest in peace, Lesley.
And if you'd like to read more about my views on music, don't forget my book, 'Memoirs of a Music Obsessive'.