By David Richards
One of the true hidden gems of the late 1980s was the quirky English
band, Lilac Time. An oasis in the desert of loudly overproduced electrobeat
pop, Lilac Time presented a mostly acoustic, melody-rich kind of music that
harkened back to American groups like Crosby Stills Nash and Young or Simon
Of course it was doomed to failure, sales-wise, at least.
No one in the "industry" knew quite what to do with this band. Try to get
college radio on board at the same time Nirvana was breaking there? Foist
them on adult radio, when the bluesy Bonnie Raitt ruled the roost? Even
in theirhomeland, where the band was quickly lumped, improbably, with the
Madchester sound, music buyers found the distinct lack of a thumping four-four
beat just too much.
Stephen Duffy, who started the band with his brother
Nick and Michael Giri and others, remembers that those were some fairly
dark days for the band. "It was a very confusing time, when we were
signed to Mercury. Music itself was in a period of confusion. They kept
wanting us to sound like the rest of the bands in that "Madchester"
scene; they neverheard any singles." Duffy laughs.
The band's brilliant
1991 album, And Love For All, was seen by Mercury as a chance to cash in
on that scene. It had, after all, Jonathan Leckie as a producer, the man
behind the phenomenal success of the Stone Rose album. And it also had
Andy Partridge of XTC, then experiencing a career highlight with Oranges
and Lemons. "We were managed by the same manager. Andy had heard
ourstuff and liked it. He offered to help out, and I thought it would be
a good idea. He was able to armor-plate the acoustics, and he was good
about finishing things. 'Honest To God' (from And Love For
All) was kind of a Beach Boys tribute. I was in the car with Andy and we
heard the Swingle Singers, and thought it would be great to do a song like
that. Andy was very patient and inspiring." But despite such high
powered help, And Love For All fell between the cracks.
Time was, really, was that lull between the Smiths and the Stone Roses.
It was us along with the Las, fey English rock." This kind of confusion
might have humbled a lesser man, but by this time Duffy was already a veteran.
Whether or not people knew it, many were already fans of Duffy before the
Lilac Time, thanks to a little single named "Kiss Me."
curse, all rolled into one. I was in the studio with some guys from Dexy's,
Fashion, some other bands, and we recorded 'Kiss Me' The
guy who paid for the studio time was livid: we had spent 500 pounds worth
of studio time. So he took it around, seeing if he could get a deal and
get back some of his money. Sire/Wea picked it up. But since the other
guys were in bands and were contractually obligated, I became 'Tin
Despite appearances to the contrary, Duffy was himself,
not Tin Tin. "I still get people, reporters, who come up and start
out, 'Okay, Mr. Tin Tin, tell us about the new album,'"
Duffy relates without the hint of a laugh. "Then the Smiths came
out and I was stuck doing this dance stuff I was not comfortable with.
Don't get me wrong, though, I was desperate to do a record. I would
have recorded with the Salvation Army Band if I had to."
that desperation may have come from his infamous "just missed the
boat" experience with Duran Duran. The myth has become that Duffy
bailed out minutes before "Girls on Film" became a huge hit
for the band, making him some sort of new wave Pete Best. "Nothing
further from the truth. I had left a couple of years before they had a
hit. I met Nick (Rhodes) and John (Taylor) in art school and we had formed
a band. We were one of those "art bands." Believe me, if
I had stayed in the band they would never have gone anywhere!" He
has not really kept in touch with any of his former Duranies, but did run
into Nick Rhodes last year. "We talked for a while, I think we were
So by the time Mercury let the band go in the early
'90s, Duffy was not fazed. "I just had to carry on. I had,
long ago, pledged allegiance to music. I was not going to go be a plumber
or something. I had really decided that when Virgin dropped me (as Tin
Tin) before the Lilac Time."
Creation records then picked up the
band for their fourth album, Astronauts. "It was a bad time, for
me personally. The album was impossible to finish. It would take five years
to record one drum part. Here we were, with no money, holed up in a barn
in the middle of the countryside, trying to record that album. No support
from Creation. It was just like when we made And Love For All. Mercury
at that point was spending millions of dollars on Seeds of Love. This time
Creation was spending, what, a quarter million pounds, on the My Bloody
Valentine record. Record company politics drive me crazy. But Creation
at least keeps that album in print."
The fate of the first three
Lilac Time albums is a sore point for Duffy. "I don't see
why Mercury doesn't keep them in print. I know we have fans, and
I hate to see them spending $30-$40 on a Japanese import or something.
That's what's nice about our current (UK) label Cooking Vinyl:
they keep stuff in print." In the end the band broke up before Creation
could even release the last album. Duffy went back to a solo career, releasing
two solo album on BMG. "Well, that did not go well either. Too many
unrealistic expectations, too many people changing jobs at these majors.
I did the first solo album with Nigel (Kennedy) and people at BMG kept
saying, 'This is going to be huge.' You begin to believe them,
and then when it isn't, and it never was going to be, everyone is
disappointed." So disappointed, in fact, that Duffy was again let
go by BMG after the second album. For the record, Duffy has been let go
by every major label in the Western World now: Sire/Wea (Warner Brothers),
Virgin (EMI), Fontana (Polygram/ Universal), BMG, and, technically at least,
Sony (they own Creation now).
"It was the best thing ever, to get
away from the majors. It gave me a chance to dismantle the trappings of
the pop world. Time to downsize, as it were.
But why return to
Lilac Time? Why not just another solo album? "Well, solo albums
are rarely really just that. They always involve so many people. And, we
had talked about doing another Lilac Time album. It just felt like it was
Looking for a Day in the Night marks a brilliant comeback
for the band. Much more acoustic and mellow than previous efforts, the
album is also bereft of any obvious singles. "Cooking Vinyl was
good that way, probably the only place we could have recorded this record.
We got to be the band we always were. With Mercury, they always wanted
abrasive bits that would stand out, singles. This time around we wanted
to smooth out those bits. The album is about sleep and dreams, after all."
And so we say not good night, but good morning to a brand new day, featuring
plenty more Lilac Time.