Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy

Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy on the evolution of his ‘Kiss Me’ single – written in 1979, first released in 1982, and finally a hit in 1985

“‘Kiss Me’ was the first song I wrote after leaving Duran Duran. I used to write a scrap of lyric and then set it to music. “Kiss me with your mouth” came from The Bible – the Song Of Solomon – and “Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye” from a Dorothy Parker poem.

“At first, the music was a ‘Blueberry Hill’-style piano song. Then, after recognising that a more ‘Off The Wall’-style backing might be the thing, I moved on. The Hawks, my post-Duran Duran band, tried it, but we played it too fast. If we’d got it right it would have been an Orange Juice/Haircut One Hundred kind of thing, but we fucked it up. In 2021, we released an album from cassettes I’d carried around for 40-odd years, but it would have attracted too much attention away from the rest to include it.

“I left The Hawks in November 1981 with two ideas. The first was to be a folk-singing troubadour called Stephen Hero. The second was to revert to the electro business I’d dismissed when I left the Duranies in 1979. Tin Tin was John Mulligan and Dik Davis from Birmingham band Fashion, and Stoker [Andy Growcott] from Dexys Midnight Runners.

“Just before Christmas, I was on my way to Rockers record shop in Hurst Street in Birmingham at the moment Mulligan was leaving. The Durans had supported Fashion at Barbarella’s in the summer of 1979 – my last show with them. We got together for a drink and I went over to his and played him the song. It was one of those things. If I hadn’t gone to the record shop that day, I’d have started The Lilac Time, in effect, five to six years earlier.

“Mulligan played ‘Kiss Me’ to his publisher, who gave us £500 to make a faster version. We ended up recording it with Bob Lamb, and it would be difficult to overstate his contribution. He should be celebrated as Birmingham’s Martin Rushent. The studio was his downstairs flat in Kings Heath, with a bed on a platform. He had a 4-track TEAC and a little desk that looked like it was made out of Meccano… he made the first UB40 record in that room. After UB40, he bought a 16-track. That’s where we did ‘Kiss Me’, and where the Duranies did all the demos for their first album.

“I love those early days of electro. There was an element of Practical Electronics about it – there’d be crocodile clips and nothing was ever in time or in tune. It was hard to make these sorts of records, but that was what made it exciting – it was a bit like skiffle. The end for me was the Atari and Cubase. Once you weren’t going to electrocute yourself, the excitement had gone.

“Mulligan was in control, as only he knew how to use the Jupiter-8 synth and programme the monophonic bass sequencer. The bass riff was a steal from ‘Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough’. We had two drummers playing live, and no drum machines. Stoker played on an acoustic kit, and Dik played his Simmons electronic kit. I think they played at the same time, which gives the song its sense of performance and originality. They move around, which makes it beautiful.

“I sang like a wanker a great deal of the time. I now wonder why people didn’t say, ‘You know, you’re actually more of a baritone than a tenor’ – it would have saved me a lot of squeaking. I’d read somewhere that the Motown guys used to play just out of people’s comfort zones. But the thing is, I had the comfort zone of Lou Reed at his most monosyllabic and one-note.

“Paul Rump at WEA, who had a Tintin haircut, spotted the demo. We were his first signing. But as Fashion were on Arista and Stoker was already on WEA with The Bureau, only I signed. ‘Kiss Me’ came out on WEA in autumn 1982 and got to 132 or something. But Seymour Stein signed me to Sire in the US and got François Kevorkian to remix it. It became an immediate dance hit there. We played at the Danceteria and The Ritz in New York, and hung out in a lot in clubs.

“It was massive in the West Midlands, so when demand for the US remix got great enough they put a few out to cash in on the imports. I think if WEA had re-released it at that point, it would have happened. They probably didn’t think it was very good, and just didn’t get behind it.

“Later, I signed to Virgin subsidiary 10 Records and did some tracks with Booker T Jones of Booker T & The MG’s, because I wanted to get away from ‘Kiss Me’. But he wanted to produce me because of ‘Kiss Me’ so that never clicked. Then I made a load of demos in the jingle studio Virgin had in Maida Vale. When nothing grabbed them, re-recording ‘Kiss Me’ came up. I’d written it when I was 19 and was now 24, so I thought it was ancient history and juvenile. But I went along with it.

“JJ Jeczalik co-produced it. The Art Of Noise were on a roll and were very swashbuckling, and it just sounds like a gimmick record to me – the gimmick being the Fairlight, I suppose. But it has a camp joie de vivre and sold millions.

“What do I remember about ‘Top Of The Pops’? The surreal chart rundown of the Princes and Madonnas, then being introduced and not being able to move. I’d been wearing a Greek fisherman’s hat all day that I took off just before I went on, so I had hat hair. I should have kept it on.

“For somebody like me, who’s done so many different things and tried to swim against the tide, to have any song that anybody knows is an absolute miracle, because I have been wilfully uncommercial. Whenever we play, I still always do ‘Kiss Me’. So I feel a great and sincere gratitude to Mulligan, Dik Davis, Stoker and Bob Lamb.”

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