You would think that having somewhere in the region of 150 fellow artistes record their version of one of your songs would give you a fighting chance of fame ever after.
You would think that impressing Elton John enough for him to have you join him on his version of that song – Love Song – would mean more people would remember you even nine years after your death aged 66 from cerebrovascular disease following an extended illness.
But fame is fickle and it doesn’t help your chances when you suffer from crippling stage fright.
Lesley Duncan (married name Lesley Cox; 12 August 1943 – 12 March 2010) is best known for her work during the 1970s. She received plenty of airplay on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2 but never achieved great commercial success, in part because of her unwillingness to chase stardom and also that crippling stage fright.
She was born in Stockton-on-Tees and left school while only 14 years old. At 19, while working in a London coffee bar, she and her brother Jimmy (soon to become manager of the Pretty Things) took some songs to a leading Tin Pan Alley music publisher. Jimmy was signed with a weekly retainer of £10, and Lesley with £7, on the grounds that she had fewer songs, no guitar and was a girl. Within a year, she had an EMI recording contract and had appeared in the film What a Crazy World (1963), with Joe Brown, Marty Wilde and Susan Maughan.
Her early recordings were predictably pop (and equally predictably flops – eg I Want A Steady Guy (as Lesley Duncan and the Jokers, You Kissed Me Boy, Just for the Boy and Hey Boy (notice a theme here?).
But in addition to writing and singing her own material, Duncan was in wide demand as a session singer in the mid to late 1960s, most notably working with Dusty Springfield from 1964 to 1972, a favour Springfield returned by performing backing vocals for several Duncan recordings.
She can be seen on many of the performances featured in the BBC DVD Dusty at the BBC.
y the late 60s, Lesley’s songwriting was changing in style from girl-pop to more reflective writing – perfect for her distinctive voice. Her first album, Sing Children Sing (1971), was produced by Jimmy Horowitz, whom Lesley married in 1970 (they later divorced). It was followed by Earth Mother (1972); the title track, dedicated to Friends of the Earth, is one of the first, and finest, eco-songs.
She had one of the most under-rated voices in pop/rock history and Love Song remains one of the loveliest songs never to make a mark for its writer.
Small wonder it impressed Elton John so much he covered it for his Tumbleweed Connection album with her singing harmony.
John described Love Song as “one of the very few” songs he did not co-author but included on an album. Listen to the lyrics (and to some degree the melody) and it doesn’t take long to spot the similarity to his own Your Song:
“The words I have to say
May well be simple but they’re true
Until you give your love
There’s nothing more that we can do
Love is the opening door
Love is what we came here for
No-one could offer you more
Do you know what I mean?”
Duncan again joined Elton John at his request to provide vocals for his 1971 album Madman Across the Water, and in exchange John played piano on her first solo album Sing Children Sing. She also co-wrote three songs with Scott Walker for The Walker Brothers in addition to providing backing vocals for them. She can also be heard on the studio recording of Jesus Christ Superstar.
She appeared onstage with John in a 1974 concert at the Royal Festival Hall to perform the duet once again, and the live recording of Love Song was included on John’s Here and There album.
Love Song went on to be covered by more than 150 other artists including Olivia Newton-John, David Bowie and Barry White. In 1977, Topol and Najah Salam recorded it in Hebrew and Arabic to commemorate the peace meeting between Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat, and Israel’s, Menachem Begin.
Duncan famously contributed backing vocals to one of the top selling albums of all time, Pink Floyd’s 1973 release The Dark Side of the Moon, which was engineered by Alan Parsons. Later, in 1979, she again worked with Parsons, singing lead vocals on the song If I Could Change Your Mind for the Alan Parsons Project album Eve, in her final album appearance
This success notwithstanding, and despite her own albums receiving critical acclaim, Duncan’s multiple solo efforts failed to achieve commercial success and led to her retiring from the business.
She moved to Cornwall and, in 1978, married her second husband, the record producer Tony Cox; they later moved to Oxfordshire and, in 1996, to Mull, in the Inner Hebrides. She contributed both her time and her music to causes she believed in, including releasing a new version of her song Sing Children Sing for the Year of the Child in 1978.
Most of her Mull neighbours came to know her as a cheerful gardener and knew nothing of her previous life in the music industry.
|Rock, Folk Pop