Ziggy, the annual concert series paying tribute to the career and costumes of David Bowie, returns to the Sydney Opera House next month – and Jeff Duff is stressed. The veteran singer-songwriter and Ziggy lynchpin has painted himself into rather a fabulous corner.
“I’m very into my costumes, and at the moment I’m trying to come up with something that’s more outlandish than what I wore last year. I feel like a little girl, trying to decide what to wear,” he chuckled.
Given that last year’s extravaganza saw Duff send away to NASA to procure authentic space boots for his backing band, we can only imagine what sartorial splendours he’s got in store for the five July concerts.
Fellow Aussie music veterans Brydon Stace and Steve Balbi will join Duff on stage during the concerts. Between them, the trio will cover songs spanning Bowie’s golden years from the late ’60s to the mid-’80s.
“We don’t impersonate, either – we do our own things with the songs we’re singing. Of course we do dress up, though, because that’s part of the charm – there aren’t many rock acts nowadays who do dress up, it’s all about looking cool in jeans and a t-shirt. As I say to all the musicians I work with, ‘If you look like the audience, you should be in the audience’,” he chuckled.
Duff has been one of the country’s most colourful and eccentric performers since emerging from the Melbourne music scene in 1971 as frontman of the jazz-rock outfit Kush. We wondered if Bowie’s bravely androgynous style had been an influence in those early years, but as Duff tells it, he was already on another planet.
“I think I was working in a parallel universe. I came fresh out of art school and joined a band, and I was wearing make-up and making my own clothes. I hadn’t even heard of David Bowie in those early days, and my music wasn’t really in any way similar either. Molly Meldrum called us Snow White and the Eight Straights, because the rest of the band just wore jeans and t-shirts whereas I wore things like wedding dresses.”
Over the years Duff has even been arrested a couple of times for his on-stage costumes – or lack thereof.
“One costume made the front page of the Sunday papers, when I was still living at home with my parents. I went out and bought these rubber sex dolls, cut them up and made them into a costume – people were shocked.”
While Duff himself is heterosexual, his on-stage antics have long made him a favourite of gay audiences, and he was a regular performer during the glory days of massive gay dance parties in Sydney and Melbourne.
“You could get away with murder – I could go on stage naked, which I often did. Gay audiences definitely accept a little more outrage on stage.”
Info: Ziggy: the Songs of David Bowie, Sydney Opera House, July 18-20. www.sydneyoperahouse.com.au