Slinky Vagabond: ‘Our album is a blitz of influences’

The catwalks of New York might seem far removed from his Doncaster roots, but Keanan Duffty has certainly found a niche in the American fashion world, with his clothes sold in the likes of Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman.

Slinky Vagabond
Slinky Vagabond

In 2003 he dressed the re-formed Sex Pistols and four years later worked with David Bowie on a clothing line for the US retailer Target. He was also stylist for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s tribute to Bowie in 2016.

The synergy between fashion and music has long interested Duffty – going all the way back to Sordid Details, the punk band that he formed in South Yorkshire in 1978, when he was just 14. “We rehearsed in my dad’s garage and made a real racket, and did a few shows, the school gymnasium and the village hall,” he recalls. “It was a lot of fun. We also made our own T-shirts.”

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His current musical venture, Slinky Vagabond, began as a “dream team” collaboration with former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, Clem Burke of Blondie and long-time Bowie guitarist Earl Slick when the trio were in between projects.

Its latest incarnation features Duffty co-writing with Italian musician and producer Fabio Fabbri, with guest contributions from the likes of Midge Ure, Dave Formula of Magazine and Simply Red bassist Tony Bowers.

Duffty remains close friends with Matlock and Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones – “Both of them have evolved into really nice middle-aged guys, they’re very thoughtful,” he says – but right now his focus is on Slinky Vagabond’s new album, King Boy Vandals, which is out this week.

Its cast list of guests are musicians who Duffty has crossed paths with in the New York and London music and fashion worlds.

He recalls first meeting Midge Ure in 2013. “My wife and I lived in San Francisco for three years and I interviewed Midge for a magazine there,” he says. “Obviously I’ve been a fan of his and I know all of his music very well and we stayed in touch. He invited us to come and see him at a couple of other shows and we’d drop each other texts every now and again. He’s like the busiest man alive, he’s always playing and always touring.”

Most of the others are friends and acquaintances. “The only person that I didn’t really know is David Torn (the American jazz musician who has worked with the likes of Bowie, Madonna, kd lang and Tori Amos),” he says. “My neighbour next door is Mario McNulty, who produced Lou Reed and Bowie. Mario and I are good friends and I said I would love to do something with David Torn and he said ‘I can connect the two of you and see if he’s interested’ and David graciously was. So he did his magic on one of the tracks.”

Bowers is “a very good friend” of Fabbri. “Tony was living in Italy near where Fabio lives and they became friends and played together a lot so Tony graciously said he would play bass on most of the tracks,” says Duffty.

“Then I roped in my old friend Martin Turner (of Wishbone Ash) who produced my first recordings. People say to me, ‘Wow, Wishbone Ash?’ Well, you know, he’s a lovely guy and a very good player, so that’s what matters.”

At the heart of the album is Duffty’s partnership with Fabbri. Duffty jokes that they work so well because “he plays in tune, I sing out of tune”, adding: “I can read music, actually, but I would say Fabio is a dyed in the wool musician, a great player, great arranger, great producer and a great bloke. I think that was the foundation of it.

“He came to a lecture that Glen Matlock and I gave in a school in Italy and we struck up a friendship there. That was four or five years ago. Straight away he invited me along to his studio that’s basically in his house. It’s a small set-up but he gets a really big, accomplished sound out of it. I always kid him that when I work in a studio in New York, I work on a 32-track EQ desk, when I work in his studio he’s got his laptop and an ironing board – and they both sound the same. That speaks a lot about his talent, his skills and the craft that he’s honed over a long period of time.”

Duffty believes they clicked because “we both had material and we just threw it all in the pot”. The end result is a very varied record which the singer admits is “all over the place” musically.

“It wasn’t made as an album, it was made as a creative project,” he says. “It wasn’t really until we got deep into it, I think we’d recorded about 16 tracks and we were sort of thinking ‘what do we do with this?’ and we said ‘Let’s not waste time going round trying to find a record label in this day and age, nobody’s interested in two middle-aged guys with an independently produced record – the reality is that – so let’s just put it out ourselves and see where it goes’.

“When the pandemic started to happen, that’s when Fabio and I decided to get some other players involved. The first person I contacted was Midge and he immediately said yes, so then it was OK, I’m going to call other people and ask them because there was that weird moment at the beginning of the pandemic when everybody was at home and they were crawling the walls because their lives had stopped. It was before people had started figuring out how to do live broadcasts on Zoom or whatever, so it was a moment that people were willing to get involved and that’s really when it crystallised into an album.

“We edited it down to ten tracks that were the most cohesive. It’s still a blitz of influences, but it was made without record company A&R going ‘That can’t go on there’. It would probably have been good to have had that guidance but we didn’t.”

Duffty hopes Slinky Vagabond may even go on the road next year, mentioning that the young New York band The Ritualists, whose forthcoming album had been produced by Ed Buller, had asked them to support them. “I’d love to support Midge,” he adds.

“He’s a much bigger name in Europe than he is in America. Maybe it’s a bit beyond us in terms of supporting Midge, but it would be a great thing to do.”

King Boy Vandals is out now. www.slinkyvagabond.net