Lesley Duncan: Singer and songwriter who worked with Elton John and Pink Floyd
Monday 12 April 2010
Lesley Duncan was a pioneering singer-songwriter best known for her composition "Love Song", which was recorded by various artists including Elton John, Peggy Lee, David Bowie, Olivia Newton John and Dionne Warwick.
Born in Stockton on Tees, she came to London in the mid-1960s and became one of the first female singer song writers of the pop era. Her early recordings, on labels such as Parlophone, Mercury and RCA, and including "Tell Me" and "See That Guy", attracted positive attention within the industry but failed to generate meaningful sales. During this time and throughout the next two decades she worked with other female artists and friends such as Dusty Springfield, Madeleine Bell, Kay Garner, Vicky Brown and Kiki Dee as a successful session singer. This close-knit group evolved a new type of American-influenced backing vocals for each other's recordings and for leading artists of the day. Lesley's distinctive vocals can be heard on many hit records throughout the '70s and '80s, including Elton John's Madman Across the Water, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Black Flower by the original Nirvana and Ringo Starr's Goodnight Vienna.
Public recognition came in the early '70s when Elton John, whom she had known and worked with for many years, recorded her "Love Song" on his Tumbleweed Connection album with Duncan singing harmonies. Signing to CBS she released the albums Sing Children Sing and Earth Mother, working not only with Elton John but with other leading musicians such as Chris Spedding, Tristan Fry, Andy Bown, Terry Cox and her producer and first husband Jimmy Horowitz.
Duncan was a gregarious, thoughtful and intelligent woman, her lyrics demonstrating her commitment to social-action issues, conservation and spiritual beliefs, including a strong interest in Buddhism and the peace movement. Earth Mother was dedicated to Friends of the Earth and reflected her passionate belief in preserving nature and the environment. Also buried within the lyrics of several of her compositions were more hidden references to close friends and to her much-loved sons Sam and Joe.
Three subsequent albums – Everything Changes, Moonbathing and Maybe it's Lost – continued to build a cult following but lacked big commercial sales. Duncan's own interest in the music industry faded in favour of a more normal life in the countryside with her second husband, Tony Cox, in Cornwall, Oxfordshire and later Scotland. Cox – himself a highly regarded musician and producer – encouraged her on a couple of special projects such as a reworking of the Bob Dylan number "Masters of War" and a powerful version of "If I Could Change Your Mind" on the Alan Parson album Dammed if I Do. In 1979 she agreed to re-record "Sing Children Sing" with Kate Bush, Phil Lynott and Pete Townsend for the International Year of the Child. It generated considerable airplay and made it to the fringes of the charts.
Duncan's heart, however, was firmly rooted in her new life in the countryside, including her voluntary work for Oxfam, photography and dedicated walking of the entourage of dogs she and Cox accumulated. Her warm-hearted nature, great sense of humour and generous spirit endeared her to a wide array of friends around the world. Life in her final home on the Isle of Mull generated a whole new network of friends largely unaware of her past existence in the pop world – or her still considerable worldwide following on numerous websites dedicated to her music. She was aware and appreciative of this constant and continued interest in her work but was never tempted to capitalise on it.
Lesley Duncan, singer and songwriter: born Stockton-on-Tees 12 August 1943; married firstly Jimmy Horovitz (marriage dissolved; two sons), secondly Tony Cox; died 12 March 2010.
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