12 August 1943
Stockton-on-Tees, England, United Kingdom
12 March 2010 (aged 66)
Lesley Duncan (12 August 1943 – 12 March 2010) was an English singer-songwriter. Pursuing weighty lyrical themes such as environmentalism, motherhood, and politics, Duncan was a mainstay of British radio during the '70s. One of her songs, "Love Song", has been covered by many artists, among them Elton John, whose cover version featured vocal contributions from Duncan. She was also a prolific session singer, famously providing backing vocals for Pink Floyd's seminal album, The Dark Side of the Moon. Unfortunately, Duncan suffered from severe stage fright, limiting her commercial viability as a performer.
Lesley Duncan was born in Stockton-on-Tees, a market town in north east England, leaving school at fourteen; she would later reminisce about her childhood troubles in her song, "Wooden Spoon". At age 19, she and her brother Jimmy were placed on weekly retainers by a music publisher. Within a year, Lesley Duncan had signed with major label EMI, and appeared in the film What a Crazy World. Starting in 1963, Duncan recorded a number of pop singles throughout the '60s, none of which were able to grab the attention of record buyers at large.
All throughout her career as an active solo performer and beyond, Duncan appeared as a vocalist on numerous recordings by other artists, including Donovan, Ringo Starr, and The Alan Parsons Project. She also appeared on the first original cast recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar. A complete list of Duncan's contributions has yet to be compiled; in her own words, "it would be easier to list the albums on which not appear."
Duncan was first introduced to Elton John when they were both relatively unknown session workers. In 1970, John covered Duncan's composition "Love Song" for his breakthrough album Tumbleweed Connection; Duncan played guitar and provided vocals on John's version. Duncan's new-found form of understated songwriting was noted by ecstatic critics, leading some to dub her "the British Carole King." Duncan's 1971 debut album, Sing Children Sing, featured amongst others Elton John and Peter Frampton as guest musicians. Despite favorable reviews and radio play, Duncan failed to attract the attention of record buyers.
Her lacf commercial success would haunt her until the release of her last album, Maybe It's Lost (1977), despite a gradual increase in commercial pop sensibility for every album released. Much of the blame for this lack of success could, by Duncan's own admission, be shouldered on her stage fright, which resulted in only a handful of live appearances throughout her career; however, one of these performances were at the 1973 Reading Festival, which was released on a live compilation LP. She continued to release sporadic singles for another decade; in 1979, a re-recorded version of "Sing Children Sing" (b/w "Rainbow Games"), whose proceeds were donated to the foundation for the International Year of the Child, became her biggest UK chart success at the #76 spot. Her recording career concluded in 1986 with a final single release, "Tomorrow" (b/w "Paper Highways").
Duncan retired to the Isle of Mull in Scotland, where she would spend the rest of her life with her family. In 2010, Duncan died of cerebrovascular disease, following an extended period of illness. At her funeral were flower arrangements from David Bowie and Elton John, members of the community in attendance only now realizing her true identity, which she had reportedly seldom brought up. Duncan's legacy remains, as "Love Song" continues to be covered by hundreds of artists, and albums on which she appeared continuing to be heard by unquantifiable numbers of listeners around the world.
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