KEANAN DUFFTY (SLINKY VAGABOND): “I Asked RICHARD FORTUS As His Style Is More Of A West Coast Rock ‘n’ Roll Sound”

Dave Navarro and Keanan Duffty

He’s made his name as a fashion designer working with the likes of David Bowie but inside every designer there’s a Rock ‘n’ Roller waiting to get out and Keanan Duffty is doing just that with his project, Slinky Vagabond. His latest release, King Boy Vandals features an array of guests including Richard Fortus (Guns N’ Roses), Martin Turner (Wishbone Ash) and Midge Ure (Rich Kids/Ultravox) drawing on a wide range of influences from Hard Rock, New Wave to Punky Rock ‘n’ Roll. Mick Burgess called him up to chat about the album and how a boy from Doncaster ended up rubbing shoulders with the stars in New York.

You’ve just released a new album, King Boy Vandals. How has the reaction been so far?

We’re really proud of the record and we’ve had some really good reviews and feedback for it. The tough thing though, is promoting it without live shows so that has been a challenge. We have it on vinyl and CD as well as download and streaming and so far so good, people seem to really like it. We just want to get it out and get it heard by as many people as possible. It was great fun to make this record and gave me a sense of focus particularly in this last 18 months. It was something really positive to look at.

The title is actually an anagram of Slinky Vagabond. How long did it take to work out the King Boy Vandals name from that?

I love wordplay and anagrams and I was figuring out several different versions and I thought King Boy Vandals was the most applicable to us. One of the others I came up with was “Sky Blond Vagina” which I didn’t think would go down too well. King Boy Vandals has elements of what the band really is. King Boy is a bit like man child in that we’re middle aged and haven’t grown up yet so I liked that aspect. The vandal aspect sums us up as Fabio plays beautifully in tune and I sing out of tune. He writes beautiful melodies and I mangle them. He has this beautiful Italian expression and I’m the British vandal that comes along and throws a bit of chaos into the mix.

When did you start work on writing the material?

I was invited to do a lecture at a fashion school in 2017 and I asked if I could bring Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols with me as he’d worked in Vivien Westwood’s shop before the Pistols. I’m from Doncaster and I’d moved to London to go to fashion school and I got a part time job in a New Romantic shop where Steve Strange had worked prior to Visage. I came up with the idea of a lecture about working in retail. I wanted to get their heads out of the clouds about the glamour of the industry and get them to think about reality. We were two guys who’d been through various industries and what anchors you is knowing your audience and who buys your clothes. Glen and I did that lecture and Fabio came along as he was doing some teaching at the school. He came up to us afterwards and said that he had a studio so I went along and we picked up a couple of guitars and we thrashed around for a while. He had some stuff that he was working on and I had some demos and we threw it into a pot so that was the beginning and throughout 2018 and 2019 we spent time writing together.

What were your plans for the album in terms of its musical direction and sound when you started work on it?

It’s completely all over the place and you can hear that when you listen to the album. The songs are all different but there is a cohesiveness as it’s the same singer and the same guitarist and producer but they were tracks that developed piecemeal. We each had a couple of completed songs and there were some that we wrote together. There wasn’t a plan as such and there wasn’t two of us in a room with acoustic guitars trying to get things going. It was more a case of I have this where the chorus is shitty but the verse works and Fabio would rewrite the chorus and we’d work on material like that. It was very much, throw everything in the pot and work the best bits into songs and hope for some kind of cohesion. We didn’t actually start with the intention of making a record, it started as a fun thing. It wasn’t until we’d got 5 or 6 songs done that we thought we’d keep going and we ended up with 16. There wasn’t a grand plan. We don’t have a record label, there’s no A&R and no one telling us what to do. That’s good and bad as I’m old enough to appreciate feedback from people but it does give us creative freedom too.

You have a rather impressive array of guests on your album. When did you first decide to have guests play on your album?

We’d finished 16 tracks and then the pandemic hit. At that point I knew that people like Midge Ure would be at home so I thought I’d ask people I knew if they would chip in. I thought a couple of songs had a Rich Kids vibe so I sent them to Midge and he said he’d play on both of them. He was the first one involved and it just fell in line from there. I then asked Richard Fortus and it grew organically from there. As everyone has a studio at home now it was easy to do.

Do you write a particular song with someone in mind or do you write the songs first then think about who would suit them the best?

No, no. It was reversed engineered. I always thought that “Prima Donna” sounded like a Rich Kids sort of song so I thought Midge Ure would be great for that. I wanted Glen Matlock to play on it too but he couldn’t make it. I looked at the track and wondered who would be good to play on this and then I’d ask if they wanted to be a part of it. Pretty much everyone on the record is someone I know, except for David Torn, who played with Bowie on a few of his later albums. He is actually a friend of my next-door neighbour, Mario McNulty, a record producer, so he put us in touch. I thought the song “Euphoria” had a bit of a Beatles/Pink Floyd psychedelic feel to it. I asked if he’d like to do it and he sent back this amazing guitar track that was very difficult to mix but sounded phenomenal and it changed the nature of the track.

Was there anyone you would have liked to have had on the album that couldn’t make it for one reason or another?

I texted Clem Burke from Blondie this morning. Clem, Glen Matlock, Earl Slick and me actually had a band with the name “Slinky Vagabond” back in the early 2000s and we’ve been good friends ever since. I wanted to get them on this record but Clem couldn’t do it and Glen was busy. Clem said to me today that he’ll definitely play on the next one. I asked Gary Kemp too but he has this new life in the Pink Floyd world and when I saw him in Nick Mason’s band I thought he was really good. I emailed him but I didn’t hear back from him so if I don’t get a reply it usually means they don’t want to be a part of it so I leave it alone.

When you have a guest contributing to the album, do you give them a free reign on what they play or do you give them a brief of what you’re looking for?

Oh yes, I just let them do what they wanted. There was no direction from me. There was a song that I’d written called “English Country Garden” which had a nice descending chord progression but I thought it sounded a bit too Brit Pop and I was playing lead on that and it was sounding like a bad Noel Gallagher impression, so I wanted somebody to take it away from that so I asked Richard Fortus as his style is more of a West Coast Rock ‘n’ Roll sound. The other song Richard plays on is “Fear No Evil”. That was a demo I’d done years ago. Scott Weiland had left Velvet Revolver and they were trying for about 10 minutes looking for a replacement and I did a show with an all-star band called Camp Freddy with Matt Sorum and Dave Navarro and we did a show in New York and I got up and did a couple of songs with them. I spoke to Velvet Revolver’s management through Matt and asked about an audition. They had a couple of songs written but they didn’t have vocals and they sent me them and they were the original versions of what became “Prima Donna” and “Fear No Evil” but for our version we totally rewrote and rearranged the music and I’d written the lyrics for it. As nothing happened with Velvet Revolver, I had those tracks sitting around and I thought Richard would be good for that as I thought his style was perfect. So we had one where he played one according to type and one against type.

When they send their parts in were they all in line with what you wanted or did you send some back with a few suggestions?

Just to have the range of players that we had was fantastic and they were all amazing musicians at the top of their game and I wasn’t going to be a micro manager over their playing. Fabio did some editing as most of them sent 3 or 4 versions of the track with different solos and he’d take the best bits of the solos and mix them together. David Torn really surprised me as he asked what I wanted and I just said, kind of Psychedelic and I’ve always loved his work with David Sylvian and Bowie, but he just knew exactly what was right for song and what he did was quite brilliant.

How long did it take to record the record?

It was pretty quick. Midge Ure did his tracks in March just after the lockdown and then everybody else did their parts over the summer. We were done with the guest players by the end of the year and then Mario, my next-door neighbour mixed the first song that we released which sounded great and Fabio did the rest during the first part of this year and we were done with everything by April. So all in all it took about a year between April 2020 and April 2021. We also recorded four songs as acoustic versions to see if they’d work in that format in case we decide we want to do some acoustic shows at some point.

Did Fabio produce the album too?

Yes, he produced it as he has his own studio. He did all of the guitars and keyboards there and then took it to another studio where he could record the drums. Then all of the guest parts were added.

What influences do you each bring to the music?

The biggest influences that Fabio brings are his sense of melody and his ability to arrange music. He’s a big fan of music and is very much the Classic Rock guy. He loves Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Bowie, all of that. We’re both older guys who have listened to music over three or four decades so we’ve listened to almost everything. I took him to see Nick Mason’s band in Milan and I’m a good friend of Gary Kemp and we were invited backstage and I could tell he was a little starstruck meeting someone from Pink Floyd. My moment of epiphany was Punk and I loved Marc Bolan, Slade and Bowie and all that but Punk was my moment of realisation and then Post Punk was my second wave of music listening so that’s where I’m coming from but we are like two sides of the same coin. Fabio is more Classic and I’m more into weirdness. I think we’re very complimentary and we both actually like each other’s taste in music too.

You’re originally from Doncaster. How did a guy from Doncaster end up in New York mixing with the stars?

One of the good things about being old is that I grew up in an era when education was free. I did my A-Levels in my local school and I moved to London when I was 18 to go to fashion school and that was a brilliant time to be in London. I used to go and see loads of bands when I was growing up at Sheffield City Hall, Leeds, Manchester, all over. I just loved music and fashion. The things that were going on in the fashion world were down in London so it made sense to study down there and I stayed after I graduated because there was a great music scene there. I then started working for a company who would send me to New York and to Japan and I thought I should expand my horizons and live outside of the UK. I intended on staying for a couple of years and that was 30 years ago. It’s amazing how time flies. I actually came as an illegal alien at first and incorporated the company name “Slinky Vagabond” to sponsor me, so that name’s been around for some time. It did me a lot of good, it got me into the US. I’m all legitimate now, I have a green card but I’m not a US citizen. I pay tax but I can’t vote. My wife is American and she says I should become a citizen but I’m reluctant to give up my British citizenship although I could have dual citizenship I suppose.

How did you get the break to design for David Bowie?

The show room that used to sell my clothes was near to where his offices were so his stylist would come and borrow some clothes from time to time. In the early 2000s I approached his business manager as I was interested in doing some merchandise for his shows but Bowie fell ill and his manager put it on hold but he said to keep the conversation going, as they say in business. A few years later, I had struck this deal with a big US retailer called Target. I contacted Bowie’s manager again and he suggested meeting Bowie himself. We arranged a meeting at his manager’s office and he walked in dressed really badly in a Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt and dodgy shoes and I thought he was messing with me but he was off duty. That’s kind of how it started. Until that point I didn’t want to insult him and say that I could get his collection into 50 shops but when I got the deal with Target I went back. He asked if I’d discussed it with Target and I said no so he knew I wasn’t using his name to fish so there was an element of trust. He was a great person to spend time with he was charming and witty and very generous and down to earth.

Did he give you a brief of what he wanted?

He didn’t want to be identified as a designer. He wanted me to take the inspiration from the Bowie brand. I went away and came up with three collection ideas. One was “Hunky Dory” and that was very vintage inspired. Another was called “Last Dance” and that was athletic inspired and the third was called “Heroes” and it was black and white and it was a collection for the Christmas period so we were going to do tuxedos and things like that which fitted in with the concept. I did three collections for Target to choose from and they went with “Heroes”. David did an outtakes CD, called ‘Strangers When We Meet’ to go with it. My lifelong dream was to have my name on a Bowie record and now I have my name on a Bowie record.

Is there anybody in particular you’d love to design for?

There’s a young band called Starcrawler who I love. The singer is a girl but she looks very androgenous and they’ve done a couple of singles and play a lot on the Sunset Strip and they are just like a filthy Rock ‘n’ Roll band like The Stooges

Do you see yourself as a designer first or a musician?

I make my living as a designer. I have made money from music over the years but it’s never been a central way that I’ve paid the rent. I had a record deal in the 80s when I was still in college but fashion seemed more like a career to me so if anyone asks what I do, I say that I am a designer. This was a passion project which we’ve done for the love of music. I’m under no illusion that I’m going to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll star. We’re just two middle-aged guys having fun although Fabio is an excellent musician and has his own studio in Italy. I’m sort of the chancer, the one with the connections and Fabio is the musician.

Do you have any plans to hit the road soon and tour in support of your new album?

I’ve spoken to Fabio about it and we were offered some shows with a young band called The Ritualists who have just released their first album “Baroque and Bleeding” which is fabulous, but we weren’t able to do them because of the current Covid situation. We’ve also been offered a Zoom streaming show with an advertising agency but that didn’t come off but we have been exploring doing something online like many other people. We’re trying to remain optimistic and I’ve been speaking to Fabio about trying to do some shows so we do hope to get out and play live again sometime.

Will that include some UK shows?

We’d love to play in the UK. I’ve been asked if I hope to take all of my guests out on the road with me. I’d love to but if all goes according to plan, they’ll all be out doing their own thing. When I was playing with Earl Slick, Clem Burke and Glen Matlock we’d always get guests coming up to play such as Steve Conte from the New York Dolls so we’d have to do something like that if we wanted more than three men and a dog turning up at our shows. Steve Conte has said he’ll play on my next album so I’ll hold him to that. I think we may do some support shows where we can work with a built-in audience to get that exposure. Maybe we could support Midge Ure on a show or two.

Do you see Slinky Vagabond as a long term project?

We’ve actually been working on new material already. We’ve been doing something with Percy Jones who was bassist in Brand X and has played with Brian Eno. He lives in New York and we’ve known each other for a while and he plays bass along with Dom Beken who plays keyboards with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. We have four or five songs that are completed and a whole bunch of material still in demo stage. ‘King Boy Vandals’ took a while to come together because of the pandemic but we haven’t been sitting around doing nothing since then and have continued writing more and more for the next one.

What are your plans going into 2022?

I’ve been invited to do a Rock ‘n’ Roll fashion show in Palm Springs in March. There’s a thousand-foot catwalk and they supply the models and all I have to do is put on a Rock ‘n’ Roll fashion spectacular. Before that I’ll be in London at Soho House in The Strand for a week-long fashion event. I’m hoping Fabio will be in London then too so maybe we could play a show or two and do some more writing so we’ll keep on working on the music and hopefully have another record out sometime. I like to have goals on the horizon to keep me creative and on track.

King Boy Vandals is out now.

For more on Slinky Vagabond visit


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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