RIP Beloved UK Tour Manager Craig Duffy: The Damned, Blur, Duran Duran Pay Tribute To ‘The Only Grown-Up In The Room’

Craig Duffy
Tony Woolliscroft

Craig Duffy, the late-great tour manager, whose passing elicited tributes from both the industry and some of the all-time greatest U.K. artists.

When longtime tour manager Craig Duffy died tragically in May, several of England’s most iconic musicians lost a man who had become a rudder for them on and off stage, a man now being hailed by those artists for his civility and warmth, his unwavering love of music, his supreme competence and reliability and for often being “the only grown-up in the room.”

Duffy spent his entire career in the live music industry, devoting the better part of four decades tour managing the likes of Blur, Gorillaz, Duran Duran, Tool and The Damned. He and his girlfriend, Sue Parmiter, died May 21 in a head-on collision in Somerset in Southwest England. He was 59.

In the wake of his death, tributes began pouring onto social media from friends around the globe. “Craig was one of the good ones,” tweeted The Pogues’ Spider Stacy, “a genuinely lovely man and one of the best tour managers in the business.” Damned singer Dave Vanian recalled meeting him in 1976, at the dawn of U.K. punk, tweeting that “a huge chunk of history has disappeared.”

“He was like a tour dad, really,” Blur drummer Dave Rowntree says with a chuckle. “He had a larger-than-life bouncy warmth to him. He was the kind of guy you would hug unashamedly.

“And he was always the grown up in any situation,” Rowntree continues. “He knew everybody’s roles, and he understood them. He’d done lots of different jobs on tour. He knew how guitars worked, he knew what the security team needed, all this kind of stuff. He was able to talk to everyone on their level, using their jargon, and figure out what they needed. And he was always the adult in the room, ya know, when anything happened, it was always, ‘Get Craig. We need Craig! Craigggg!’ And he would come and sort us out.”

As a young punk born and raised in the West London district of Ealing, Duffy and his friends followed such bands as Theatre of Hate and Southern Death Cult (Ian Astbury’s pre-cursor to The Cult) from city to city around England. Even if he didn’t have a ticket, or even enough money for a ticket, he would go to gigs at venues like the Electric Ballroom in London’s Camden Town and sneak in if he had to, much to the ire of legendary punk promoter John Curd: “He was so annoying! So annoying! He wasn’t causing big trouble, but he was always up to something.”

Instead of having to endlessly kick him out or simply keep an eye on him, Curd eventually honored Duffy’s request and gave him a job as a stagehand at Klub Foot in Hammersmith. Duffy rose in the ranks to stage manager and became a quick study on nailing which shows would earn a profit or take a loss. Curd was managing the Anti-Nowhere League and the rockabilly group the Meteors at the time and nudged Duffy to get a driver’s license so he could road manage the latter on a European tour.
Damon Albarn

Damon Albarn with Craig Duffy photo posted on his Facebook page.

“At that time, Craig always stood out as the go-to guy on the local crew to get things done,” says artist manager Henry McGroggan. “He was very even-tempered, unlike some of the others around at that time. He went on to become a promoter rep for John. And I worked on several tours with him. It was always a pleasure and fun, nothing was a bother for him.”

It was the opposite of how people viewed Curd, he relays with a big laugh. “Ya know, with me they would say, ‘Oh, that wanker John Curd, he’s a fuckin’ tosser.’ But Craig, everybody liked him. He was a really personable sort of bloke. He actually became my best friend. I’ve known him for 40 years and I’m so upset about this I cannot tell you. I’m still in mourning. I think about it every fucking day. He just didn’t deserve to leave the world like that.”

In the decades after leaving Curd (whose companies included Straight Music, EEC, Global and Universal), Duffy forged a stellar reputation while working with a dream list of artists. In addition to the aforementioned acts, he also worked with U2, Madness, Duran Duran, The Fugees, Franz Ferdinand, Lily Allen, Radiohead and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“Eventually he became a roadie in a suit, a phrase he always hated,” laughs Damned drummer Rat Scabies. “It was like the punk years prepared him for the arena tours. Ya know, it’s like Mike Tyson wouldn’t have become Mike Tyson if he hadn’t come from the streets. But Craig was genuinely smart and good at what he did. That’s how he got there.

“I remember when we first hired him, he saved me what his wages were in figuring out better deals on buses. He was able to pay for himself just by being good at what he does. Without him ever saying he was or even wanting to be it, he was essentially our manager at the time. He would never have called himself that, but now that I think about it, I agreed with every decision he ever made, from van hires and hotels to distances, feasibility, how to pacify unruly musicians and dealing with promoters. He made sure he got things done. If you were in a dressing room and something hadn’t turned up, you knew it wasn’t for a lack of trying.”

It was that cool head and dependability that paved the way for the partnership that would define his career. When Blur’s tour manager left in a huff – bailing on the band while they were onstage in the middle of a U.S. tour in the 2000s – Duffy flew in and proved an “immediate calming influence,” says Rowntree.

“Craig flew into the lion’s den, amid all the chaos that made the previous tour manager storm off and immediately smoothed everything over and kind of fixed the things that were broken. Craig kind of became that person for me in my life outside Blur as well.

“I remember when I unwisely bought this farmhouse out in the wilds of Norfolk and I had no idea what I’d done. It was a crazy, falling-down thing with holes in the roof. I moved in immediately and was utterly overwhelmed by the amount of things that needed doing and the scale of the disaster that I just bought. Craig came by, stayed for about a week and was just like, ‘Oh, you need to do this’ and ‘You need to do that,’ just like on tour. He swooped in, fixed stuff, made lists and brought the whole thing under control, made the whole thing seem manageable again. He was somebody that could climb up a ladder and fix the roof or central heating.

“You need somebody like that in life, who you can just ring and go, ‘Ahhh! I don’t know what to do!’ Doesn’t matter how old you are, really, whether you’re six or 50, you got to have someone like that in your life. And Craig was that guy. And you don’t come across these people very often. There aren’t many of them, in my experience. There are a lot of people in life who need help, but there aren’t many people who are willing to do the helping. Craig is someone who would put himself out. If someone was in trouble, he would do whatever was necessary to sort it out.”

Duffy would go on to serve as Blur singer Damon Albarn’s right hand on the road through all of the artist’s musical endeavors, including Blur, Gorillaz, The Good, Bad & The Queen and Albarn’s solo work. “Craig was family,” Albarn said though his management company, Eleven. “I loved him very much, but his and Sue’s loss is too sad for words.”

“Those guys were mates with a capital M,” says Eric Durett, who stage-managed Gorillaz’s 2010 “Plastic Beach” tour, as well as Tool and Duran Duran tours on which Duffy served as tour manager.
Craig Duffy, Mick Jones
Courtesy of Wendy Griffiths 

Craig Duffy, whose favorite group was the Clash, with the band’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (and friends) who reunited on the Gorillaz album “Plastic Beach.”

“Craig was simply a lovely man with a huge heart,” Eleven Management’s Niamh Byrne, Regine Moylett and Tanyel Vahdettin said in a joint statement. Eleven reps all of Albarn’s acts, as well as The Clash and actor/musician Riz Ahmed, among others. “He was an old school gentleman, music nut, bit of a teddy bear but also a consummate professional, a razor-sharp budgeter and a trusted friend and colleague. We are family and the pain of his loss will stay with us for a very long time. May he rest in peace.”

Duffy’s tour-managing style was marked by inclusiveness and civility, says Durett. “He knew how to push things very hard when he had to. And when he had to deploy that, it was generally justified. But he could do that without a lot of arm wrestling. He was able to get everything done just by being a good guy. And part of that is because he was in tune with everybody, whether it’s the newest guy hired on the lighting crew or the talent themselves. He was there for everybody. He wasn’t going to shove you out of the way because he thinks your voice isn’t important. A lot of that goes back to that punk rock ethos.”

And that carried over once the work was done for the day, as Duffy would drag everyone from band members to truck drivers out to great restaurants. “The tour manager and the truck driver are probably the least likely to develop strong friendships. But that definitely was not the case with him. He invited everyone to the table. There was a generosity of spirit with Craig.

“In 2010, while we were on the Gorillaz tour,” Durett continues, “I got a call from my brother who told me that my father had died. It was early in the afternoon and we were at Le Zénith in Paris. It was a show day and my initial reaction was, ‘Stick this out and go home.’ The tour was going to end in a few days. But a few hours later, I changed my mind, and told Craig, ‘I need to get out of here and see my family.’ And he didn’t hesitate. He said, ‘Okay, you’re out of here.’ But I wanted to stay for the show, so I got that far, and as soon as it was over, he put me in a car back to the hotel with Bobby Womack [who was a special guest on the tour]. Bobby had obviously been told about my dad. It was a long ride, during which he counseled me and talked to me the whole time, and I really needed that. He calmed me down, and was an older guy supporting me. The next morning Craig got up really early to see me off to Charles de Gaulle and he put me in first class so I could get off the plane right away. He just did everything the right way. And that was a typical thing he would do for people. There was none of that, ‘Mate, there’s two more shows, can you hold on ‘till then?’”

Duffy wasn’t afraid to share his opinion, even when it was an unpopular one. After his passing, Right Said Fred tweeted, “We rarely agreed on anything, but we had stayed in touch and remained friends. He was a good guy and an excellent TM.” Says Scabies: “Craig had an opinion that you respected, even if it wasn’t yours. I would always look around what he was saying, and see if there was something I was missing. And sometimes there was.”

In 2011, Duffy received the Dennis Sheehan Tour Manager of the Year trophy at the TPI (Total Production International) awards, which the members of Duran Duran never let him forget. “[After that], he was always ‘Craig Duffy, tour manager of the year,’” keyboardist Nick Rhodes said in a statement. “Despite our jest, Craig lived up to his title. He was kind, calm and knew how to steer the ship. We spent a long time together on tour and we will forever treasure those memories, he remained a punk rocker at heart with a massive sense of humor.”

Rhodes’ bandmate John Taylor remembered spending “many touring hours trawling used vinyl bins around the world” with Duffy. “There was no better record shopping associate than Craig, and if you know me, you’ll know there is no better testament to a friendship than that. I will really miss you, you fucker. I hope for your sake they play The Clash in heaven.”

Duffy’s passion for punk never waned. He was famous for his collection of vinyl, music memorabilia and posters, especially anything punk related. Upon entering the Portsmouth pub he bought, renovated and turned into his home, visitors were immediately awed by his collection, including several rare, oversized vintage Sex Pistols posters.

Ever flying the punk flag, The Clash remained Duffy’s favorite band from his teen years. So when Mick Jones and Paul Simonon joined the Gorillaz for the Plastic Beach tour, Duffy could find himself in a funny situation every now and then, says his youngest son Marcus, 26, who works in the music industry and has served as his dad’s assistant on tour.

“On the road, he can be very temperamental. If he wants something done, he’ll tell you. He’s not worried about offending anyone if they’re not doing something right. He’d have a go at ‘em and tell them how it is. But I’ve had people tell me that with Mick and Paul, they were some of the only people that ever saw Dad pull his punches. He just loved them so much he couldn’t bare the idea of having a go at them.” Earlier this year, Duffy was diagnosed with throat cancer, with which he struggled. While his doctors gave him a 70 percent chance of survival, he sometimes dwelled on that other 30 percent, says Marcus. About a year ago, he sold the pub-turned-home in Portsmouth and moved to the country, buying a home in Somerset for himself, Sue and his mother. “He was living in the house that he wanted to grow old in with the woman he wanted to grow old with,” says Marcus.

After a radiotherapy session on the morning of May 21, Duffy and Parmiter went shopping for groceries and paint for a project at the new house. They were headed home when the crash happened on the A39 in Somerset, near Minehead. Including his mother and Marcus, Duffy is also survived by his oldest son, Matthew, 28.

In the wake of his passing, Duffy’s family has been inundated with social media tributes, emails and calls, each person wanting to share their stories about Duffy. There are the totally respectable-looking middle-aged men and women who relay they knew him when “we all had pink and blue hair.” And, curiously, so many have come from the neighbors and townspeople in the Somerset area around the new home.

“He only lived here for a year and during that time the entire country has been on lockdown because of the virus,” says Marcus. “And yet he had some really great friends who have been checking in on us and dropping food around because my grandmother still lives there. It struck me as odd that he had made such good friends so quickly. I think it was a skill that he developed traveling around the world for his entire life. I guess he figured that if he didn’t put the effort into keeping in contact with people, he just wouldn’t have friends anywhere.”

In all the years they knew each other, Rowntree says Duffy’s love of music never dimmed: “A lot of people that work in the music industry aren’t music fans. They may be at the start but then they get caught up in the industry side of it and get diverted. But that never happened to Craig. He was genuinely in awe of what musicians could do. He would say that when we came off stage: ‘How do you do that? I don’t get how you can do that.’ He would watch every show from the side of the stage. He wasn’t backstage counting ticket receipts. He was on the side of the stage looking at the show. That was the high point of the day for him. He loved to see good musicians playing. He just loved it. I think that was the whole point of it for him. He was a fan and he never lost that.”
In lieu of gifts or flowers, the Duffy family humbly requests donations be made in Craig’s memory to Tonic Music for Mental Health.