While he’s not yet topped any mainstream pop music charts, odds are you will have heard of composer and musician C Duncan in some capacity. Still drawing blanks? Then consider this a lesson. Though the 27-year old started out as a composer whose arrangements were performed by post-minimalist ensemble Icebreaker and featured on BBC’s Waterloo Road, it wasn’t long before Duncan himself added ‘performing musician’ to his repertoire. Since his inaugural single For was released in December 2014, Duncan’s success has avalanched. His debut album Architect earned nods from critics while a nomination for the 2015 Mercury Prize awarded the artist his musical stripes before the year was up. In October, Duncan returned with a sophomore album, The Midnight Sun, soon after announcing both a headline tour and a supporting slot with alternative rock band Elbow for 2017. Not bad for an artist whose dream pop-tinged debut was recorded for £50 in his bedroom, but then C Duncan is not just any artist.
The child of two classical musicians, Duncan was raised on sound itself, each note, beat and rest unknowingly shaping him through childhood. In hindsight, it’s no wonder really that the Glaswegian composer, producer and altogether modern music marvel ended up where he is today – something Duncan admits it took some time for him to acknowledge. “I’ve always been really into music, ever since I was very young. But growing up, nobody ever said I should do music [as a career]. It wasn’t a given. It wasn’t until I got to the end of school that I realised that I wanted to write music; I wanted to make music. But I only thought I might get to do tiny little shows here and there.”
While Duncan may not have expected a lot coming in to the music industry, his 30-date tour of headline and support slots from now until March demonstrate quite the contrary to his anticipation of “tiny little shows here and there”. And, although the musician could have used his parents’ musical ties to forward his career, he’s achieved it all himself – charming the pants off Elbow’s Guy Garvey when he met him at the Forestry Commission’s concerts at Sherwood and Dalby Forest last summer. “I heard from Guy that Elbow were going on tour, and he said they’re all fans of my music, so he was going to speak to them about me joining them on tour. A few weeks later I got an email saying ‘would you like to go on tour with us?’ and so we said, ‘absolutely, yes!’ I’ve been a big fan of Elbow since I was about 11 or 12. It’s amazing getting to a point where you’re being invited to go on tour with the people you kind of idolised for such a long time.”
It’s good to see things going so well for the artist, who considers music “like a second language”. In short, Duncan seems to rely on music to live in the same way the rest of us need oxygen, his form of expression manifesting itself in his effortless creation of song. Having released two full-length albums in the space of 18 months, it’s a skill he seems determined not to lose, however remains adamant nothing he writes is rushed. “I wanted to release the second album fairly quickly so that touring would just continue and life would just continue. I’m an avid writer – I just can’t stop. So I thought I might as well just get the ideas down for the second album when they came, instead of wasting time for the sake of it. It wasn’t that I rushed it, it’s that by October, the album was ready.”
Despite keeping himself busy with the release of two albums (“it keeps me from getting bored”), Duncan makes it clear his composing days are far from over having also contributed to a compilation entitled Lost Songs of St Kilda in the run up to the release of his latest album, which shot to the top of the Classical Chart the week it was released. While many artists can only dream of being so busy (with a strong likelihood they’d crumble under insurmountable pressure), Duncan confesses that he finds it easier to work alone, insisting it “speeds up the process”.
With everything going so well for the musician, it would make sense to presume that the multi-instrumentalist (who plays every instrument on the album, including the piano, viola, guitar, bass and drums) can do everything. However, becoming a sought-after performing musician wasn’t always on the agenda for Duncan, who admits he initially struggled when it came to working with others and adopting a ‘frontman’ role for live performances. “The reason that I started writing music was because I liked being in the background. I guess I’m not that much of an extrovert. You sort of have to adapt to a slightly different persona on stage, which is something I just wasn’t very good at doing. It was funny because I got some musicians in, people who would just play with me on stage, who I didn’t really know, and I think out of sheer respect I’d just be really overly polite. I definitely wasn’t a natural performer at first, but it has become much more natural now.”
While writing music has always been a solitary activity for Duncan in the past, the musician appears to have warmed to the idea of collaborating with other artists for future recordings, one particular art-pop composer making the top of his list. “I want a couple of parts in the next record to fit in other musicians. I would love to collaborate with Julia Holter, I’m obsessed with her albums. Or someone like Björk or Cocteau Twins – that would be great fun.” With so much excitement marked for the future of Duncan’s unbelievably short career so far, it’s unsurprising that he seems to easily get caught up in his future plans. While to some this would point towards looming burnout, Duncan takes it in his stride, making it clear once and for all that music really is what makes his world go around. “When I’m creating something – writing something new – that’s when I’m at my happiest.”
C Duncan comes to Brighton’s Komedia on Tues 31 Jan.