Singer songwriter;

Born August 12, 1943;

Died March 12, 2010.

Lesley Duncan, who has died aged 66, was Britain’s first hit-making female singer-songwriter. She maintained she only bluffed her way into the business after knocking up a couple of songs in her head.

She was waitressing in a Bayswater coffee bar and living in a bedsit when her brother, Jimmy, fresh out of Wormwood Scrubs, announced he was going to become a songwriter.

Thinking anyone could do that, she composed two songs, without any instruments, and promptly sang them unaccompanied to the head of a music publisher she had arranged to meet. The pair of diminutive kids with thick Teeside accents were immediately offered a retainer and her future was sealed.

The company was Francis Day and Hunter, now part of EMI, and her career, collaborating with rock and pop glitterati from David Bowie to Elton John, Pink Floyd and Dusty Springfield, was about to take off. Hundreds of artists, including Elton John, Dionne Warwick, Peggy Lee, Topol and Barry White, have since recorded her best known composition, Love Song. It’s not bad for a girl who thought she “wasn’t much of a singer” and had no great ambition.

Duncan was born in Stockton-on-Tees to a Scottish father, Ranald Duncan, from Cluny, Aberdeenshire, who left her mother, Kathleen, while she was expecting their daughter. She and her late brother were raised by their mum, a bit of a good-time girl, according to Duncan, who was a fine pianist and played in clubs, often leaving the children at home at night.

Despite the lack of parental support she made it to grammar school but left before her 15th birthday. She later made up for that by reading intensely. She waitressed in north of England hotels before moving to London, aged 16, and making the leap into the music business.

She and her brother won their retainers in 1963: he got £10 a week, she was on £7. “On Friday I was a waitress, and on Monday I was in showbusiness,” she once said, adding: “It was all bluff really, I was just bluffing.”

Within weeks Duncan was in the movie business, winning a part in the pop film What A Crazy World, with Joe Brown, Susan Maughan and Marty Wilde, and later a recording contract with Parlophone Records, the same label as The Beatles.

Although she then did not have any huge success recording her own songs – nice but naive affairs – she was well known as a backing singer. She worked with Dusty Springfield, Madeline Bell and Kiki Dee, all singing on each other’s records.

It was not until Elton John, with whom she worked together on sessions, recorded Love Song on his Tumbleweed Connection album that she got an album deal. Her songwriting had matured and she produced Sing Children Sing, on which Elton played, and appeared on Top of the Pops.

She released her album Earth Mother in 1972, dedicating it to Friends of the Earth, of which she was an enthusiastic member. By that time she had married record producer Jimmy Horowitz and went on to have two sons with him, Sam and Joe. Although their profes­sional creative relationship went well, the marriage broke up and in 1976 she dropped out and went to live in Cornwall.

It was there she got to know her second husband, Tony Cox, also a record producer and music arranger. They had previously met when she was doing session work. “I recall thinking she was a rather stroppy, difficult little woman,” he said. “She later said she thought I was a pretty weird guy – views which we never entirely let go of in 30 years.”

They hit it off better in Cornwall in 1977 and married the following year. They later spent 11 years in Oxford, where Duncan worked at Oxfam’s HQ and helped to promote fundraising concerts with up and coming acts, including Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. In 1979, she released Sing Children Sing again as a fundraiser for Oxfam for Year of the Child.

During her career she released a number of albums and also sang on the Alan Parson’s Project release Eve, the Jesus Christ Superstar album, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Elton John’s Madman Across the Water and with Ringo Starr, Donovan and the Dave Clark Five.

Never comfortable with being on the road or performing, and taking her duties as a mother seriously, she was happiest in the recording

studio. Duncan, who latterly suffered from cerebrovascular disease, never officially retired but her last record was released in 1986.

The couple moved to Tobermory on Mull in 1996 where her illus­trious music career was unknown to many of the locals but where condolences arrived from Elton John and David Bowie. She died in the island’s hospital with her husband at her side, just as Love Song, playing in the background, came to a close.