Thursday, 3 January 2013

A Special Appearance

Published in the Irish World newspaper 05/01/13

Leah Quinn went along to Shepherds Bush Empire theatre last week and to see what's so special about Belfast singer, Duke Special.

I would imagine duke specials's appearance can be off putting and without a doubt misleading to many. The singer/song writer is often masked by a heavy curtain of ginger dreadlocks and a thick layer of rock and roll style "guy liner"(eyeliner for the more adventurous of men) all of which leaves you expecting some form of trash metal, gothically tainted, "I hate my life"-style sounds to come from the piano when his fingers touch the keys. The reality is very different. Duke special's music is theatrical, often upbeat ,playful and fun and much more in tune with the whimsical style of Elton John's early work rather than that of Korn, Metallica or any other band that might inspire the urge to trash your nearest hotel room.

Having been initially taught to play the piano by his granny, the Duke (or Peter Wilson as he may be known his hometown of Downpatrick) has since developed his own style on the keys which exudes personality and gusto.

On entering the theatre it was obvious that this gig would lie slightly on the more eccentric side, as the audience were treated to some classical Motown tunes, which were played by an elderly man in a fez accompanied by a stuffed cat sitting on a gramophone. At one stage "The Teddy Bears Picnic" even managed to make a spin on the decks.

After a less than entertaining support act, The Duke came on in tartan patched flared trousers, a bright red tie, a cascade of dreads over his face and yet wholly modest and charming. He took a seat at his quaint-looking piano like a bird perched in a nest of drums and cymbals and began "Mockingbird Wish me Luck" which seemed to be played with a real heartfelt honesty.

He then moved onto "Spiritual America"which was also enjoyable but more theatrical sounding. It was in his third song "I Let You Down" that dukes more childish and playful side shone through as he was accompanied by Chip Bailey, who began to play the drums from the wrong side of the set, strum on a cheese grater with a whisk, and prance about the stage like Animal from the muppets. At one stage Chip seemed to be engrossed in what seemed to be a out and out battle with his instruments,ending up defeated lying flat out on the stage boards by the end of the set. It was these clown like antics that not only kept the audience guessing and enthralled throughout the performance but also offered a explanation as to why Duke Special was asked to write much of the music for Northern Ireland's version of Seasame Street. Muppets or men, it was obvious these guys had their own honesty blend of circus style talent.

Then came "Applejack" a humour us play on the story of Eve and the snake which once again offered the audience more insight into the Dukes imaginarium of outlandish instruments with Chip Bailey this time giving it his all with a variety of pots and pans. Duke Special also included many of his songs from "Under the Cloth" a compilation written by him last year based on the works of various photographers for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. One which could really be felt around the theatre was "Georgia O'Keefe"of which the Duke gave us its wonderfully romantic back story featuring two 1920's aritists.



Much of Duke Specials songs featured heavy chello or guitar accompaniment as well as his melodic northern Irish accent of which he makes no attempts to hide. A Duke Special show is certainly full of surprises and from beginning to end you are not sure whether it is all a circus,fair ground ride or one big joke, however his talent for music is undoubtedly impressive and even though his style of performance may not be in everyone’s taste, you have to respect his bravery in and conviction as a performer. You might decide it's all too much but if you do find Duke Special is your bag, than your music collection will be that bit more adventurous and a whole lot more interesting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPKEIZ7wm2o

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