Sunday 10th December 2017, The Live Room, Caroline Social Club, Saltaire. I’d been looking forward to this one since it was announced and I certainly was not disappointed. The very wonderful and unique Duke Special (aka Peter Wilson), Lisburn born, Belfast-based singer and musician making his debut appearance at the Live Room. Quite simply one of the best entertainers on the circuit.
His act can lean at times towards best music hall traditions. The concept of entertainment is never lost. It’s not uncommon to see parents with their children at Duke shows and tonight was no exception. Supported by Dan Donnelly, another Belfast singer and musician. Dan, armed with the most battered guitar still allowed on stage, gave a very humorous and entertaining start to what was a very memorable Live Room evening.
A sell out crowd braved the sub zero temperatures and snow flurries, with a few hardy souls standing at the back. This was the last night of the Hallow tour, promoting Duke’s new venture, an album featuring the poems of Michael Longley. I’m fairly certain we had every track from the CD throughout the evening. Anyone who hadn’t seen Duke Special before may have wondered what was going on when the dreadlocked, nattily becapped and now bearded Duke strode on stage, wound up an old gramophone to provide some accompaniment to his own keyboards and very rich, warm brogue singing Another Wren, the opening track from the CD.
Mixed amongst the songs from Hallow were many songs from Dukes extensive back catalogue. A varied catalogue would be an appropriate term, his interests over his 9 CDs involving many diverse projects with a Huckleberry Finn production scheduled for next year.
The middle of the show saw Dan join Duke on stage to conduct a raffle. Dan announcing the numbers in a ‘bingo caller on LSD’ fashion. Certainly not the bingo calling the Live Room is accustomed to. Friday night’s crowd in next door’s bar would definitely have been left confused! Each number draw preceded by a joint ‘keyboard roll’ from Duke and Dan.
Dan then stayed on stage for a couple of songs, leaving as Duke launched into ever popular requests for Brixton Leaves and Digging An Early Grave. I have to be honest and say I have heard far more audience participation in the past for Digging but it was a cold night.
Winding up the gramophone again, Duke played The Ice Cream Man, a tribute to a man murdered during the troubles in Northern Ireland in the 80s and read by Michael Longley, while he went into the audience distributing flowers.
Lena, the last track on the CD finished the set before Duke performed encores of crowd favourite Freewheel before a superb rendition of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.
Duke has his own band of followers. Many of the Live Room audience were first timers to the venue but not first-time witnesses to this tour, some coming from far and wide to follow the tour. Ron and Hilary have been promoting Duke since 2002. Long may they continue to do so. He loved the venue, hopefully he will be back on his next tour.