Special is one of a kind, a unique and talented young Belfast man whose bruised
romanticism and soft Northern tinged vocals are at sharp juxtaposition with his
wild dreadlocks, smudged eyeliner and unfeasibly wide trousers.
stage, Duke Special explodes into musical mayhem – the battered old trademark
gramophone wheezes, huge cymbals clash, egg whisks and cheese graters break free
from the kitchen, a stunt fiddle screeches and the crushed velvet covered piano
thumps and tinks in unison – but it’s the very core of the songs, his heartfelt,
passionate poems, that will remain in your head long after the lights have gone
most favourite thing was to sit in the dark, playing the piano. Music was all I
wanted to do." The Duke (a.k.a. Peter Wilson) grew up in Belfast.
he began writing his own compositions: "People always used to say that my songs
sounded like something from a musical," says the Duke. "For a long time that
horrified me." As a reaction, he started playing in a succession of questionable
rock bands with little success. "Finally I realised that I had to do what came
naturally to me. But I wanted to find a way to play the piano and sing that
didn't make me sound like Elton John or Billy Joel."
concept of musicals led him to consider a more theatrical approach. "I got
really interested in vaudeville and music hall. I loved the idea of all these
strange Victorian entertainments with their crazy descriptions. I recognised
that spirit in what I was doing. I wanted everything to sound 'old'. But most of
all I want to be entertaining”.
Adopting the pseudonym of Duke Special, he teamed up with Hag Records and
released two limited edition EPs Lucky Me and My Villain Heart. Following on
from hundreds of solo dates across Ireland, the UK and Germany and tour supports
with Aqualung, Rufus Wainwright, Paddy Casey and John Power of The La’s, the EPs
have sold a staggering 6,000+ copies. Meanwhile, Jack White of The White Stripes
and The Hives have passed on glowing accolades for the Duke’s recordings.
Special has gradually recruited a small collective of eccentric musicians,
including drummer and percussionist Chip Bailey (a clown, a juggler, a renegade
Morris-man), Réa Curran on trumpet and harmonium (he has two jobs - fronting a
Tom Waits tribute band and acting musical director of a puppet theatre) and Ben
Hales of Aqualung on guitar and backing vocals. In some combination they are
regularly to be found bringing the Duke's antique songs of confused love to