Duke Special at Islington Assembly Hall
The Islington Assembly Hall is a fantastic place to see live music. It is a small capacity venue in the heart of the city – a rare gem with flawless acoustics. The venue lends itself to someone like Duke Special, encouraging the audience to really listen to the songs and get involved with the artist on stage.
Duke Special announced this one-off London show, in addition to dates in Belfast where each night has a different theme. Londoners were treated to a live rendition of 2006 album Songs From The Deep Forest in full and were instantly mesmerised as the singer took to the stage. His look is striking and instantly recognisable with his shaved hair topped with dreadlocks. Settling down behind his upright piano, lit only by a spotlight, he began with old material that silenced the eager audience.
With a remarkable and emotive voice, like a lovechild of David Ford and Rufus Wainwright, his Belfast accent adds a wonderful charm to his story-telling lyrics which, he explains, feel more like diary entries. His music is strange and intriguing, often tugging at the heartstrings and inspiring the audience to shake with enthusiastic dancing.
Duke Special (real name Peter Wilson) is backed by two multi-instrumentalists, one on saxophone, clarinet and backing vocals and the other on an array of percussion. At one point the drummer played the kitchen utensil and cheese grater – an amazing effect! Watching Duke Special live was like being at the theatre, although his performance was almost vaudeville, it never felt like a novelty act. Together the band is made up of polished performers, and the audience lapped it up.
In a show based around one album, there was still plenty of spontaneity. After a rousing performance of Ballad of a Broken Man, the piano needed fixing so Duke Special threw in a cover of Whiter Shade of Pale to conceal the silence.
Duke Special is a unique talent. It is not often that a musician can have a crowd dancing and roaring with laughter one moment, and then choking back their tears with a piano ballad the next. It was clear to see that everyone in the room loved every single second of the performance, and when the artist told everyone to see him again in Belfast, plenty obliged.
Photos: Steve Taylor
For further information and future events visit Duke Special’s website here.
Watch the video for Last Night I Nearly Died here: