Duke Special is an artist aptly named. Dynamic, musically ambitious & bracingly eccentric, with his inimitable style and lush musicality. Hailing from Belfast with a sound that is self-confessed “hobo-chic”, Duke Special – AKA the endlessly inventive Peter Wilson – is once heard, never forgotten. Blissfully at home in his own alluring genre of beautifully bruised romanticism, Duke Special inhabits a world unlike any other – a world filled with vaudeville-esque sensibility, sing-a-longs and addictive melodies .
Those who know him for the platinum album ‘Songs from the deep forest’, including the hit song ‘Freewheel’ may be surprised by the breadth of his work. Duke Special’s immense creative talents have seen him involved in projects as diverse as writing the theme tune for Sesame Tree (the Northern Ireland edition of Sesame Street where he also got to sing with The Muppets) to writing the music for and appearing in Deborah Warner’s critically acclaimed 2009 production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children at London’s National Theatre. He then recorded an album of the twelve songs from the play, which was to form part of his ambitious project for 2010 – the release of a 3 CD box-set, The Stage, A Book & The Silver Screen. This box-set also included a 5-track EP called Huckleberry Finn, the first ever recording of an unfinished musical written by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson based on the Mark Twain classic, and the album The Silent World of Hector Mann, featuring 12 songs based on The Book of Illusions by contemporary American author Paul Auster.
In 2011, he presented a TV documentary for RTE in Ireland on the life and times of 50s megastar Ruby Murray and released a charity single of recordings of 3 of Duke’s favourite Ruby songs, donating all the profits to the Irish charity Depaul Ireland (www.depaulireland.org).
Duke Special was also commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for their exhibition on the photographers Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand. He was invited to write a series of original songs based on the photographs featured in the exhibition, which he then
performed at the Museum’s concert hall (and later in London, Dublin and Belfast) to a backdrop of the photographs. The songs were released on CD as ‘Under the dark cloth’.
Of his 2012 album ‘Oh Pioneer’, Duke said “Wooden Fingers Puppet Theatre Company, The Bank of Ideas, a banned Iranian children’s book about a fish, a pirate who wants to retire, a bar man who hears people’s stories whether he likes it or not, the human condition and late night conversations with friends on the roof of the ‘Oh Yeah’ building in Belfast about your dreams are just a few of the ingredients to go into ‘Oh Pioneer’.
Duke is now busy writing his next album and will go into the studio to start recording soon. But in the meantime, he has also recently ventured into the world of Dj-ing, becoming the official Irish arm of the Shellac Collective, run by a like-minded group of eccentrics who are passionate about 78rpm records from bygone times. Duke and the Shellacs started to appear at the same festivals, and have performed together on occasion and now Duke has taken the plunge, and formed Duke Special’s Gramophone Club.
From the decadence of the 1920’s Jazz Age, the pure glamour of the 1930’s Dance Band Era and the nostalgia of the War Years, exciting Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Jumpin’ Jive, exotic Latin and Calypso beats through to the Rock ‘n’ Roll explosion of the 1950s, Duke Special will run the gamut of 78rpm DJ-ing on a gramophone.