A decade on and Duke Special returns to Lewis

Duke Special performs at The Woodlands Centre tonight (Friday, August 1st)
Duke Special performs at The Woodlands Centre tonight (Friday, August 1st)

It was ten years ago that the dynamic, musically ambitious and bracingly eccentric Duke Special performed at the Woodlands Centre.

But this evening (Friday, August 1st) the Duke – aka the endlessly inventive Peter Wilson – is back at the Lews Castle Grounds venue, bringing his unique and ever altering and expanding brand of music back to the Western Isles.

And although his inimitable style, lush musicality and self-confessed ‘hobo-chic’ sound is once heard, never forgotten, island fans will notice something a little different after Wilson’s decade of vast variety, working on projects as far apart as writing theme tunes for children’s television to dramatic performances in London’s National Theatre.

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Wilson grew up with music and was passed the family tradition of playing piano from his grandmother.

In 2002 he stepped out for the first time as a solo artist and Duke Special was born.

Four years later came a signing with V2 Records, the release of second album ‘Songs from the Deep Forest’, and a gig BB2’s ‘Later...with Jools Holland’ alongside Amy Winehouse amongst others.

Roll on 2007 and Duke Special headlined a concert with the Ulster Orchestra, numerous festivals including Glastonbury, and perform as part of the BBC Electric Proms.

His third album ‘I Never Thought This Day Would Come’ was released the following year; Wilson won the Meteor Music Award for ‘Best Irish Male’.

He wrote the theme tune to Northern Irish children’s television show ‘Sesame Tree’ and featured on it singing alongside The Muppets.

Duke Special’s performances moved to the Royal National Theatre stage in London in 2009 when he appeared on stage as part of Deborah Warner’s critically acclaimed new production of Bertolt Brecht’s play ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’, for which Wilson wrote a number of songs.

Wilson then recorded an album of 12 songs from the play, which formed part of his ambitious 2010 project – the release of a three CD box-set ‘The Stage, A Book & The Silver Screen’.

The box-set also included a five-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.

From music to drama to art next as 2011 saw a commission by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art inviting Duke Special write, and perform in the Museum’s concert hall, a series of original songs based on the exhibition of photographic works by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand.

Two years ago Wilson went on to release ‘Oh Pioneer’ and last year he collaborated with Celtic supergroup Clannad, and performed on Irish television chat show The Late Late Show, as well as on Terry Wogan’s BBC Radio 3 show.

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. And it’s a world well worth a visit tonight!