A YEAR is a long time in the musical life of Irishman Duke Special – gramophone DJing, taking part in a TV songwriting talent show and writing a new album have filled the months since his last Inverness date.
Always known for performances with a sense of theatre, he also staged a Christmas show in his home city Belfast.
“I have always wanted to have an element of theatre – if a concert or live gig is theatre, I see cinema comparing to a record. You make that in a way to bear up to repeated listens, whereas the live thing is very much for that moment, I find.
“I’ve recorded live gigs, but for the most part it is for the live moment
“I loved the theatre in everything from Bowie and the bands in the 80s, when I began listening to music, the costumes people wore and the antics on stage – The Who smashing guitars or seeing a band walking down the street and they all look similar.
“As soon as you walk onstage, you’re projecting a part of yourself, whether you’re a politician or a minister of the cloth or a performer.
“It is theatre – no matter how earnest or joking it is.
“The vaudeville thing I am always aware of–- that element of theatre – and I embrace it and use it.
“I am a more heightened version of myself on stage and I try and be aware of that.”
An old-fashioned gramophone has shared the stage with Duke Special performances for years, but it’s only in the last few that Peter has been including DJing with old 78 records in his shows.
“I got to know a guy who is part of a group of gramophone DJs called the Shellac Collective and over the past couple of years I’ve been DJing with them at festivals.
“I’ve got a very small collection of 78s and over the past two years I’ve been building it up.
“I’ve a residency in Belfast once a month. It’s so much fun and there’s the pleasure of not singing my own songs as well,” Peter laughed.
It’s also opened the door to Peter on the world of swing.
“I’m discovering this scene I didn’t even know existed, blues and swing. A couple put on swing nights, there are lessons and workshops and then they come to my night and dress up and take the floor. It’s fantastic and breaks the ice for a lot of other people.
“People have started giving me 78s and I visit charity shops - you get the odd amazing find, there’s really good music. Though – like today – just because music is on a CD, it doesn’t make it any good.”
Peter got the chance to concentrate on other people’s songs – the work of new songwriters – when he took part in Irish TV talent show The Hit championing and performing 1969 by Aaron Hackett.
“I was asked if I’d be interested,” said Peter. “And as anyone who knows me will know, I’m not a fan of the machine of X Factor etc – I find it exploitative and not nurturing.
“But the idea behind The Hit was that unknown songwriters could write a tune for a more established artist.
“At the beginning, each artist went into pods to hear the songs and in a very short time you had to choose two songs based on your reaction. You were given a budget and the song was released into the charts and whichever charted the highest, won.
“It wasn’t totally ideal because it was hyped for TV purposes, but the crux of it was that it was about the song and the songwriter.
“The winning song in the end was covered by Finbar Furey and got to number one. It was written by a songwriter no one had ever heard of before and I think it highlighted songwriting.
“Aaron is a 16-year-old fellow whose song about young love had words just well beyond his years. I thought he really captured that feeling.”
Songwriting is fresh in Peter’s mind as he has been writing for his next album – being recorded the week after his return from his Highland dates.
“The last record was a couple of years ago – this one is going to sound more direct. And it’s very rhythmic.
“I’ve collaborated on it because I was doing a lot of touring and have three boys at home so my time is precious.
“I’ve had a lot of positive experiences collaborating. Boo Hewerdine (The Bible) and who plays a lot with Eddi Reader worked with me, and it’s been a very positive experience. When you know the jist of what you want to say, you just get there a bit quicker with someone else.”
The Highland Duke Special dates see Peter playing solo, though supported by Coleraine singer songwriter Verse Chorus Verse aka Tony Wright.
“As I’m going into recording when I come back from Scotland, I’ll be playing some new songs.
“Tony will probably do some collaborating with me at the gigs.”
Duke Special plays the Woodlands Centre, Stornoway, on Friday, the Ironworks, Inverness, on Sunday, the Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore, on Monday and the Deeside Inn, Aberdeen next Thursday (August 7).