An evening with Duke Special
One would usually not expect to see a man with dreadlocks, eyeliner, suitcase and record player walk on stage in a small country pub. But as the audience soon learned when the gig in question is a gig with Duke Special the ordinary gets thrown out the window.
According to the tickets the doors were to open at 8:30 pm and so they did however the audience waited until 10pm before the support act, The Ladys Blue arrived on stage. And as the ‘Ladys' put it “Not what you (the audience) was expecting. Blonde beehives and furry coats that resembled a sun burnt Big Bird (from Seasme Street).
Special arrived on stage at 11:10pm to resounding applause from the 125 strong audience present. After the opening number Special in his soft layed back Belfast accent told the audience, “I come bearing a suitcase with some records to play and some songs to sing”. He then passed out song sheets to the audience “one between two”. Once everyone had a copy to look into, Special then launched into a rendition of I'm Gonna Love You Til You Love Me Back with the girls and boys getting instructions along the way as to when they were to pipe up and sing along. With song sheets in hand the audience got going.
The sing along was very amusing, with the boys seeming to feel their masculinity was at stake. They felt the need to belt everything out, while the girls were slightly more reserved. But the tactic was very successful, the audience got into it, some a little more than others but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
Special shows a unique courage in getting up on a small stage, just him and his piano. The lack of distance between him and the audience, and the lack of a back on stage if he were to make any blunders would have made them all the more noticeable. His courage paid off and the intimacy of the setting suited perfectly.
The understated lighting display complement the setting wonderfully. We found out later in the show that there had been problems with the original light show. Special apologised for this saying that the gig being the opening one on the tour and the display not working resulted in it being a unique performance. The display however was not missed and the performance certainly was not any the worse for the lack of it. Another intriguing touch was the record player, which was used for some of the songs.
In a departure from what is now expected of musicians, to sit and play their songs and leave Special's athletic and energetic style of piano playing and the amount of energy that he put into the performance made for a memorable evening.
The mellow tones to his voice contrasted greatly with the cheers and wolf whistles from the audience. There was only one point on which the venue let itself down. The pub has two separate bars one where the gig was taking place, the larger of the two and a second where the regulars were enjoying a pint or two. During quieter moments of the show sound traveled from the latter and interrupted the performance. However members of the audience soon got rid of the noise with a few Shhs and “would someone ever close the door”.
Special yet again abandoned the norm about three quarters of the way through the show and asked if there were any requests from the audience. One member asked for Maps. The request was fulfilled but only after another sing along of Our Love Goes Deeper than this. This was interrupted by Special with “I beg your pardon” in response to a comment from one member of the audience.
When Special did play “Maps” respectful Shhs went around to quieten the more boisterous members of the audience.
As the last song of the night Special asked for another request. The audience decided almost unanimously to ask for Brixton Leaves. This again developed into a sing along but only in the parts that special requested. Special finished off accompanied by a low murmur from the audience.
For his encore Special was greeted by “Good on ya boya” from one member of the audience as he walked back on stage, a sure sign in Offaly that, the night was a success.
The night ended with raucous applause, the audience having forgotten the long wait to see special.
One man, one piano and as one local put it “One hell of a hair do”. Simplicity quite simply works.
Duke Special The Solo Tour continues until 3 November including dates in Mullingar, Galway and Dublin. Finishing up with a show in the Grand Opera House Belfast. For more details check out www.dukespecial.com.
Photos by Kieran Larkin.