One Saturday morning in 2010, one of my best friends was woken up by her clock radio. It was not supposed to go off that day, but both of our lives were made better for it. It was tuned in to the local Minneapolis public radio, and was playing David Ford’s “Cheer Up (You Miserable F*ck)”. Now, one of the things I collect is amusing songs that drop the F-bomb. She knew this would fit the bill nicely, so she emailed me the info.
I was in love. David Ford’s first album had just come out (solo album, he did some fun stuff as part of Easyworld) and the whole of it was really fresh and delightful.
I clearly remember going to YouTube, typing in, “Duke Special” and clicking on the first link. It was the video for the amazing, “Our Love Goes Deeper Than This”. Both the song and the video blew me right away. To this day, it remains a favorite. I could not have asked for a better proper introduction.
And there it started. I hunted down everything I could find by him. And I liked the artwork from the album so much, I started collecting Duke related things as well. I have framed posters is my home and a whole bookshelf devoted to Duke Special boxed sets, tea towels, vinyl, CDs and more.
On November 27, 2010, Duke performed at a house concert in Colorado. The gentleman who brought Duke over was kind enough to open up his house to strangers. I made the trip and it was one of the most memorable nights of music I can remember. I got to meet him, one of the first encounters I had ever had with a musician whose music I really loved, and he was a delight in person. I was too shy to talk to him overmuch, but he made quite the impression on me.
In 2012, I fell hard for the music of Bell X1 (another Irish group; most of their studio stuff is okay, but their live stuff? Incredible!). I took my other best friend along with me for that particular ride. We learned that they were going to be touring stateside and made plans to go to three of their shows. I was going to fly in to Cincinnati and we were going to drive to Ann Arbor, MI, Chicago, IL and, finally, Nashville, TN. As the dates got closer, they announced that Duke would be touring with them. I was at work when I found out the news. The noise I made was pretty embarrassing. I could not think of a better pairing.
“Alphabet Soup” by Bell X1 is the song that got me hooked on BellX1 to start with. Well, after “I’ll See Your Heart (And Raise You Mine)”, That one is a story in and of itself!
Ann Arbor was amazing; they played at The Ark, one of my very favorite venues. It’s a small place with great sound and it has a great feeling to it. We were front and center and I was amazed all over again at just what a talented performer Duke is. The things he can do when he pairs his voice with a piano is nothing short of magical.
I reintroduced myself, and we were able to to have a nice chat. I got to see glimpses of Peter Wilson there, and he is a fascinating gentleman. I also embarrassed the hell out of him by mentioning one of the early duets he did with Maire Brennan (“Peace Has Broken Out” - painful is the word that comes to mind).
I could write several more paragraphs about Bell X1 - do go and see them if you ever have the chance. They’re also really nice boys. There’s been a few more bandstalking trips since, but nothing quite rivaled that first experience. Bell X1 closed the show each night on that tour by having Duke come out and all of them performed a fantastic rendition of Roy Orbison’s “She’s A Mystery to Me.”
“She’s A Mystery to Me” by Bell X1 and Duke Special (David Geraghty starts; his solo projects could be their own essay), then Duke, and finally, Paul Noonan at the end. Dominic Phillips is backing them. This video is actually from the Schubas show I mentioned above!
The gentleman joining Duke is Neil Hannon. They have done a few other things together and in my opinion, Duke always adds so much to the songs! They did a special a while back and my very favorite cut of it is Neil performing his, “Tonight We Fly” with Duke doing backing vocals. It starts a few minutes in.
My Duke Special love is still going strong: his most recent album damn near blew me away. The live recording of a handful of the songs is equally incredible. I love seeing musicians grow into themselves the way he has. And hopefully that will be something that continues to happen, for him and for his fans.
I’m incredibly grateful that Duke Special’s music has found its way into my life. It’s a rare day where I don’t listen to at least a bit of it. His way with words and a melody continue to surprise. And wow, by listening to his stuff, I have had a very thorough education in the Belfast accent!
- John Helquist
And Just Recently...
Peter also recorded a new song, which was featured by BBC Radio - Without Within. The song, he explains, is from the new production of Gulliver's Travels, which will be staged in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast from July 30 to August 1, 2015. Give it a listen! It's a nice little ballad... :-)