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Duke Special

January 2009

HE was one of the highlights of last year's Splendour Festival in Wollaton Park, a mix of piano pop and music hall. He is Duke Special, aka Peter Wilson, who says his material sits somewhere between Elliot Smith and The Bonzo Dog Doo Da Band.
"I like employing certain aspects of theatre within the performance and using props and mystery," says the 28-year-old from Dublin – though his home city is Belfast.
Influences also include comedian Andy Kaufman and David Bowie.
"I wanted to find a way of being a piano-playing songwriter without being something schmaltzy or disposable."
The UK tour which drops in to Nottingham next week is unusual in that it comes two months before the release of his third album I Never Thought This Day Would Come. How come?
"For six or seven years I've toured constantly... about 150 shows a year. In a kind of Dylan or Van Morrison-esque way where you just keep touring whether you've got something new out or not."
He adds: "It's a chance to keep fans on board and also as a shop window for prospective labels."
Duke is looking for a label as he was among those culled from V2 last year. He does have a label in Ireland, though, which is why his new album is already on sale over there.
It can be bought via his website and fans may want to get hold of the special edition version as it includes paints and artwork for them to enter a competition to win an exclusive Duke Special gig.
"People can paint an alternative front cover and the ten best copies we'll send to Tony Hart," he says of the children's TV legend whose Vision On show introduced the Plasticine pest Morph.
"He retired long ago," he says of Hart.
"He lives in a cottage on his own and his work now is judging art competitions. When my friend alerted me to that I thought, we've got to do that!"
Not that Duke Special is any kind of artist himself.
"I was terrible at school. I used to draw a tractor and people would say 'Is that a fox?'."
The winner of the album competition will get Duke Special to perform in their front room.
"I did it once before as a way of buying a piano. I'd been borrowing this guy's electric piano for ages and he said 'if I organise a wee gig and invite some friends round you can keep it'. I had a guy playing drums with me that time."
He was lucky that it was a detached house with a reasonably sized front room. What if the winner lives in a two-bed terrace?
"(Laughs) I've played in smaller venues than that."
And with him for some of them was Duffy – who played her first shows with him.
"I was doing a solo tour in Ireland and I asked her to do half the tour – I had a drag act doing the other half. She was great. I was driving a transit van around Ireland with her in the back, so it was pretty gritty.
"She was so impressive and you could tell she was going to go a long way, for her attitude and her lack of pretension."

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