Belfast’s most enigmatic man turns his musical lense on another poignant theme
INVENTIVE BELFAST solo artist Duke Special’s latest album is imaginatively different even by his standards. Peter Wilson – a mainstay of Northern Ireland’s boisterous music scene – has long drawn influence from his surrounds. These include an album based entirely on a Paul Auster novel, and another based on the work of famous photographers featured in the New York’s MMA.
Wilson jokes that his latest release, is influenced by “gardening,” (a genuine love of his) but quickly gets down to the real detail of forthcoming ninth album ‘Hallow’: putting to music the poems of popular Belfast writer Michael Longley.
“Poems don’t tend to have choruses,” Wilson explains of the challenges of the tracks, which carefully mirror Longley’s originals. “I have a huge amount of respect for Michael, and I felt I had to be really careful about how I used his work. Some of his poems have a great refrain or a line at the heart of things that I could use, but to make them work I had to live with things a bit.”
“I wrote one song over a year ago and gave it to him. He was speaking at an event, and he was really delighted and encouraging,” Wilson said of now 78-year-old Longley. “After that I sent him stuff as I went along, including artwork, stuff like that. I really felt like it was a great responsibility. It was both wonderful and scary”
Wilson is being typically modest: under the Duke Special moniker he’s become a stunningly delicate performer, basing his style on intricate and smartly-charming piano tracks, soulful, honeyed vocals, and a turn of phrase Longley himself would no doubt appreciate.
Bringing his influences very much from the music hall days, he’s a theatrical, dreadlocked, vaudeville-style performer, seemingly aiming to connect deeply with his crowds. Wilson has twice been nominated for Ireland’s national music prize, Choice. He tells us he likes to be “a bit of an enigma on stage,” and has referred to his look at “hobo chic.”
Much like his earlier work – check out hit singles ‘Freewheel’ and ‘No Cover Up’ to get a feel – ‘Hallow’ very much draws from the old school of music. It’s written almost entirely around piano and vocals. Sure, Wilson layers in plenty of other instrumentation such as double bass and guitar that he describes as “layered and embedded around” the main tracks, but the heart of his music is very much one man, one great tune, and a piano.