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Wrexham Central, Wrexham, 23 May 2006
The uninitiated would be forgiven for thinking that after their first glance at Duke Special that they're in for a musical performance away from the norm and difficult to comprehend. They'll be partly right but they'll be wrong on the comprehension issue.
In a musical world where it is almost impossible to be unique, Duke has perfected his own sound which is melodic, clear and easy on the ear.
I first saw him as a solo act supporting Juliet Turner on UK tour early in 2005. Last night he was headlining with an accompanist who was as daft as brush.
It was one of those nights where you just knew you were going to be entertained. A brief examination of furniture on the stage before the duet made their appearance added weight to that assumption.
It looked more like an antique bric-a-brac shop window than a conventional musician's set. The drum kit comprised two big bass drums, one at the front, the other was at the percussionist's right at around head level. There were a couple of old fashioned gramophones placed either side of the stage. Duke's tatty old upright piano was void of varnish. It looked like something you'd pay someone to get rid of. There was a transistor radio placed on top of it. Centre front of the stage was a broomstick thing with a bell at the top various other bits and bobs attached, finished off with a battered old pan lid at the bottom.
After a couple of support acts, Duke and his accompanist, Chip Bailey, entered the stage. Chip sat behind his drumkit, shoulder length crimped hair, adopting a somewhat disinterested pose while Duke wound one of the gramophones up to speed before taking his place at the piano. Then piano was bashed and drums were clattered as we were launched into action with 'Wake Up Scarlett'(from his My Villain Heart EP).
Prior to their arrival I was receiving verbal earache off the missus. There were threats of "I'm not coming to any more of these!".
At the start of the third song, 'Last Night I Nearly Died' (another from My Villain Heart), Chip came from behind his drumkit with a Tesco carrier bag in hand. After delving in and flicking the first old egg whisk over his left shoulder he produced another and a cheese grater. These were used as percussion for the first line of the chorus. Second line he turns and bashes the cymbals with the whisk in a state of rage. Tears of laughter were streaming down my wife's face..I think all was forgiven.
The cluttered broomstick made an appearance in a couple of other songs. It was addressed and played in a manner similar to the way a joiner studies and shapes a piece of wood.
When I first heard Duke perform in Manchester last year there was one song which stayed with me for months afterwards, that was 'Freewheel' (from his Lucky Me EP). He sang it again last night - and that song alone is worth getting out of the house to witness live.
Procedings closed with two song encore. 'Goodnight Irene' an oldie possibly dedicated to the members of the audience with links to The Principality. And 'John Lennon Love' from his latest EP, 'Your Vandal' . Audience particpation, was invited at first, then it was demanded (and obtained) by Chip.
For me, the biggest disappointment was the audience. Their attentiveness and behaviour were faultless - their number was less than 40 though. Duke Special & Chip deserve full houses wherever they play.
My souvenirs from the show :- his latest EP , 'Your Vandal', a cheese grater with egg whisk (plus a sheet of instructions) and the live version of Freewheel still playing in my mind.
Review by Graham Ashmore