Duke Special – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 21st April 2015
It seems like Peter Wilson has been around forever. Since he began trading musically under the name of Duke Special 13 years ago, he has released a hatful of critically acclaimed records, been nominated for, and won a number of prestigious musical awards but has never quite achieved anything approaching mainstream success.
Though a packed Brudenell Social Club might give lie to this assertion, for many he is still flying well under their musical radar. You suspect that neither celebrity nor commercial success matters to Wilson not one jot. He merely goes on his merry way creating, and performing an apparently unlimited supply of bold, inspired and often dramatic music.
This evening we get a magnificent total of 22 songs from the 44 year old Ulsterman which he breaks down for us into three broad categories; old songs, new songs and those from people whose music he loves and admires. Included in the former are a brace of tunes – ‘Rita De Costa’ and the ensuing ‘Hand Of Man’ – from his 2011 release Under The Dark Cloth, whereby Wilson celebrated the work of some notable early photographers; a clutch of songs from his 2006 offering Songs From The Deep Forest, of which the rousing ‘Salvation Tambourine’ and the deceptively jaunty ‘Slip Of A Girl’ are the highlights; and from his debut album Adventures In Gramophone we get the deeply moving ‘Last Night I Nearly Died’.
In terms of the present, Wilson showcases half a dozen songs from his latest album Look Out Machines! which was released only last week. Described by many as his most personal recording to date, and stripped here of its studio production, its intimacy becomes increasingly apparent. Accompanying himself on piano, Wilson conjures even greater vulnerability and beauty out of ‘In A Dive’, ‘Tweed Coats’ (accompanied by a tape of the street sounds of Eastbourne where the album was recorded) and the elegant ‘Statues’.
Yet it is perhaps in his interpretation of the songs of others where Peter Wilson impresses most this evening. Each selection is taken from the canon of musicians and composers who, much like himself, could be described as cultural outsiders; men just out of step or time with commercial acceptance or desire.
There is Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields whose ‘Andrew In Drag’ is covered here; Ivor Cutler – for this quartet of songs Wilson moves across the stage from piano to harmonium and proceeds to capture quite beautifully much of the eccentricity and rebellion inherent in the late Glaswegian musician, poet and singer’s work; the proto-decadence of Kurt Weill’s ‘Alabama Song’; and, best of all, Duke Special’s magnificent reading of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell’s tender celebration of growing up, ‘Thirteen’ which he artfully dovetails into the concluding glory that is his very own ‘Our Love Goes Deeper Than This’.
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