Record Overplayed
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Duke Special interview | Leicester Charlotte | 08/12/07

"It’s hard to write on the road when you’re in a Transit van with six other people"

Interview and Photos by Dawn and Rich

This evening’s Duke Special gig at the Leicester Charlotte is one of the best yet. The diminutive Irishman’s music has always been wonderful and in a class of its own but, over the course of the last year, Duke’s alter-ego Peter Wilson has grown in confidence onstage and, as he does, his performances become ever more unforgettable.

Earlier in the evening, Record Overplayed sat down with the Duke himself for a chat about everything that’s happened since we last saw him, in Leeds back in May.

‘That was a long time ago...’ says Peter, with a thoughtful look suggesting that he hasn’t actually stopped touring since then. The number of yawns which punctuate his answers add weight to this theory, but Peter is as charming and as talkative as ever, despite his lack of sleep. ‘That was in the middle of a headline tour with Beth Rowley, I think. Beth is now number nine in the iTunes download chart so she’s doing really, really well – things are kicking off for her.

‘I did a lot of festivals over the summer - everything from Glastonbury to Glasgowbury, in Northern Ireland – and various European festivals, then after that I did a residency at the Belfast Empire - five nights each with a different theme - which was brilliant. Great fun to do and very challenging.

‘I did a three week solo tour in Ireland of small venues. I’ve been to Paris, I did four nights in London...’

As if that weren’t enough, Peter is currently on the road supporting Crowded House at a number of big shows, in between which he’s managing to squeeze in the odd headlining gig like tonight. So when is he going to find the time to write a follow-up to Songs From the Deep Forest?

‘It’s in my plans,’ says Peter. ‘Over the next while I’m going to be taking five months off from the road, from January to May. It’s going to be a time of writing, recording, recuperating - and anything else beginning with ’R’!. And reinventing, probably, as well. And time to figure out where I’m going. The label I have been with, V2, has been taken over by Universal and I didn’t know if I’d be kept on, but it turns out that I have been, so my next record will be on Universal Records. I’ve got a few new songs, but I really need some time by myself. It’s very hard to write on the road when you’re travelling in a Transit van with six other people!’

But from the sounds of it Peter’s songwriting ideas often come when he least expects them:

‘Walking along, I often get a melody, then a little hook line, then eventually I’ll transfer it to the piano or the guitar. It can take some time getting it right. Often the melody comes first for me. Maybe a few phrases – often there’ll be maybe a phrase someone says that sticks in my head then I’ll be walking along and I’ll come up with a melody. Getting the second verse is always hard. You get an initial idea then you realise you know, you’ve got to follow it up. I’m a bit of a novice in terms of writing so I’m very much looking forward to stretching myself in that respect.’

One of Peter’s most recent releases was the download-only single Our Love Goes Deeper Than This, which featured Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers. Quite a line-up for a single?

‘I had the idea of writing a brand new song for the rerelease of the album, and I wanted something that was a bit ambitious,’ he explains. ‘Originally I had a choir of about 20 people, really well-known people, which was really ridiculous for what I was trying to do. But as I was writing the song I could imagine Neil singing it, so I gave him a call and asked him. And I’d met Romeo a few times over the summer and he really liked my record and I really liked his, so he ended up singing backing vocals.’

With so much having happened for Duke Special this year, it’s difficult for Peter to pick out the highlights but, when pressed, he says: ‘Headlining one of the main tents at the Electric Picnic Festival in Dublin was brilliant. And so was supporting Ray Davies at the Electric Proms.’
No doubt tonight’s gig could also now be well up there among Peter’s favourite moments of the year, thanks to its lively crowd and seemingly endless encores. The show contains everything from deafening audience singalongs to a frankly terrifying interlude during Salvation Tambourine when, as the lights go down, Duke’s record player emits maniacal laugher, his band unleash a cacophony of eerie noises and, lurking in the shadows, hatted guitarist Paul Pilot looks for a split second as though he belongs on the front cover of A Clockwork Orange.

Thankfully normality is soon restored, with Ben Castle’s extraordinary saxophone solos, Duke and Paul’s beautiful rendition of This Could Be My Last Day and Chip Bailey’s death-defying stage dive amongst the night’s other highlights. Thank you, Duke and co, for another special evening.

With huge thanks to the lovely Peter and Matt, and to Phil and Paul. Visit www.DukeSpecial.com for more information.

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