Still a little stiff and tired with ringing ears from last night, I must experess my huge enjoyment of another Duke Special extravaganza at St. George's Market last night. The event was somewhat unusual, with a big supporting lineup introduced by local guy Paul Currie who led us through an eclecitic mix of harp music, bluegrass, comedy and rock music. The list included Paul Pilot, who was in Duke's band later on, Tim Minchin, (who appears to have been separated at birth from Duke), Cahier No. 9, The Lowly Knights (who I am sure were very good but we couldn't hear their accoustic set in the middle of the crowd!) bizzarre but entertaining New Yorker, Jason Trachtenburg
Duke's set began with 3 new ones, as he worked his way down the track list of the new CD; the striking "Mockingbird Wish Me Luck" kicked things off followed by the instant hit "Sweet Sweet Kisses" and "Those Proverbs We Made in the Winter Must End". He went on to intersperse the new with the familiar for almost 2 hours of pure genius.
If anyone had concerns that the new material would not be up to the high standard Duke Special has set, they should be properly dispelled by last night's performace. Although the crowd took a while to get into some of the quieter ones, they clicked immediately with the fun "Flesh & Blood Dance", the grower, "Let Me Go" and, of course, "Diggin' an Early Grave". All the favourites were on the set list and the band were just superb; where else can you get the unique and hillarious talents of Chip Bailey, the superb musicianship of Ben Castles, backed with great quality on drums, base, guitar (Paul Pilot) and a Hammond Organ player who wore face bandages the whole way through!?!
Duke made the full use of the venue (literally, being in the crowd 3 times) and the set (including standing on top of his piano, rather precariously!) but mostly in how he fed off the electric atmopshere, as he uniquely does. He was clearly loving the experience and we loved him back, as he skillfully controlled the pace and atmosphere the whole way through and kept us longing for more right through the night, even after being on our feet almost 5 hours.
The encore, a perfect end to the evening, included a couple of fantastic cover versions, starting with Van Morrisons "Orangefield" sung a cappella and very movingly. We were treated to a unique version of "Freewheel" with Duke, his piano and a slide guitar accompanyment, which was also very powerful. Tim Minchin joined the band for the finale of "Our Love Goes Deeper that This" which left the guest singer seeming in total shock at the reaction of the audience who were, by this time, firmly in the palm of the Dukes hand.
The other cover was a powerful version of the old Specials song, "Ghosttown". The irony of this won't be lost on anyone; this song used to be an accurate description of Belfast but, as Duke said, not any more, and the emergence of St. Georges Market as a wonderful gig venue is testimony to how the city has changed and come alive. The ghosts of St Georges will have been proud that one of this city's finest musicians has taken yet another Special step forward to proving himself to be one of the best performers anywhere around.