VENUE________THE EMPIRE MUSIC HALL, BELFAST
DATE__________27 OCTOBER 2005
What does it take to ‘make it’? Surely the big time is not a simple formula of talent = success. That the most downloaded song of the summer was by James Blunt is ample evidence that excessive talent isn’t necessary. It also puts to bed the idea that originality or lyrical ingenuity is a necessary pre-requisite. In fact, fortune seems to be as simple as being in the right place at the right time.
If the world was fair and the righteous prospered, Duke Special would be topping the charts. He’s talented, original, charming, honest, and has a timeless ability to write great songs. Behind the masquerades of dreadlocks and mascara, he sings catchy, clever, piano pop songs. He is adored by all he encounters, which is all too few.
But things are looking up, and he just might break through to a wider audience. If tonight was anything to go by, his number must be coming up. The second of a two-night stint at the Empire, as part of the Belfast Festival, was sold out and buzzing with anticipation. He was backed by an extraordinary collection of people who perfectly fit his eccentric circus-carnival image. His percussionist stole the show; rarely sitting still for more than one song, he was banging whatever came to hand, including cheese graters and wooden boxes.
The show was a bit shambolic, piano’s were swapped around, there were musical interludes and the number on stage grew with every song, but that only added to the party feeling. For the first of two encores Duke invited his sisters to accompany him on ‘My only sunshine’. He never fails to give it his all, and sang ‘Freewheel’ and other standouts from Adventures in Gramaphone like it was his last gig. If not the most clinical performance it was a lot of fun, and perhaps the last time we see him in a small venue. Surely fame and fortune beckon.