Review: Duke Special at The Stables MK

Northern Irish songwriter Peter Wilson, aka Duke Special, is currently on tour around the UK. The tour is gearing up to the April release of Duke’s latest album Look Out Machines! Friday night I was in Milton Keynes to see Duke’s show at The Stables MK – and I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and atmosphere of the performance.

Duke Special

Duke played a mix of new tracks from Look Out Machines! alongside covers and some older favourites. From new songs like Step To The Magical to older songs such as Apple Jack and Cherry Blossom Girl, the entire show was delivered with energy and passion.



It was especially nice to see Duke perform solo in such an intimate venue. The smaller audience and acoustics of the room allowed Duke’s talent as a musician to really come across to the audience. He didn’t need any fancy bells and whistles to keep the audience’s attention – everyone was captivated right from the start.

Duke’s distinctive vocals dominate his music. He has a clear tone to a voice that somehow manages to be haunting despite its warm depth. His strong Northern Irish accent is also easy to hear, lending a certain quirkiness and charm to his music. Coupled with his expert piano playing, the acoustic performance really works well for Duke Special.

Great performer

Duke is a great performer, and his sheer love for music is clear to see from the emotion he shows while playing. His laid-back and adaptable approach to the show was also refreshing among a world of strict set-lists and time-keeping. Asking the audience for song suggestions and specific requests was a really nice personal touch. It also further showcased his talents as a musician, as he was able to take each of the songs he was given and just play them perfectly, even admitting he hadn’t played some for quite a while. A fellow audience member told me that he’d seen Duke live seven times, and every time was completely different.

As well as his own songs, Duke played a wide variety of covers over the course of the show. Most were covers of his favourite songs, or by artists he admires. A lot of these were by the eccentric musician and humourist Ivor Cutler, such as I’m Going In A Field, I Worn My Elbows, and There’s A Turtle In My Soup. A particularly stand-out cover was The Magnetic Fields’ Andrew In Drag, which soon had the audience laughing!

Duke encouraged the audience to get involved, teaching them the words to certain songs so they could sing along. At the end of the show he also invited the audience to come down to the stage to sit around him as he played, which was a lovely effect reminiscent of an adult telling a story to captivated children.

Throughout the show Duke played three separate pianos. As he informed the audience, the smaller two were his own from the tour but the third, a spectacular grand piano, was provided by the venue. He said he loved playing a ‘proper’ piano, but still wanted to play the others because he felt bad for them!

The support act was Paul Cook and The Chronicles. Paul is a singer-songwriter from London, who also performed a short acoustic set to warm up the audience before Duke came on. He came back on stage during the encore and sang back-up vocals for Duke. There were little moments of humour and banter between the two, adding to the pleasant atmosphere of the evening.

Duke Special’s new album Look Out Machines! is out 6th April.