“Like the words are crawling back inside the ink…” Duke Special at Wilton’s Music Hall

I LOVE Wilton’s Music Hall. It’s insanely convenient at a mere two minutes walk from the flat, and I’m proud to have such a treasure on our doorstep. The oldest surviving music hall in the world is bound to be a special place, but Wilton’s is magical and awesome in the truest sense. The crumbly walls, peeling paint and ancient spiral pillars all add to an incredible charm, and when I took Adam there for the first time a few months ago he was just as enchanted as me.

And enchanted is just the word to describe how I feel about Duke Special too. His romantic ditties are the most wonderful cheer-me-up and I’ve been listening again and again since I saw him at the Roundhouse for the BBC Electric Proms years ago.

And I got to see both of these very special treasures at once.

When we went to Wilton’s those months ago for the Vintage Open House and Cake Competition, I was devastated to see that we’d missed a Duke Special gig just a week before. So, vowing never to miss anything there again, I signed up to their mailing list. And sure enough, I didn’t have to wait long until a newsletter popped into my inbox with the happy news that he was ‘back by popular demand’. Tickets were snapped up within hours, but we got ours just minutes after the email came in and we began to get excited.

It being the first time we’d been to Wilton’s as a music venue, it really was all we could hope for, absolutely perfect for his music-hall, vaudeville style performances. And as the support act came onto stage, we were positively beaming with joy over this gorgeous place.

Boo Hewerdine had been instrumental in the writing of the new album and so it seemed a natural choice for him to precede Duke. With a charmingly northern accent, Boo introduced his well known and lesser known songs, all of which he sang in beautifully smooth voice alongside his accomplished guitar.

Having announced that he’d be back later, Boo introduced Duke Special (and the wonderful Arco String Quartet) onto stage and we began a sort of musical journey…. In fact Peter would soon describe how he likes to ‘venture into new worlds,’ and this time we were going with him.

His new album, Under the Dark Cloth, was first performed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It’s really a concert of songs, drawing inspiration from the very early photographs of Stieglitz, Steichen & Strand. This is his tribute to those pioneers who helped create an art form, and Duke uses breaks in between each song to tell their stories and interpret his feelings about them.

Using ancient looking slides and cleverly designed video art, Duke narrates his way through early photography in both song and speech. The images he used to create each song obviously spoke so much to him and in turn they captivated me, as his passion for them comes across so eloquently.

As we’d been by Boo, we’re again drawn in and involved in the performance and it’s impossible not to fall for the dread locked and eye-linered charmer, as he sits at his piano telling stories. He couldn’t be more wrong when he describes himself as ‘out of his depth’ as he effortlessly draws us back into more romantic, more dramatic times and worlds, and even though I know I’ll enjoy the album on CD at home, that’ll mainly be because it reminds me of this captivating performance.

The Under the Dark Cloth tour continues and I can heartily recommend a visit….

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