There is a ‘battle of the bands’ taking place at the same time as the gig. The entrance has more combat kecks than a military camp; meanwhile, mums and dads are coming through to see if ‘our Terry’ can actually master three chords. I leave them with their Tame Impala and Black Keys covers and stay downstairs. It’s safer there. Always is.
It’s fair to say that the glory days have long gone for Duke Special, AKA Peter Wilson. Rewind nine years ago, ‘Freewheel’ was almost a hit; rewind six, he arranged the songs for the The National Theatre’s production of ‘Mother Courage’. His new album Look Out Machines! is a strange beast. Some of the tracks here are smothered in layers of keyboard. This is as almost an unnecessary process as smothering a fillet mignon in chocolate sauce. Still, it grows as the evening continues. ‘God In A Dive’ is a beautiful piece of songwriting about finding the beauty of the universe in other places than on your knees.
It’s a pared-back performance. There is less of the theatricality I’ve seen previously, but the reference points are still there: even alone on stage with a piano, an electric piano and a CD player. There’s also some eclectic covers here: The Magnetic Fields, Big Star, plus songs by Weill and Ivor Cutler re-interpreted in a lovely, yet demented/deadpan way. Support act, Paul Cook, provides backing vocals on a sweet cover of Echo And The Bunnymen’s ‘The Killing Moon’. It’s always been an overrated classic, but even Mac The Mouth would have enjoyed that.
It seems Duke was nervous tonight. Suffering a smoker’s cough, forgetting and fluffing the lyrics, pausing the gig midway to run to the toilet (don’t worry, he washed his hands before touching the piano). He’s always been a fearless performer and a brilliant writer. However, I’ve never seen nerves get to someone in such a way. Thankfully, there is enough warmth coming from the stage and radiating back to compensate for it, as he journeys through the highlights and dark passageways of his work.
Where he goes from here, is anyone’s guess. But a bird singing in a tree is a beautiful thing, regardless of how many of us notice.