Incendiary interviews Duke Special

“Well you know it’s good to be able to make an omelette on stage every now and again.”

“Well you know it’s good to be able to make an omelette on stage every now and again.”


IN: So, where did the name come from?


DS: Well my real name’s not that interesting. I just wanted something that was kind of in keeping with the music and had a bit of a character to it. A bit of a disguise.


IN: Well at least you’re not a “The” band. It’s intriguing. It makes you think, “Duke Special, what’s going on there?” It’s got a real charm to it, like your music has.


DS: Well it’s a novelty kind of, but not novelty for novelty’s sake. When I play live I deliberately try and, when people first walk into the room, make people go, “Oh what the hell’s going on here?” I think it really complements the music, almost like the artwork on records. It should really compliment the music.


IN: I love the set up that you’ve got. I mean the piano and upright bass is one thing, but you’ve got the guy playing with cheese graters and whisks and all sorts, but I mean, have you never heard of cooking?


DS: Well you know it’s good to be able to make an omelette on stage every now and again. But you know, Tip’s actually selling signature models at our gigs and he has a little manual that tells you of common injuries to avoid. I kid you not. Knuckle abrasions and things like that.


Most of it kind of happened by accident though. I really wanted to have the sound of a washboard and when we were recording we didn’t have one. So we got a cheese grater and a whisk and used that. We tried a wooden spoon with it but the whisk made the better sound so we used that. In fact at one point Tip fell into this large cupboard and it made a really interesting thud, so we sampled it and used it for drums.


As much as anything it was because we had little money and we just wanted to make it as interesting as possible and that just kind of transferred into the live show.


IN: How important is performing live to you as opposed to recording?


DS: I absolutely love both but I treat them differently. Recording wise, some of the fun things that come across live doesn’t really translate into the recording. A live thing is a one off, it’s for that audience and you can use what you’re seeing and reacting to, to create something but in a recording we try to use different things to create an atmosphere. Like putting a gramophone crackle from beginning to end. Just little devices, to try and create this other world kind of feel.


I love playing to an audience and it feels like breathing to me. I’ve always done it and I love it but I love the recording process where you think things are going in one direction and then someone plays a wrong note, but it sounds really lovely. So then you build everything around that and soon that mistake can become the hook of the whole song.

It’s like alchemy I suppose because there’s something magical happens in the studio. It’s more than the sum of its parts because you can work at it and work at it and then suddenly, “Ahh, there it is!”


IN: So is it like, recording like’s painting a picture but playing live’s about creating an atmosphere.


DS: Yeah and every venue’s different. I played the Botanic with Snow Patrol and there’s like 12,000 people and you can’t afford to do little subtle things there, it needs to be really broad strokes. Then I played in a little theater to 400 people and there everyone’s sitting down and I could really afford to explore some of the more fragile side of things. I just love the variety of that. It would kill me if every gig was like the same.


IN: Well there’s some great little venues over here that would suit you.


DS: I’d love to play over here. It’s still early days with V2, but it’d be great to come over here when things are a little more established. You know, so I don’t have to start from scratch in every country. I’d love to play over here on a boat like this actually, that would be absolutely brilliant.


IN: One of the other things that attracted us to you is that we absolutely loved the artwork on your stuff.


DS: The artwork on all the stuff I’ve done is by a friend,Gary Macalwhinn, he’s a guy from Belfast but now lives in London. He’s done all the design work and there’s a guy called Tim Whillin, he’s done all the illustrations. Again he was interested in kind of working in illustration and he said “I’ve done a couple, do you want to take a look at them.” He’s a really great painter but he wanted to do some illustrations so he did one and I absolutely loved it and that’s now the front cover of the promo. It’s the bears all looking at the stage. I didn’t even have the album recorded then but when I looked at it I said, “Right, that’s gonna be the cover of the album.” I just loved it.


In fact the video for the new single, he’s done it all by hand. It’s really cool, with like a tear falling from the bear’s eye. All hand drawn. It’s lovely.


IN: If you could play to a bunch of animals what would they be? Would it be a bunch of bears?


DS: Well there’d be an element of fear in that. They might rip your head off or something.


IN: That sounds like any normal crowd.


DS: Yeah. Just play what they want. I don’t know, the next video Tim has actually drawn the members of my band as animals. He’s drawn Chip, who’s the drummer as a goat, which he’s not very happy about. He asked me whether I thought Chip was a goat or a lion. I said he’s definitely a goat because he’s got a little beard and he likes climbing mountains. He thought a lion would be more manly. Ray, who plays the trumpet, he’s a meercat. I don’t know what I am, which I’m quite worried about actually.


IN: And the important question now, what’s your favourite biscuit?


DS: I used to love Trios but they’re not around anymore I don’t think and I’m still partial to a wagon wheel.


IN: Last one. If Duke Special’s music was a vehicle, what would it be?


DS: A gypsy cart. Horse drawn.



Duke Special will be playing at Eurosonic. That’ll be in the Stadschouwberg, Amsterdam in January. With whisks, cheese graters and possibly a couple of bears. Check him out, it’ll besomething special I would think.


Words: Damian Leslie