It’s obvious to most that the landscape of Northern Ireland has changed dramatically in recent years. But while it’s easy to spot the sprouting skylines and soaring property values, the under-representation of Northern Irish acts in the wider British music scene conceals a certain renaissance that has been simmering just out of sight. Standing in glaring contrast to the abundance of Celtic talent emerging from Scotland and Wales in recent years, rarely since the glory days of Stiff Little Fingers and the Undertones has a significant sonic ripple successfully travelled across the sea with any modicum of success. At long last, however, one man is on a mission to set this right at the Fringe.
Not only is Peter Wilson, better known as Duke Special, assaulting the charts one venue at a time, he’s doing it all in his broad mother accent, something he assures Fest he does it because, “it’s really possible to do that and for it to be cool.” It’s a testament to the changing times that Duke is right. “Record companies are looking here a lot more,” he says. “Maybe in the past, a lot of acts from Northern Ireland have given up because it’s just been such bloody hard work but that really is changing.”
Duke’s world may be one filled with vaudeville sounds, weird instruments and a group of collaborators, “which comprise everything from puppet theatres, to rock ‘n’ roll acts, to jazz, to all kinds of things,” but within his aesthetic there’s something definably indigenous to his homeland terrain. The noise he makes might not quite become an archetype of a Belfast sound, but in a climate where groups are so often unsure whether to even adopt their own accent for the sake of a song, a character such as Duke Special is required to take the bull by the horns.