'It’s been ages since I’ve been to Derry. I’m very happy to be here!' With those words, cheers, shouts and applause erupt from all four corners of the upstairs bar in Sandinos, as Duke Special, aka Peter Wilson, announces his arrival on stage.
The Belfast-born singer has always been a fascinating individual. His outlandish white-boy dreadlocks, vaudevillian stage show and self-depreciating Northern Irish charm are the sort of things that very easily grab one’s attention. And that’s exactly what 'The Duke' does tonight, bringing a lot of liveliness to an intimate setting.
Liveliness is the watchword here; this Derry audience is expectant, bristling with adrenaline. But Wilson resists the temptation for an obviously crowd-pleasing set, branching out into territory that is nostalgic and experimental as well as familiar.
After the audience are treated to a slow-burning set from support act Tom McShane, which includes the odd tantalising riff, the Duke starts warming up the crowd in his own inimitable style with a tribute to 1950s legend Ruby Murray.
It's a gentle performance of her hit 'Happy Days and Lonely Nights'. He maintains a similarly effective tone with 'Closer To The Stars' before the multi-talented Temperance Society Chip Bailey arrives to help the Duke literally rock the house.
And so it happens. Duke, Chip and the crowd lift their voices and instruments for the excellent 'Wake Up Scarlett'. But as good as that is, it’s the Duke’s rendition of the classic 'Portrait' that really gets people moving.
Like 'Last Night I Nearly Died' and 'Salvation Tambourine', it’s such a well-loved song that he’s not afraid to have a little more fun with it. The crowd have equally as much, if not more fun, singing along to the catchy and energetic 'Applejack' from the Huckleberry Finn EP.
It sometimes seems that the energy and excitement of the performance is a little overwhelming for the Duke, in that neither of his masterpieces, 'No Cover Up' and 'Freewheel', get their best renditions on the night. Luckily, the audience are so into the swing of things that they don’t seem to mind.
After a lovely rendition of Elliot Smith’s 'Baby Britain', which fits nicely into the Duke’s oeuvre, we get three varied and original songs inspired by a photography exhibition. Then it’s from the artistic to outright amusing with the hilarious, Looney Tunes-like 'Wanda, Darling Of The Jockey Club'. It’s a tribute to the Duke’s talent that the shifts in tone throughout the night are never jarring, and this is no exception.
And just when you think he can’t possibly have much left in the tank – how do you top 'Our Love Goes Deeper Than This' for a finale (watch the video below)? – he somehow takes his performance to another level altogether in the encore.
A very passionate return to Ruby Murray territory ('Real Love') precedes a staggering cover of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. It’s impossible to hear that song nowadays and not be moved by the fate of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, and the Duke does it justice. Typically rousing renditions of 'Everybody Wants A Little Something' and 'I Let You Down' give the audience some much-needed uplift.
As he signs off with 'Mockingbird Wish Me Luck', we know that once again, we have seen the Duke consolidate his status as one of Northern Ireland’s most versatile, affable, unorthodox and dependable performers.