I have followed the Irish musician Peter Wilson’s (aka Duke Special) career from the very beginning, giving him one of his first radio sessions as Booley House way back in the day. I have watched the twists and turns of a determined young man seeking a way to fulfil his dreams for his art.
I remember him deciding that the piano was not the way to go and drawing a guitar band around him, renamed Benzine Headset. Then along came Coldplay and Wilson’s instrument was suddenly back in vogue and loads of bands improved because they gave the musically talented member who had been an add on out in the wings a more central position in writing and performance.
Wilson found his original vocation and genius and the piano became the focus. While watching him with the Ulster Orchestra recently, his piano and voice has never sounded more assured, more authoritative.
Oh Pioneer is being promoted as Duke Special’s third “commercial” release. Between it and his second “commercial” release he has produced five projects from theatre songs to a suite of songs on photographers to a short EP on Belfast’s great voice of the fifties Ruby Murray. His Dukeness seems a prolific young man who needs such projects to give his over imaginative mind room to play. In many ways Oh Pioneer is similar to the last arty project Under The Dark Cloth and the songs fitted seamlessly together in that Ulster Orchestra gig.
What that means is that there is less vaudeville music hall than his debut Songs From The Deep Forest. You’ll not find the overt drama songs like "Last Night I Nearly Died" or "Our Love Goes Deeper Than This." Don’t get me wrong there are still those eccentric and original imaginative musical touches but it is as if Duke doesn’t need to dress his songs up so much. His time writing with Boo Hewerdine on Under The Dark Cloth can only have been a blessed time of learning his craft.
Less becomes more mostly here, though "Snakes In The Grass" will give crazy and most loved percussionist Chip a chance to shine, when it goes live. There is a confidence that these songs are just perfect as they are. As always the content is original and always reaching for cosmic meaning and lessons of living and loving.
Duke Special writes for the areas of deep soul and the dreams of an arts community get aired on "Stargazers of The World Unite"; the hopes of justice and a new world order by the Occupy Movement challenges us all on "My Lazy Saviour"; our human preciousness yet falleness is laid out in list form on "Condition"; and songs of love and resolve and hope of redemption and transformation are guaranteed throughout.
He conjures great images and parables and writes lines that tickle your fancy, pierce your heart, cut you down to size or to just marvel at his lyrical brilliance — I so love and laughed out loud at "I am quiet, I am Phil Spector" from "Condition"!
Oh Pioneer [which takes its title from Willa Cather's novel of the same name] might not have the same immediacy as Duke Special’s earlier work but this artist isn’t about the immediate so much as a long brilliant songwriting career.
Steve Stockman the minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and blogs regularly on the intersection of faith and culture at Soul Surmise, where this reflection first appeared.