The festive season is now well and truly upon us and to bring his year-long residency at The Belfast Empire to an end, Duke Special presented ‘A Victorian Christmas’- a show that differed from that of a conventional gig as it saw him play ‘In The Round’ (on a small stage, surrounded by the audience) with a selection of guest musicians joining him at various intervals to help put their own unique spin on well known Christmas songs.
The packed Empire is a testament to the enduring popularity of Duke Special and by the very nature of the set up, tonight’s show seems more of a gathering of friends than a gig per se. To help open the night’s proceedings were the Shellac DJs, spinning a range of vintage tunes to help set the vaudevillian tone as the audience arrive.
When Duke Special takes his seat at the piano in the middle of the sizable crowd, the show begins in earnest, and it’s cheerful Christmas fare. The tunes for the night are mix of sing-along cover versions or his own Christmas themed personal choices such as ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham, ‘Stay Another Day’ by East 17, ‘Its Cliched to be Cynical at Christmas’ by Half Man Half Biscuit, Christmas Unicorn’and Harry Nilsson’s ‘Coconut’ all mixed in with his personal material including ‘Andrew In Drag’ and an yet untitled song written as a result of a charity collaboration with a fan.
A night like this is just as strong as the sum of its parts, and these parts consist of a eclectic selection of local luminaries including Master and Dog playing ‘Good King Wenceslas’. Wonder Villains performing a very chipper version of ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’, Geoff Hatt providing a ‘Hawaiian Christmas’, Katie Richardson taking ownership of ‘Just like Christmas’ by Low, David C Clements covering ‘War Is Over, Suzy Coyle (aka Suitcase Suzy) helping to deliver a storming ‘Fairytale of New York’ and in an unexpected turn of events members of the Salvation Army also squeezed onto the stage to deliver ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Born In Bethlehem and Jingle Bells’.
It’s a shame therefore that with such a vast amount of talent arrayed in front of them, that certain members of the audience seem intent on talking throughout rather than actually paying attention to the musicians performing. Perhaps this is a natural drawback to the small informal gathering vibe of the show or perhaps due to an overabundance of mulled wine, but luckily it doesn’t detract from the
experience as a whole. The enthusiasm Duke Special and the guest musician all have for the event shines through and whilst the occasional song doesn’t quite pack the intended Christmas magic – overall it’s a triumph with the crowd leaving into the cold December night full of Christmas cheer. Adrian Knight.