He learned piano as a child (it wasn’t an optional activity in his family) and sang traditional Irish songs in churches and community centres with his sisters, where he developed his sense of melody and a love of music for people to sing together. Soon he began writing his own songs and played in some local rock bands, but he was always drawn to a more theatrical approach to music and grew increasingly interested in vaudeville and music hall. Accompanying himself on the piano and with an antique gramophone, he began to perform and record under the pseudonym Duke Special.
He first came to the attention of First Column Management when he supported Aqualung on a UK tour in 2004. Impressed by his accomplished solo performance and stunning voice, as well as the amount of EPs he was shifting every night, Phil Nelson kept a keen eye on his career and when the chance came to officially look after him in 2006, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with this unique and intriguing artist.
Phil set to work and on his own label, Hag Records, released the first two Duke EPs (Lucky Me and My Villain Heart) as an album, aptly named Adventures in Gramophone in 2005.
Duke was soon signed to V2 Records who released his debut album proper, Songs From The Deep Forest in 2006. Tinged with Peter’s Northern Irish lilt and charismatic vocals, his songs bring the perfect balance of old and new – boasting the appeal of a three-minute pop song with the incessant charm of an old-school music hall.
Over the years, Duke’s career has taken him from The Muppets on Sesame Tree to Mother Courage at the National Theatre, from Huckleberry Finn and silent movie stars to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
He has recently joined forces with stand-up comedian Andrew Doyle, together bringing a brand new musical adaptation of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and this year they are writing a theatre piece based on Tony Macaulay’s memoir ‘Paperboy’, commissioned by Youth Music Theatre for staging at the Lyric this summer. Last year, Duke released his latest studio album, ‘Hallow‘; a beautiful collection of songs entirely based on poems by Belfast contemporary poet Michael Longley. He used his own website Advocate to raise money to find the making of the album and has since been playing the new songs live in the UK & Ireland.