Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Duke Special to Perform at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Belfast-native Duke Special will perform in an exclusive show designed for the Metropolitan Museum of Art on March 24, 2011, at 7pm. The show, presented by Spectrum and conceived specifically for the Met, will debut all-new songs inspired by the Museum’s current exhibition Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, which features masterpieces of photography from the early 20th century. Duke Special’s “signature atmospheric sound will take listeners back to a bygone era of steam trains, tycoons, grandes dames, and artists—a world of foggy city streets and tranquil country scenes.”

On this extraordinary night of music, Duke Special will perform in the Metropolitan Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium accompanied by members of the Orchestre de Chambre Miniature, a string quartet founded by violinist Olivier Manchon of the popular indie band Clare and the Reasons. The stage design company 59 Productions will bring the space to life with projections of photographs by Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand.

Tickets for this one-time event are $18 and can be ordered at

This creative undertaking is hardly a new vein for Duke Special.

For his 3-CD release in 2009, The Stage, A Book, and The Silver Screen, Duke Special did some pretty unique things.

“The Stage” covers the recording of the new score he wrote for the Bertoldt Brecht play, Mother Courage and Her Children. Duke was chosen to write this score by actress Fiona Shaw, and a part was written into the play for him to perform those songs onstage during the production.

The “Book” represents Twain’s Huckleberry Finn; when a friend played Duke a song called “The Catfish Song,” he asked of its origin and learned that composer Kurt Weill, who died in 1950, left behind five songs from a new collaboration he was working on with lyricist Maxwell Anderson called Raft and the River, and that no one had ever recorded them. Those five songs became te CD, Huckleberry Finn.

Finally, “The Silver Screen” refers to the disc inspired by The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster. The central character, Hector Mann, was a silent movie film star who went missing after releasing only 12 films. Duke wrote a song based on the title of one of the fictional films and had the idea to make an album of it. He sent the book to eleven other songwriters and had them each write a pre-rock-and-roll-style song based on the remaining film titles, which became the CD The Silent World of Hector Mann.

Most recently, Duke released a CD of songs by 1950’s Belfast starlet singer Ruby Murray, the proceeds of the sales to benefit charity Depaul Ireland which helps homeless people on both sides of the Northern Ireland / Ireland border.

Make plans to attend this one-time-only show and hear the no-doubt beautiful songs that Duke Special has composed, inspired by these vintage photographs. If you are unable to attend the show, visit Duke Special’s official website to familiarize yourself with his extensive and unique body of work.

(Also, check out my interview with Duke Special at the 2010 Craic Fest in New York City.)

To help get you excited about going, I’m giving out six tickets to Duke’s performance to people who comment to tell me their favorite thing about Duke Special, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand exhibit. Comment on this entry to win! (I am only giving away tickets to those in the New York area on the evening in question, but please feel free to comment with your favorite things about Duke Special regardless of your location! Just add #NoTix if you are not trying to win a ticket) Good luck!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Memories of Craic Fest

As I lament my inability to travel to New York for this year for the 12th Annual Craic Fest, I am ruminating on the events from 2009's Craic Fest, reposted from Paddy-Whacked Radio™ here:

Concert Review: FairplayCollective, Colin Devlin, Foy Vance, Paddy Casey - Craic Fest
By Natalie Herman

Saturday’s Craic Fest opened with FairplayCollective. If you are new to Paddy-Whacked Radio™, you might not know about this innovative team of separate and independent artists who support one another both with musical performance and with everything that happens musically offstage. Formed in 2006 by Michael Brunnock, Mark Dignam, Jenna Nicholls, and Brendan O’Shea, FairplayCollective has become a wonderful tool for these like-minded musicians to advance themselves down their musical paths.

This committedness to one another is very obvious onstage, and a FairplayCollective set seems less like a show and more like a party where your extremely talented and fun friends have picked up their instruments for a bit of entertainment.


Mark Dignam, who is based in Pittsburgh, joined Brunnock, Nicholls, and O’Shea while still cooling his heels from his recent stint in Ireland, where he played with Glen Hansard and The Frames and Liam O’Maonlai of The Hothouse Flowers. He appeared to have not been able to shake off the remaining magic of the Isle as he executed an enchanted performance of “Crow” and “Stormy Summer.”

Jenna Nicholls opened the set with her stunning song, “Hallelujah,” displaying a champion vocal range. She also played an unreleased song, as yet untitled. Aided by O’Shea on the electric guitar, Nicholls silenced the crowd with her impeccable voice.

Her background vocals rang true and clear as ever on Michael Brunnock's “Man Overboard.” Brunnock chose for this Craic Fest celebration two of his more Irish-themed songs: “Man Overboard” is about emigrating to America, and while the lyrics themselves convey confusion and disorientation, Brunnock has managed to infuse an energy of hopefulness and capability into the song. His ode to St. Patrick, “Sensation,” astonished the crowd as giant galaxies of sonic bliss issued from the well of genius inside him.

Brendan O’Shea, who has such a great way with the crowd - with every song, you feel like you’re a guest at his apartment on Avenue A - got everyone singing along to his feel-good anthem, “Pull Your Socks Up.” He then had everyone laughing when he leaned over and asked across Nicholls and Brunnock in the most polite-as-you-please way, “Mark, can I have the pic?” He needed it in order to sing the melancholic “Dismantled.”


Colin Devlin went on next, in the US from Dublin to support the release of his solo debut, Democracy of Now, not yet out in the states but available now in Ireland. “What Good is Love” and “Waiting” were the stand-out songs in this set of beautiful vocally-driven acoustic songs. Devlin, who is best known from the family band The Devlins (whose remixed single “Waiting” was included on the “Six Feet Under” soundtrack), has a tonally-superior voice that will carry him very nicely along his divergent path.


Foy Vance took the stage next, in from Belfast. Vance set up, took out his cell phone, turned it off, held it up, and said, “I suggest you do the same.” Vance shouldn’t have worried, as the 300 people - all of which were him, it appears - who joined him onstage via his iMac and various gadgetry drowned out any chance of a cell phone interruption. “I am the son of a preacher,” Vance explained to the audience, and the charismatic way that he turned that intimate club into an arena-housed gospel revival tended to make you believe his s tatement. Somehow, though, while doing this, Vance managed to remain completely non-pious, sharing with the audience a cute joke “you can tell your mum” and sharing an interesting anecdote about a barbecue, a swim mask, and flippers.

Perhaps the best way to understand what goes on in the consciousness of Foy Vance is in the lyrics of the mind-blowing song, “Indiscriminate Act of Kindness.” There is no way to even begin to do justice to this song with any sort of talking about it - it is something that you have to experience for yourself. Please do me a personal favor: if you happen to run into Taylor Hicks, tell him that while we indie music lovers appreciate the effort to bring this phenomenal song to light, he could never ever do with that song what Foy Vance did onstage at Mercury Lounge for Craic Fest on March 14, 2009.

On behalf of all those in attendance, I would kindly request that when Vance is finished with the hearts he snatched from all of our chests, he drop us a line as to when and where we can conveniently collect them.


Finally, in an act of bravery last seen with Brian Boru, Paddy Casey took the stage, alone with his acoustic guitar. Casey put on a special encore performance - he headlined Friday night, but due to a visa problem with Duke Special, who was scheduled for Saturday night, he graciously followed Vance’s life-changing performance. As a huge credit to Paddy Casey’s musical talents and abilities, he pulled off a brilliant set. His onstage persona was humble and self-depricating, but his performance begged no apologies. A brilliant guitar player, Casey played a great mix of newer and older songs, reminding me again why this time last year, he was one of the people chosen for MTV’s “Artist of the Week” promotion they were doing in March. A special thanks and gratitude is owed to Casey for taking the request of “Bend Down Low,” a song written by a brilliant 15-year-old who was Paddy Casey a number of years ago. Hopefully, having the entire audience sing along to it was satisfying enough to Casey to justify adding it to his set list.


Although it was well after one o’clock, there were still a number of fans who remained and were treated when FairplayCollective joined Casey onstage for two energy-filled songs, inviting a sing-along from the audience.
It only goes to show that where there is Irish music, there is magic.

Copyright © 2009 Natalie Herman and Paddy-Whacked Radio™