Are you a fan of early twentieth century German composers? Have you been charmed by the enthusiasm and passion that Paul Merton bestows upon the world of the silent movie? Do you have a keen interest in wars of the seventieth century? Did you find The Duckworth Lewis Method right up your street and are you eagerly awaiting the next witty, yet somewhat bizarre, concept album? Do you have a yearning for the time when Poirot investigated crime and flapper dresses were de rigueur, when Jeeves & Wooster provided laughter as the original comedy double act? Is the world of cads, bounders and Hooray Henry's part of your dream social scenario? Have you had an uncontrollable urge lately to release your Jazz Hands and indulge a secret craving for all things that pertain to the stage musical, or are you just a devoted and besotted fan of Duke Special?
If any of the above, and I know there's a lot, got you salivating with intrigue and interest then the latest release from Irishman Peter Wilson, a.k.a. Duke Special, may float your boat. Sounding rather like the opening gambit to a game of charades 'The Stage, A Book And The Silver Screen' is a trio of fan funded albums, 'Mother Courage', 'The Silent World Of Hector Mann' and 'Huckleberry Finn'. Each project features the inimitable talents of Mr Wilson as well as Ed Harcourt and The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon among others.
The 'Mother Courage' album is Duke Specials music to accompany The National Theatres recent production of Bertolt Brecht's play 'Mother Courage And Her Children'. Brecht's play about the thirty years war of 1618-1648 is highly regarded and not to be taken lightly. Advertised as, "Mother Courage, one of the most astonishing stage creations of the twentieth century, drags her cart across the battlefields, profiteering from a war that destroys her children, one by one." The Duke had his work cut out to fulfil the musical accompaniment. Questioning it's merits, Michael Billington, of The Guardian, said of the Dukes efforts that "The music is softly beguiling rather than bracingly challenging like Paul Dessau's original." The songs evoke the spirit of the characters they endeavour to portray with a professionalism and capability within the song writing rather than a true passion. There are interesting perspectives delivered in 'The Soldiers Song', 'The Cooks Song' and 'Mother Courage' itself but as an album, in isolation, it fails to capture your attention or imagination.
'Huckleberry Finn' is more of an e.p in that it's only five songs long. The unfinished musical, by Brecht's fellow German creative collaborator Kurt Weill, is based on the Mark Twain classic novel. "Duke is the first person ever to record this suite of songs." Weill, who died in 1950, was best known for his composition 'Mack The Knife'. There are no such gems here. If you're a fan of the stage musical then 'Come In, Mornin' and 'Apple Jack' may pass muster.
Finally, 'The Silent World Of Hector Mann' is the Duke Special interpreting 'The Book Of Illusions' by Paul Auster. Published in 2002 it revolves around the silent movie actor, Hector Mann, who has been missing since the 20's. "The protagonist driving himself into isolation" is something you may want to consider after a three album sitting! There are some amusing, light and jolly compositions to be found on the album. 'Old Folks And Cow Pokes' and 'Wanda Darling, Of The Jockey Club' with it's lyrical highs......."Oh to go on crazy day trips with that famous aviatrix" do stand out. The twenties themed joviality and atmosphere do begin to grate after a while though and as such lose their limited appeal.
Duke Spirit is undeniably talented. Whether he has chosen to put those talents to the best use here is questionable. You would be hard pushed to contrive a more obscure 3 album set. Overall "The stand alone vaudevillian ringmaster" from Belfast has over stretched and tried a little too hard in his intellectually arty project. Next time keep it simple and maybe edit!