My track record on these pages for songs recorded in this century isn’t great, I’ll have to admit. And when they do appear, they’re usually throwbacks, often country and folk, to a distant sound and era. This song is *not* going to change that, and then some!
Duke Special is an artist from Northern Ireland. Known to friends as Peter Wilson, Duke has adopted a somewhat unorthodox bohemiam, white-man-in-dreadlocks-and-make-up look that certainly makes him stand out from the crowd. And his music has adopted, almost wilfully so, a similarly unorthodox approach that has little truck with the fads and sounds of 21st Century popular music. From his initial adoption of the Duke Special persona over ten years ago, he has moved from a set of low-fi EPs, almost hitting the big time with his debut album Songs From The Deep Forest and it’s follow-up I Never Thought This Day Would Come, before taking a series of left-turns with albums of original songs for a Bertol Brecht play, a collection of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson songs from an unfinished musical based on Mark Twain’s novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an album of songs inspired by the fictional silent film star Hector Mann, an EP of songs from 1950s Irish country superstar Ruby Murray, and a suite of songs commissioned by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrating the work of pioneering photographers Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. And that’s before the wildly eclectic seleciton of cover versions, taking in the likes of Joy Division, Buggles, Chaka Khan, Razorlight, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 1950s rock-and-roll and country songs. Live he performs solo, sometimes accompanied by a vintage gramophone, sometimes with a band (including Roy Castle’s son Ben on woodwind), and often with the legendary percussion player “Temperance Society” Chip Bailey, who will almost play / hit anything including the kitchen sink! Despite the bewildering variety of material and styles, in concert Duke somehow manages to unite this seemingly disparate material in both an entertaining and deeply affecting way. Those concerts are a real joy, and usually something out of the ordinary – the last two times I’ve seem him involved (i) wheeling an upright, candlelit piano into the middle of the audience and singing a mini-set totally acoustically, and (ii) handing out songsheets for the audience to join in!
Wanda… is taken from The Silent World of Hector Mann, a collection of songs commissioned by Duke from his songwriting friends, with the premise that they should be in a “pre rock-and-roll style”. This particular song was written by The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, and adopts a jaunty 1920s style. Telling the humorous story of a female aviator, it taps into a whole series of themes and styles from that period.
As you’ll notice the original is performed with a piano accompaniment. But the style and general vibe of the song lends itself quite nicely (I think) to the ukulele. So here is the songsheet. It throws in a lot of chords, but nothing too tricky. The trick is getting that jaunty 20s feel to the accompaniment – the rest of the song will then flow from that. Enjoy!