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Continuing our series... 'Funky Friends'
Dan chats to Irish singer songwriter Duke Special about music, learning to play the piano and avoiding Granny's knitting needles!

"...I remember seeing a film with the Beatles on the night John Lennon was killed and something took hold of me...."  Duke Special

[DB] Was music an important part of family life when you were growing up?  [DS] My Granny taught piano to my Mum and all her brothers and sisters and then to my 3 older sisters.  She died when I was 2 so she didn't teach me, though since she had the habit of tapping the students' knuckles with a knitting needle if they made a mistake, perhaps that was for the best!  The piano was an ever present feature in our living room and became my friend and a way of expressing myself.  My sisters all played instruments and sang and we all played our records so yeah, music definitely played an important part of our lives growing up.

[DB] Can you tell us any early musical memory you have from those days?  [DS] I remember watching and listening to my sisters perform together in church and that leaving an impression on me.  I remember spending time with the piano when friends were out playing football.  I remember seeing a film with the Beatles on the night John Lennon was killed and something took hold of me.

[DB] When you were at primary or secondary school, did you get offered music lessons or music clubs/activities?  [DS] I learned violin at primary school and then trumpet in secondary school.  Piano lessons were a constant during both although it was only when I was about 13 that someone showed me how to play by just following chords as opposed to written music and that opened up a whole new world to me.  I sang in choirs and folk groups in secondary school and played in jazz bands and in the school orchestra.  It was in secondary school when I was about 16 that I played in a rock/pop band for the first time. 

[DB] Did you decide to take up music opportunities at school, and if so, can you say what influenced your choice?  [DS]  It was in secondary school when I was about 16 that I played in a rock/pop band for the first time.  Like many teenagers music and bands were part my life, these singers were your culture and spoke to you through their records.  Of course, we all wanted to emulate them - their life seemed so glamorous and attractive.  Of course none of us ever thought it would actually happen but we did it anyway!

[DB]  If you could 'turn back the clock' is there anything you would want to tell your younger self about music and life?  [DS] There's a reason why some music lasts the test of time and other music doesn't.  I think I would tell my younger self to hunt out the good stuff, the music which lasts and influences what comes after.  I would try and speak to my younger self about what it means to be an artist as opposed of reaching after fame or fortune to put time and energy into simply being creative.  I would tell my younger self that you don't have to be messed up to make good art - that notion is a lie which is why we lose so many good people.  Look after yourself younger Peter and go after the important things.

[DB] At FunkyPunk Music, we are always encouraging our students to pick up their instruments outside of lessons and just play! How important do you think it is just to enjoy playing for fun when you're learning an instrument?  [DS] I think that's what music is for.  It was almost meant to be for us to enjoy.  Music might be a job/vocation for some people but all of us can take part in this great gift for our souls.

[DB] If you were the Minister of Music Teaching and you could invent a whole new way of inspiring young people to learn music - mixing traditional (grades) and informal (fun!) - what top tips or approaches would you include?  [DS] Listen to good music from as wide a taste as possible.  Then I think you get to see what's possible with a particular instrument.  For example, the piano is a different character in the hands of Tom Waits than with Mozart or being played by Jerry Lee Lewis as opposed to Ivor Cutler.  I think it helps sometimes to know the rules before you break them so I do see the wisdom in learning theory and the rudiments of an instrument and music in general but then I think it's important not to be too precious with them.  A good friend commented to me once that great art usually has something 'wrong' with it. 

[DB] Finally, can you give your own personal motivational message to our music students?  

"Practice, get better at what you do but more importantly, find your own voice.  What is it that you can say that truly expresses your personality and experiences.  We're all unique and so our music can be also.  That's when it gets exciting!"

Duke Special

Thanks Duke!  For tour dates please visit:

& be sure to check out his amazing music!

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