Lockdown Diary: Duke Special's done with his dreads and set for a mighty unleashing

We ask people how they are faring in the coronavirus crisis. This week, musician Duke Special (49), who is studying for a PhD at Queen's University Belfast

Belfast musician Duke Special, aka Peter Wilson
Jane Hardy

How have you been affected professionally?

I've been fortunate and as I haven't been distracted by other things, have written lots and read a lot of books. In a way it's been an incredible gift. But Breakfast on Pluto, my theatre piece which was due to tour from July to Christmas at venues in Dublin, Birmingham and end up at the Donmar Warehouse, London, is on hold. It's based on Monaghan writer Pat McCabe's book, and deals with a guy who identifies as a young woman in 1970s rural Ireland. It's a hard-hitting story, both funny and moving. I have also been working on my PhD research which looks as writing songs as a form of translation. My thesis – titled The Songwriter's Version – covers setting poetry to music, being inspired by sheet music and visual art and the Czech Republic.

And what about personally?

I think it's affected everyone. Some good things in this are spending a lot of time at home, growing things in your garden – we've grown vegetables and my partner Trina Hobson has grown some roses – and being with the children. We're weathering a storm together. Trina is a painter and in our empty kitchen, where we're having some work done, she's been painting. (Her new show runs at the ArtisAnn Gallery, Belfast, until the end of August.) But unseen damage is also being done to people's livelihoods and their mental health. My mum, Ann, is in a nursing home and my parents have been married a long time but my father has only recently been able to visit her. She's out there somewhere and I can't visit her.

What have the positives been?

Having time has been amazing. I've given concerts online, looking at some of my albums and conversing with someone about the development of each record. For many musicians, though, it has been incredibly tough. I have friends who haven't earned anything. It's ridiculous that live music venues are told they can open but with nothing live happening. Charities like HelpMusiciansUK and Music Venues Trust are helping. We need to appreciate the arts.

Has music evolved in this period?

Before this, we didn't use Zoom. It's not a replacement for live performance but an interesting, innovative platform. You engage differently with the audience. When I did it, I couldn't hear the audience but read their thoughts on ChatBar. They didn't sing along so much as type along!

What keeps you going?

Knowing that it's going to alter, that we'll see people again, be able to hug them. And listening to Bob Dylan's fantastic opening track, I Contain Multitudes, on his new record. I've actually cut my dreads off as it was time for change. I did it myself but Trina tidied things up. There is going to be a mighty unleashing at the end.

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