The Olympia was packed on Tuesday night. Duke Special was topping the bill in a Dublin gig for the first time and his assembled fans loved every moment. Not knowing a thing about him, though someone from Belfast with dreadlocks had at least to be untypical, it turned out to be a great night’s entertainment.
Cashier 9 opened the support, playing when the crowd was still arriving and probably with their minds on other things, not least a BBC Radio 2 performance on 8th December. They had hardly left the stage when an unlikely procession appeared through a side door. A home made placard declared “The Lowly Knights” and a twelve piece a capella and folk rock group launched into song in the middle of the floor. This was a very different evening from going to watch the self obsessed characters who often take to the stage. The Knights were followed by guitarist and singer Paul Pilot (sorry, no link), who was without a backing singer for one of the songs, so Duke Special appeared to do backing vocals, to the delight of the crowd. At the end of the act, The Lowly Knights appeared again for a couple more numbers. Finally, Duke Special appeared, with his unique ensemble of musicians, the percussionist Temperance Society Chip Bailey is as distinctive an artist as one is likely to encounter.
What made the evening so memorable? Maybe the breadth of Duke Special’s music, which defies categorisation – slipping from vaudeville to soul to ska to ballads, and encountering a few other styles on the way there and back again- but there was something more.
Our daughter delights in things she describes as “random”; things out of the ordinary, things that maybe express individuality and creativity. Why does Duke Special do half the stuff he does? Why did he sing one song standing on a chair? Why was his keyboard player dressed as a mummy with a bow tie, dark glasses and trilby hat? Why did the double bass player dress as an undertaker and the drummer as a detective? And that’s before one attempts to define Temperance. Maybe they don’t even have an explanation themselves; maybe it’s about creating an identity, about establishing your own mark, about being unafraid of the imagination. It was an excellent evening; unpredictable, undefinable, unashamedly fun.
On reflection, there seemed a lesson the church might learn.
We were never allowed randomness. The wearing of the black cassock at church services was, we were told, to eliminate individuality. Even now, when I suggest that students training for ordination put expression into leading worship and maybe explain the odd thing, I am told by someone who knows about such things that I am “over-determining the liturgy”. What’s that mean? Don’t ask me.
We have not gone much beyond the thinking that undergirded the Latin Mass, the defence for which was that it was the same everywhere. We do the predictable, and, as anyone who has to listen to me will know, we do the dull. In a post-modern culture, where the random is the ordinary, we still think guitars and drums are being contemporary, and we think that we will survive by staying in the 1950s.
What would Jesus do? I suspect he’d be asking the price of a ticket for the next gig.