Benji Duke has an insatiable interest in making the mundane feel magnificent.
Take, for example, the Friday Quiz, a weekly night of trivia, music and comedy which grew to become one of the signature nights held at the multifaceted Fort Street Café. Duke created the event five years ago as a way to “make something creative happen” for himself, if not the audience.
To the surprise of no one, the native of York, England — a long-limbed drummer who has always had a knack for getting parties off on the right foot — found the job to be a snap.
“I’ve always enjoyed putting on events, getting people to be silly and have a good dance,” he said.
Audiences came in droves. During the final three years of its run, Friday Quiz was one of the hottest tickets in town.
When the building’s owner decided not to renew the café’s lease in December, after six years of operation by Duke and fellow co-owners Jon Perkins and Melissa Byrnes, the lights went out on the Friday fun. Worse yet, Duke was out of a job.
Ever the resourceful host, Duke was committed to keep quizzing audiences. He currently hosts a scaled- down Quiz Night at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub on Sundays, and has hosted a full-blown version of the Friday Quiz — complete with live band accompaniment from Jack Weyler and Paul Laverick — at Hermann’s Jazz Club. The trio’s first event at the View Street venue, on March 8, was sold out.
“After the café closed, basically everyone lost their jobs,” Duke said. “So I had to find some way of making money out of things that I had been doing to make money for the café — strategically relocate events, in order to land me a job.”
Duke is still looking for a permanent home for the original Quiz Night — if not a new home for the Fort Street Café, should the opportunity arise.
“We have had time to think about what we are trying to re-create. It doesn’t have to be about food or booze, it has to primarily be able to facilitate people who want to perform. The biggest objective is to create a space that is open to anyone who wants to perform.”
In the meantime, he’s expanding his horizons above and beyond playing drums in the Victoria band Bonehoof. On Tuesday, he began a karaoke night at the Copper Owl lounge on Douglas Street, at which he will shepherd amateur singers through their paces every Tuesday.
The difference between hosting trivia and running karaoke is minimal, Duke said. His duties exist solely at the audience level.
“If people are happy and no one looks upset, then it makes me feel comfortable. And if I feel comfortable, I feel really good. If everybody feels confident, people can express themselves without judgment. I try to facilitate the sensation of good.”
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Swindon, England, where I lived until I was about two. But I’m definitely from York, that’s for sure. I was a Yorkie for 24 years.
At which point did you know England was not for you?
After graduating from University of Leeds [with a degree in management], I worked for six years in [the investments division] at Bank of New York. It was quite a high-stress job, but it was a really good opportunity. When I transferred to Edinburgh, I decided I definitely didn’t want to work in that industry anymore. I spent a year saving up money, and after that I decided that things had to change.”
When did you arrive in Victoria? What brought you here?
I came here in 2006 to visit my friend Paul Laverick [his eventual bandmate in the now-defunct Victoria band, Hey Marmaduke], who I’ve been best mates with since I was about 10. I started coming out every summer to visit him, for two-week periods.
What is your favourite thing about Victoria?
It’s got to be the people. That’s why I’m here, and why I stayed here.
What is your greatest accomplishment as a person?
I’m really pleased that I came here and met so many nice people. I met my wife, Kasia, who somehow stays with me. I’ve got a dog, and a cat, and a house, and really nice friends around me. That’s what I’m happiest about.
And as a professional?
The Friday Quiz is a thing I really feel like I have built myself, from the bottom up. In a nutshell, that’s pretty much my most joyous thing. My passion is being a big nerd, and I to get to do it with my best friends and have it be successful is my most proud thing, if pride comes into it.
First album you purchased?
It’s one of two; either Iron Maiden Killers, or Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill, which I had to beg my dad to get for about a year.
My biggest influence as a musician is Corduroy Dad Man Cat, an instrumental album. Otherwise, Georgie Fame Seventh Son.
First concert you attended?
It was probably the V Festival in Leeds. 1992 sounds about right. I would have been 16.
Favourite concert you attended?
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at the Alix Goolden Performance Hall two years ago. Mind-blowing. It was the most complete performance.
If you had one motto, or rule to abide by, what would it be?
Personal integrity is really important. I try not to do things that let me down, or let other people down.
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Benji Duke currently hosts Quiz Night at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub on Sundays, and karaoke night at the Copper Owl lounge on Douglas Street on Tuesdays.
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