“There, in the chords and melodies, is everything I want to say. The words just jolly it along. It’s always been my way of expressing what, for me, is inexpressible by any other means” (Bowie)
Bowie often stated that he communicated more through his music than his lyrics. But I defy the notion that from the first couple of bars, (we can all immediately identify), of classics like; “The Jean Genie“, “Ziggy Stardust” or “Life on Mars“, that you’re not prompted to sing the words that are somehow indelibly etched in your subconscious, even if only a sometimes fan. Such was the impact of the thin white duke. And just as it’d be difficult to find a music lover who hasn’t had at least a feeling about a Bowie song, it would be difficult to find a musician who hasn’t been influenced either directly or indirectly by Bowie in some form, be it music, lyrics or image. He was renowned for his ability to reinvent himself as a performer both through the use of characters and his changing musical style. So it seemed somehow fitting that performers whose musical styles differed were assembled to pay tribute, including a few I wouldn’t have immediately thought would be Bowie fans.
Enter JMS Harrison, (who is also lead vocalist with Old Etiquettes), who is emerging as the “go to” guy when you want an event that will feature a diverse group of local musicians, (both within their own bands or as part of a mix), having also organised the successful PJ Harvey tribute last year. It’s not an easy task to stage manage a dozen acts over a marathon six hours, keeping the set up times to a minimum and the audience engaged. A difficult task when most acts are playing only 2 or 3 songs each. It was the diversity of the performers, many who I hadn’t heard before and the mix of Bowie songs, including some of the lesser known, that kept the audience eager for more.
A strong start with one of the centrepieces of the Ziggy Stardust album, “Starman“, performed by a band I hadn’t heard before, Closet Straights, who got the crowd singing along from the off, and definitely a band I’ll see again. Kate Lucas from Coda Chroma then smashed it with a brilliant version of “Ashes to Ashes“. Andrew McCubbin once again showed his skill on guitar with one of my favourites, “Wild is the Wind“. The first half had something for everyone with other classics; “Five Years“, “China Girl“, “Heroes” and a couple of songs Bowie had covered.
The second half of the show somehow seemed to take it up a notch. Beginning with JMS and band performing a great version of “Modern Love” along with the lesser known, haunting, “Slip Away“. Then rockers, Have/Hold turned up the volume and had some of the crowd almost in a dancing frenzy. But, it was from the first 8 well known beats of “The Jean Genie” that high energy power blues band, The Ugly Kings assaulted the stage. “The Jean Genie“, “Lazarus“, and “Rebel Rebel“, perfect choices for their powerful sound and style. The sound, played with precision, exploded from the stage, and having chosen two of the best loved Bowie hits, it took things to the next level. They absolutely stole the show. A marathon afternoon and early evening, it was left to the flawless Ash Naylor & Sun God Replica, who continued the vibe and closed the show with great renditions of “Boys Keep Swinging” and one of the best versions I’ve heard in a long time of “All the Young Dudes“.
And so ended a day of music that has endured the passage of time, a celebration both among the crowd and musicians, of a one-off, musician, performer, chameleon and rock icon whose breadth of influence is almost too vast to contemplate.
Maybe Ziggy Stardust was immortal after all….