All the gigs of my life

All the gigs of my life: Gig 136 – Celebrating David Bowie, Sunday, January 8, 2017, Brixton Academy

A year on from the death of David Bowie, and on what would have been his 70th birthday, came this star-studded party in tribute to that most wonderful man.

‘I went in expecting emotional catharsis, but it turned out more of a ramshackle knees-up. Still. What a night.’

So begins my diary entry for this night of Bowie-themed festivities. Like every single music fan on the planet, my world had been shattered a year before when the sudden, shocking news of Bowie’s death was announced. Here, on what would have been his 70th birthday, seemed like the perfect opportunity to unite with hundreds of other Bowie fans and his previous band members to celebrate the great man. But it turned out a little different than expected.

It didn’t help that we Bowie faithful had the twin obstacles of a tube strike and grim weather to deal with just to get to the venue. From my diary:

‘So. It was an exceedingly grim and rainy night last night. Due to the tube strike starting at 6pm, everyone got there ridiculously early, so by the time I joined the queue it wriggled all down the side of the Academy, all along the road behind, and swivelled round back towards the venue. So there was 40ish minutes of standing and shivering and in the rain to be had. Which just made it all the more blissful to finally be inside the Brixton Academy on I got in.’

Brixton Academy was, and remains, my favourite venue of them all, the site of my first gig in London and many, many legendary gigs since then, and it was completely wonderful to be back there.

‘Twenty years, three weeks and four days since I first set foot in this glorious venue, it still resonates with rock’n’roll wonder, still ignites that spark in my soul which says, all that matters is to get down the front and scream at my boys.’

I found myself a spot in the crowd, not quite down the front but ‘second row to the far right’, and waited for the main event to start.

‘So the lights went down just before 8pm and on came Mike Garson to provide a kind of Bowie overture with bits from “Aladdin Sane” and “Outside”. Then Gail Ann Dorsey and someone else came on, and there was this bloke singing “Dead Man Walking” quite well, and I had no idea who it was ‘cos let’s face it I only really know Gary Oldman when he’s Sirius.’

It was indeed the Harry Potter actor there on stage singing the track from “Earthling”, which seemed like an odd place to start the show, but nevertheless quite enjoyable. It set the scene for a sometimes ramshackle and chaotic but nevertheless very heartfelt night of Bowie classics.

‘From then, it was a revolving door of musicians, every song a new line up, here a string section, there a gospel choir. The musicians themselves were note perfect apart from a cockup on “Sound and Vision” (I think that was Adrian Belew) but I don’t think the Academy’s sound tech team were quite prepared for such a hectically regenerating band. Too many times I found myself staring at, for example, a saxophonist enthusiastically huffing yet remaining strangely silent until a few bars in.’

Still, ithese sound issues did not dull the fun. ‘Highlights for me were the bloke from Keane on “Life On Mars”, Mr Hudson on an untouchable “Starman” and a dreadlockin’ dude giving us “Diamond Dogs” and finally “Heroes” to close the main set. Then Simon Le Bon bopped in for “Let’s Dance”, and Catherine sang “Loving The Alien” in the style of the “Reality” tour. That was the only slightly emotional moment for me, well that and the closing “Under Pressure” with Gail and some bloke, ‘cos it reminded me of that tour, and extra bittersweet now both Bowie and Mercury are gone.’

Despite the overall absence of expected emotional catharsis, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable night. But I was beginning to realise that my particular version of music fandom doesn’t really gel well with tribute bands. They joy for me is in hearing the artists who created the songs I loved performing them right in front of me, and not just any old singer from a different band giving their interpretation. But I had a few more tribute shows ahead of me in 2017 before I would fully learn that lesson.

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