Near-Bowie experience comes to Winspear

Fans of David Bowie can enjoy some of the experience of seeing him on stage at Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre

Syl Thompson in his Saanich studio. Thompson and his band have been getting ready to present a series of A Night of Bowie shows

Fans of David Bowie, hungry for a chance to hear his music live and to enjoy some of the experience of seeing him on stage, can salve their souls Sept. 13 at Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre.

Saanich’s Syl Thompson presents A Night of Bowie – a tribute to the man and his music. Thompson and his band – himself and six other musicians – are promising a “near-Bowie experience” with the visuals, vocals and performances people have come to expect from the British singer/songwriter.

“I still think that there are a lot of Bowie fans out there,” said Thompson during an interview at his studio.

Back in the 1980s, Thompson was part of Major Tom’s A Seriously Moonlight Tour – a tribute act that formed out of another band he was with in the Vancouver club scene. They had been performing when a club manager asked Thompson if he would include some David Bowie songs in their Top 40 sets – plus, said the manager, Thompson kind of looked and sounded like Bowie.

“It went over quite well,” Thompson recalled, “and it picked up from there.”

Basing their performances on Bowie’s early music and songs from the hit album Let’s Dance, the retooled tribute band traveled to Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe and more, giving people that near-Bowie experience. Thompson said there were very few other tribute bands out there at the time – unlike today where the practice is widespread, covering many musical genres. By 1985, other interests and pressures took the band members in different directions. Most, including Thompson, remained in the music business but it took 25 years before Thompson decided (after some prodding along the way) that he was ready to give the music and tribute to Bowie another try.

A Night of Bowie reunites Thompson with his Major Tom bandmates, bassist Rob Begg and guitarist John Gilliat. They added saxophone player Graham Howell, brothers Marc and Rob Gawthrop on keyboards and synthesizer and Sean Lang on drums. For the last 10 months, the band has been in rehearsals in Vancouver and Thompson has been catching up with Bowie’s new material.

“I needed something to be able to do at my age now,” he said.

He watched a DVD of Bowie’s Reality and Heathen tours and thought about what kind of show he would be able to pull off, visually, based on how Bowie looks today. Thompson plans to not only include some of Bowie’s older favourites, but some of his modern hits – even songs from his album released just this year, shortly after the band began rehearsing. That, Thompson agrees, was great timing as fans are still holding out hope that Bowie himself will tour once again.

“Everybody has their favourite (song) and you can’t please everyone in a 90-minute show. But it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a ride.”

The show will include “Ground Control” background visuals by Photon VJ of Victoria. Thompson said they will try for that perfect blend of art and music on stage.

Thompson said he tailors his performance of Bowie’s music to those he can do a good job on, vocally. Some of his favourites include Life on Mars and Jean Genie.

“As a vocalist, I have the ability to sing like him and I have a bit of the look. My goal is to create as Bowie-ish an experience as possible with some of my own personality thrown in.”

It’s definitely a tribute show, he continued, not an attempt at an outright impersonation. Thompson said he hopes fans of David Bowie come to the show for that near-Bowie experience and enjoy the music and visuals of an artist with a vast repertoire that is always changing.

A Night of Bowie, presented by Climbing Man Productions, is at the Mary Winspear Centre’s Chrlie White Theatre Friday, Sept. 13. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30. Get tickets at www.marywinspear.ca or call 250-656-0275.