From Hunky Dory to Let’s Dance and Tonight, Vancouveer Island musician Syl Thompson will be singing many of the hits of one of music history’s most well known artists — David Bowie.
Thompson, who is originally from Nanaimo and who lives in Saanich, has been performing for as long as he can remember, in school bands with like-minded interests. It all began however, with the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, which got him interested in music.
He later starting playing clubs on the Island before moving to Vancouver to play in various cover bands throughout the 1980s.
“It was a really, really good era,” he told the PNR, adding that he’s played all the clubs over there.
It was also in the ‘80s when he got into Bowie’s music, playing covers with other musicians, in many of the clubs around Vancouver.
After performing in one particular club in Richmond, the manager approached Thompson saying he looked and sounded just like Bowie and asked him about paying a tribute concert to the British recording artist.
“In those days there wasn’t really any tributes except for, like, Elvis Presley,” said Thompson.
He later talked about it with the band, deciding they would give it a go, doing three sets. The first two, they did the top 40 or popular radio hits and the third set was a Bowie theme to see how it went.
The band however, dissolved after about a year. Thompson was approached by two agencies about continuing on with the Bowie tributes, piecing together another band.
They toured across the United States and Canada for a couple years, but Thompson later decided to pack it in.
“I was getting more interested in doing more of my own material and recording and that sort of thing,” he said.
“I didn’t really like kind of walking around being this Bowie guy…” He said adding that he thought it was time to hang it up.
He then was able to get into doing some writing and went in a different direction for many years.
“People would ask me, ‘when are you going to do that Bowie thing again?’” he said with a laugh, adding that it was always brought up.
He later relented, deciding to give it a go, and has been doing it for the last couple years.
Thompson said what he likes about Bowie is that he was an artist who came along that was so different vocally in his approach — adapting more of a theatrical bent to his music.
“I mean, he didn’t really class himself as a singer. He was more of a mind actor slash writer …” Thompson said.
“When I first heard him I just thought ‘wow, he’s got a great voice, different you know?’”
Forming the tribute band is John Gilliat on guitar, Rob Begg on bass, brothers Rob and Marc Gawthrop on keyboards, Graham Howell on saxophone and Sean Lang on drums.
Out of the entire band, it was guitarist Gilliat who met Bowie who was playing in a club in Vancouver when the Bollywood Awards were taking place. Bowie was said to be in town that day as he had a connection to one of the film’s musically.
Gilliat, who was playing across the street from one of the hotels, was approached by a waiter on his break saying a couple of people had wanted to meet him in a private room.
Gilliat later went in there and the gentleman had a hat on and what looked like a wig underneath and introduced himself as David Bowie.
The upcoming performance will take the audience back to Bowie’s most memorable hits, focussing on his peak years from the early ’70s to the early ’90s.
The performance, Thompson said, will show a bit of a multi-media presentation by video artist Photon, with large screens in the back showing images of Bowie, going along with each song.
The show will take place at the Mary Winspear Centre on Sept. 23. For ticket information call 250-656-0275.