Mike Garson, David Bowie’s longest serving musician, is touring ‘A Bowie Celebration, the David Bowie Alumni Tour’ across Australia with a cast of Bowie veterans.
“I’m very blessed to have four alumni,” Mike Garson tells Noise11.com. “I have Carmine Rojas on bass. He played on ‘Let’s Dance’. Mark Plati on guitar was on ‘Earthling’ and ‘hours…’, Gerry Leonard from ‘The Heathen’ album and who was the musical director for the Reality tour is on the other guitar and myself on piano. We have four amazing singers Bernard Fowler from the Rolling Stones, Corey Glover from Living Colour, Gaby Moreno and Joe Sumner, who is Sting’s son. It takes a village to sing David’s music”.
Mike last toured Australia with David Bowie in 2004. He said had David not had the heart attack around then, he had planned to return to Australia. “In 2004 David had talked to me about wanting to tour only in Australia and New Zealand for four months and nowhere else but it wasn’t to be,” he said.
David Bowie was in Australia in February 2004. His heart attack in Germany in June that same year brought his touring career to a sudden halt.
In putting together ‘A Bowie Celebration, the David Bowie Alumni Tour’ Garson had to consider all of the different styles of Bowie that evolved from the initial guitar, bass and drums rock band that was ‘Ziggy Stardust’. “That’s how the Spiders of Mars were,” he says. “It became piano-centric in a way so a lot of this is built around the piano on this tour. We do ‘Aladdin Sane’ and we do ‘Sweet Thing/Candidate’ but it is filled out with great guitar, bass and drums. The piano is the cream on the cake”.
The masterpiece ‘Aladdin Sane’ is an important part of the show. “Every night I have to dig in because we didn’t play that song very often,” Mike says. “We did it in ’73, ’74, three or four times in the 90s and then that was it. It is a difficult solo. I have to be in the right headspace. It’s a different improvisation every night in the spirit of how David liked things to happen”.
In the 70s the Bowie style was evolving so quickly that most of the band couldn’t keep up. “The first two years from ’72 to ’74, David fired five different bands,” he says. “I was the only one he kept because I was able to change styles with him. He was such a chameleon in moving so fast. My training was in classical, jazz, rock, avant garde and fusion. He wanted to unleash all that. In a certain way, the jazz, the classical on the top of the rock separated him from Dylan or Jagger”.
Mike had to evolve from album to album. “I’ve played on 20 albums of David’s and they are all different. When you listen to my piano playing on Young Americans, songs like ‘Can You Hear Me’ or ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’, I am playing very simple Gospel. It is very easy to access piano playing. When you take a song like ‘Aladdin Sane’ or ‘Sweet Thing’ it is left-field. On ‘Pin Ups’ you’ll have a song like ‘See Emily Play’ which took another direction. He was the casting director who knew whoever he hired he never micro-managed. He just trusted you would create the right part. He had a trust but he had the gift of the casting director because everyone he ever used was perfect for that project”.
The 90s weren’t as kind to Bowie as other decades. Many felt he lost his way but Mike says he was just ahead of his time (again). “’Black Tie White Noise’, ‘Outside’, ‘Earthling’, I think those albums are underrated. I think in some ways he got even better. His voice was richer, the songwriting was great. He is best known for ‘73/’74 but that probably has something to do with the time. With Dylan it was late 60s, when things connect with the environment. When you listen to ‘Outside’, I thought it was 20 years ahead of its time and now some people are starting to get it. David was a visionary. Like Michaelangelo he just saw things, felt things, heard things that us mortals didn’t quite know”.
By the time ‘Reality’ was released in 2003, David Bowie was back aligned with musical styles and public tastes. “It was wonderful precision on his part,” Mike says. “My thoughts are on ‘Loneliest Guy’ and ‘Bring Me The Disco King’ which is our opening number on this tour, with Bernard Fowler. We recorded ‘Disco King’ with a whole different arrangement on ‘Black Tie White Noise’. It was never released. We recorded it again with a whole other arrangement on ‘Earthling’, it was never released. The band had done another version for ‘Reality’ but David wasn’t happy with it and finally said let’s do it with piano and voice and that’s the one that stuck”.
‘A Bowie Celebration, the David Bowie Alumni Tour’ setlist
Bring Me the Disco King (from Reality, 2003)
Rebel Rebel (from Diamond Dogs, 1974)
Moonage Daydream (from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, 1972)
Fame (from Young Americans, 1975)
Young Americans (from Young Americans, 1975)
Space Oddity (from Space Oddity, 1969)
Lazarus (from Blackstar, 2016)
Ashes to Ashes (from Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps, 1980)
Five Years (from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, 1972)
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide (from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, 1972)
Station to Station (from Station to Station, 1976)
Win (from Young Americans, 1975)
Time (from Aladdin Sane, 1973)
Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise) (from Diamond Dogs, 1974)
I’m Afraid of Americans (from Earthling, 1997)
Aladdin Sane (from Aladdin Sane, 1973)
Under Pressure (from Queen’s Hot Space, 1982)
Wild Is the Wind (from Station to Station, 1976)
Let’s Dance (from Let’s Dance, 1983)
Suffragette City (from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, 1972)
All the Young Dudes (from David Live, 1974)
Life on Mars? (from Hunky Dory, 1971)
“Heroes” (from “Heroes”, 1977)
Final Australian shows
8 May, Brisbane, QPAC
10 May, Sydney, State Theatre
11 May, Melbourne, Palais Theatre