A Night of Bowie:
Approximate running time: 2 hours
125 Front St
Nanaimo BC V9R 6Z4
Victoria musician Syl Thompson and his band have been paying tribute to the musical works of David Bowie for more than three decades. Thompson embodies Bowie's exquisite style and persona and has been acclaimed as providing the most credible and realistic Bowie experience in North America.
January 2017 marks the first anniversary of David Bowie's death but rather than grieve, Thompson brought people together to share the music and memories of this incredible singer, songwriter and actor. To commemorate the date, he and his band, Ground Control, performed A Night of Bowie at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney.
This show is a multi-media extravaganza. Six highly respected musicians play each song as Bowie and his band performed them live and VJPhoton provides a visual experience second to none with photos and videos unique to each song. The look and feel of the concert replicates the Heathen Tour, complete with costume changes that include a famously familiar electric blue three-piece suit as well as a long and elegant crimson jacket. Music spans the broad spectrum of Bowie’s hits from 1969’s Space Oddity to 2013’s Where Are We Now? The show is eerily close to hearing and seeing Bowie himself.
Thompson’s own musical journey has been chock full of high points. In the early 80s, he toured extensively in the South Pacific. Once he returned to Canada’s West Coast, he headlined for various cover bands and played in notable venues in Vancouver, including the Commodore Ballroom. And in 1987, he opened for the Beach Boys at the Pacific Coliseum.
Around this time, a manager of a Richmond nightclub heard him perform and remarked that Thompson had the look, moves and sound of Bowie and suggested he cover a few of Bowie’s songs. Before long, Thompson was dedicating a full set to the music of David Bowie. He renamed the band Major Tom and embarked on a year-long tour throughout North America. They played Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and other major cities before returning to a Canadian tour which started on the East Coast.
The band dissolved following that tour and in the mid-90s, Thompson took a break from rock-and-roll stage life and attended the Columbia School of Broadcasting. He earned a certificate in Digital Audio Engineering and opened his own recording studio on Vancouver Island where he now works with local talent and on his own writing projects.
The draw of Bowie has continued to be strong for Thompson, though, and A Night of Bowie was created in 2013. Musicians include Rob Begg, the original bass player, who has played with acts that included members of Berlin, The Knack and Tom Petty; John Gilliat, the original guitar player, who competed at the Montreal Jazz Festival and represented Canada at Japan’s 2005 Expo and Canada's 2010 Winter Olympics. Sean Lang, who represented Western Canada at the Montreal Drumfest in 2013 is on drums and Graham Howell, who played with the 80s band Skaboom and later with Powder Blues Band, is on saxophone and flute. Rounding out Ground Control are life-long friends of Thompson, brothers Marc Gawthrop of Teen Angel and Rob Gawthrop of Steelback.