How to run a David Bowie festival when there’s nothing left to say

It’s two years since the death of David Bowie and there’s not much left to say in tribute — but we may as well still make a song and dance about it anyway.

The Dublin Bowie Festival is a chance to shoot a big lightning bolt over the city, to mark both his birthday and anniversary of his death in suitably flamboyant fashion.

The festival was set up in 2016 as a three-day event to celebrate Bowie’s birthday, and the Grand Social had been running Bowie specials for a few years, showing films and throwing parties with tribute band Rebel Rebel, and Bowie discos playing everything from his classics, to curios and his daft moments like Magic Dance.

The 2016 festival had a triumphant edge, as Bowie had just released Blackstar on the Friday — more than a cliched ‘return to form’, but one of his most challenging albums in decades and a new avant-garde path.


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By the Monday, of course, news of his death led to a worldwide surge of genuine emotion from pop fans, and numb Bowie Festival performers headed back to the Grand Social to strap on a few guitars and play the hits.

The spirit of this night sealed the deal for the festival to be an annual affair, and this year it’s a six-day celebration across various venues, featuring live concerts, drama, art exhibitions, workshops, film screenings, lectures and interviews.

Far from being a glum memorial, the DBF is a celebration of 50-odd years of one of music’s greatest icons — face paint and spandex rather than sombre candles.

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The festival started last night with a talk at the Sugar Club with former Spiders From Mars drummer Woody Woodmansey, who chatted with Tony Clayton-Lea about his memoir, and his life in the studio and on the road with Bowie during his early 70s Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane period.

There’ll also be a chance to approach the canon with an academic edge, as Bowie scholar Professor Eoin Devereux discusses the art of Bowie with musician Gavin Friday on Sunday at DC Music Club, and he’ll be discussing the influence of Jack B Yeats on his music and visual art on Monday at Studio 10.

Of course, it’ll be a weekend of wham-bam glam, avant-garde rock and cocaine funk, so the biggest draw will be the various tributes and cover bands.

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Gerry Leonard with Rebel Rebel at the 2016 Dublin Bowie Festival

I Heart Bowie tonight at Whelan’s follows last year’s sellout that featured Glenn Hansard, Bell X1, Jack L and loads more, so expect a similar pick of Irish talent later on.

The weekend’s most rowdy event will be the Bowie Ball at the Sugar Club tomorrow with the Salty Dog Allstars playing the glam and funk hits with a pirate edge, as well as back-to-back Bowie from DJs till the early hours.

Going head-to head at the Grand Social on Saturday, two bands will perform classic albums back-to-back, with Heroes From Mars taking on Ziggy, while Playback will run through Aladdin Sane — good luck with Mike Garson’s legendary jazz piano solo on the title track!

On Sunday, the shockingly good Rebel Rebel play Vicar Street, with a reputation preceding them of being Ireland’s best cover band. They even had former Bowie guitarist and musical director Gerry Leonard join them onstage at the 2016 festival, for a dream match-up.

I Heart Bowie at the 2017 edition

On What would have been Bowie’s 71st birthday, on Monday at the Grand Social, The London Boys go on a deep dive of the former David Jones’s 60s songs, when he was dabbling in hippie-folk, mod and RnB, before Ziggy played guitar.

And given that Bowie is probably the most famous cross-dressing rock star in history, one of Ireland’s most fabulous drag queens, Veda Lady’s show Boys Keep Swinging at the George tonight is sure to be the most glammed-up event of the whole festival.

On Wednesday — the two-year anniversary — Bowie Raw at the Grand Social will be a more poignant affair, with a stripped-down acoustic celebration featuring Dave Frew of An Emotional Fish and Trevor Hutchinson of The Waterboys, and a load of special guests.

If you’re not out losing your voice singing Life on Mars and touching up the lightning bolt on your face, there’s plenty of time-outs away from the clubs.

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David’s chequered film career is being celebrated with screenings at the Lighthouse of The Prestige, the documentary on the 2013 exhibition of the colossal exhibition of memorabilia Bowie Is at London’s VnA, and his campest role as Jarleth the Goblin King in Labyrinth — parental advisory advised for his infamous tights.

For the artistically inclined, there’s a Sound and Vision exhibition of a new collection of posters based on all of Bowie’s 25 albums at Image Now gallery. There’ll be prints for sale but don’t leave it till the last minute or you could get stuck with Never Let Me Down…

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