In the four years since David Bowie’s death, tributes have stopped feeling like a wake, and rather a celebration of maybe the greatest pop music icon of them all.
As we’re hoovering up pine needles, shuddering at your bank balance and preparing for another grey January, 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 initially had a triumphant edge, as Bowie had just released Blackstar on his 69th birthday, Friday, January 6. Blackstar was more than the ‘return to form’ of his surprise 2013 album The Next Day, which was a self-referential work that nodded to past glories, from the blanked-out “Heroes” artwork, to revisits of his old Berlin haunts in the lead single Where Are We Now?
Bowie’s swansong masterpiece was his most challenging album since the revered late-70s ‘Berlin Trilogy’ of Low, “Heroes” and Lodger, opening up a new avant-garde jazz and electronic path that was sadly closed off with his death three days later.
By the Monday, of course, news of his death led to a worldwide surge of genuine emotion from casual fans and lifelong devotees, and numb Bowie Festival performers headed back to the Grand Social to play the hits and get through it.
The spirit of this night lit the fuse for the festival to become an annual affair, with gigs, movie screenings, exhibitions, talks, drag shows, classic album playbacks and markets selling collectibles.
This year the festival runs from Bowie’s birthday on Wednesday, and finishes on Sunday the 12th. This year the festival’s theme is celebrating 50 years of The Man Who Sold the World — his 1970 album that was a big departure from the psychedelic folk of Space Oddity and his earlier quaint music hall experiments.
The Man Who Sold the World was a dense, psychedelic hard rock departure, recorded with his long-time producer Tony Visconti on bass, and Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey and Mick Ronson on drums and guitar, who would form the backbone of the iconic Spiders From Mars and the Ziggy Era.
Visconti and Woodmansey are leading the band Holy Holy for the festival’s showcase gig on Saturday the 11th, with Heaven 17’s Glen Gregory on vocals, performing The Man Who Sold the World and Ziggy Stardust albums in their entirety, along with a selection of iconic 70s cuts.
An Audience With Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey on Sunday 12th at the Royal Colleg of Surgeons — Face To Face With the Men Who Sold the World.
The Man Who Sold the World will also get a playback celebration in The Big Romance pub on Parnell Street next Thursday, while the ongoing exhibition Silhouettes and Shadows at Rathfarnham Castle explores the Pre-Raphaelite themes in the album’s artwork.
And it’s been 50 years since Bowie casued a minor scandal by wearing a flamboyant dress on his 1970 album, and next Friday, the George is hosting The Woman Who Sold the World — a fashion and drag show celebrating sexual fluidity and freedom.
While The Man Who Sold the World is the headline celebration, Bowie’s many eras will be celebrated over the five days.
Ireland’s top Bowie tribute act Rebel Rebel are performing Sound & Vision 2020 next Friday at the Academy, to mark the 30th anniversary of Bowie’s 1990 greatest hits tour. Also on Friday, the Heroes From Mars host the Bowie Ball in Whelan’s, playing a selection of glammed up classics; The London Boys go back to Bowie’s early 60s show tunes at the Sugar Club on Friday, while on Saturday week, Art-Crime Inc perform the experimental industrial album 1.Outside at the Workmans Club. Staying on an avant-garde path, next Tursday, experimental ensemble Glasshouse will be reimagining the Berlin Trilogy at the Sugar Club.
If you’re not up for taking it into the early hours, The Church is a good hub for afternoon events, including a Bowie Brunch on the Saturday and Sunday, with live music, as well as a family-friendly event, Let All the Children Boogie, with music, book readings and face painting — lightning bolt mandatory. You can also stock up on Bowie merch with a five-hour market at the Church on the Saturday.
As always, there’s a movie celebration at the Lighthouse, with a screening of camp fan fave Labyrinth, as well a showing of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ — with Bowie as a brilliantly aloof and sarcastic Pontius Pilate.
The festival finishes at Whelan’s on Sunday the 12th with After All — a free event from 7pm. It promises “special guest live performances”, so I’m guessing many of the acts will join in for a huge toast for another year.
- The Dublin Bowie Festival runs from January 8-12. See dublinbowiefestival.ie.