In what is becoming a trend but not yet a habit, my son Sam treated me to a tribute act night out as a birthday present, just as he did last Christmas when we went to the Half Moon in Putney to see John Campbell do his Jimi Hendrix act with his group Are You Experienced. Last night it was Absolute Bowie at Sutton Football Club’s social club, which becomes The Boom Boom Club when they present rock, which is often and which regularly puts on tribute acts.
Absolute Bowie do not identify themselves, and instead go under assumed names connected with Bowie, with Halloween Jack on vocals, Mick Ransom (sic) on guitar and the like, but ‘Jack’ has an uncanny ability to sing and prance about in ways that echo the real thing, and the whole show benefited from the boundless enthusiasm that all five musicians put into their show. Their love of David was evident from the opening notes of the opening number ‘Time’ to the closing encore ‘Heroes’. By this time the crowd of 150 or so was showing the same kind of excitement the man himself generated at Live Aid, all arms waving, feet dancing and singing along at the tops of their voices. Heroes indeed.
The show was divided into two halves, the first a Ziggy presentation and the second songs from post-Diamond Dogs with the singer first in Thin White Duke mould and later in a silvery suit and glittery tie. Carrot topped and wearing a Japanese style white silk outfit, ‘Ziggy’ sang all the songs you would expect – ‘Changes’, ‘Man Who Sold The World’, Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Sufragette City’, ‘Queen Bitch’ etc – all the while flirting with his guitarist, who was wearing a long blonde wig, and the stocky bass player who was sturdy, efficient and cool but looked a tad uncomfortable in his black wig with blonde streaks. At one point Ziggy knelt on the floor to echo Mick Rock’s famous shot of David licking Ronno’s guitar strings, and for ‘Moonage Daydream’ he placed a twinkling light in his mouth to create a rather unsettling but nevertheless very dramatic effect. He also affected some of David’s mime moves, like opening a troublesome sliding door or fanning his arms like a bird in flight, and toyed with a mask on a stick. The first half closed with ‘Starman’, and there was much arms-around-the-shoulders action a la David’s famous appearance on Top Of The Pops in 1972.
After a 20-minute break the band returned, changed now into more regular outfits and looking a bit relieved, especially the bass player who’d swapped his wig for a pork pie hat. Led by the keyboard player, they made a fearsome racket that eventually transformed into the riff from ‘Station To Station’ and on bounded the singer in black pants, black waistcoat and white shirt, his hair now blonde and fluffy. All that was missing was the packet of Gitanes but health and safety no doubt rules that sort of thing out these days. This David always had a distinctive way of holding himself, straight-backed, slightly angular dance moves, his arms bent at the elbow and hands just below shoulder level, almost as if he was sparring, a grin on his face as he glanced slyly at the band. All this was on the nail as the ensemble moved through ‘Golden Years’, ‘TVC15’, ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ and ‘Ashes To Ashes’ which featured a terrific guitar solo, all escalating vibrato and heavy metal flash. It helped that all bar the drummer sang, so the sound was fat and full, the effect at times verging on the choirlike.
The show proper ended with a suitably spiky ‘Let’s Dance’, but they came back for a stab at ‘Diamond Dogs’, introduced with the recitation from the album, then it was into ‘Space Oddity’, with ‘David’ strumming a 12-string, ‘Rebel Rebel, all hot tramps and torn dresses, and, finally and inevitably, ‘Heroes’ which the singer dedicated to his daughter who was apparently celebrating her 19th birthday. They’d been at it for over two hours, played 23 songs and entertained Sutton's Bowie community royally – and all for £12.
There are some in my profession who take a rather disdainful attitude towards tribute acts but I am not amongst them. My son is 19 and unlikely ever to see the real David Bowie, and I would imagine that most of the crowd in Sutton Football Club probably never saw him either, but the pleasure they all took from this show negates any scorn that some might feel at what is, after all, a shameless imitation. I take the view that Absolute Bowie and their ilk are keeping David’s music before the public and serving to remind us of the depth of his catalogue, the broad nature of his songwriting styles and, last but by no means least, what a fantastic stage performer Bowie really was. And that can only be a good thing.
(I downloaded the image from Absolute Bowie’s website where it is credited to Raven Photography.)