The Dublin Bowie Festival
For the past five years, the Grand Social in Dublin have run a Bowie Birthday Bash in January to mark the birthday of David Bowie. The Grand Social’s booking manager, John Brereton is a self-confessed “Bowie nerd” and in 2016 he decided to expand the Birthday Bash into a full scale Bowie Festival. This festival attracted people from all over world, including some big names associated with David Bowie, such as Gerry Leonard, who was Bowie’s guitar player, musical director and co-writer for ten years. However, in a tragic twist of fate, the sad news of Bowie’s passing filtered through the day after the festival.
“We were all whacked out with the tragic news the next morning that he had died,” says Brereton. “We decided to have a vigil here in the Grand Social on that Monday night because there was still lots of people who had come over from Europe for the festival and they just wanted to be together. People just sang, hung out and hugged each other because they were very upset.”
As the first anniversary of Bowie’s passing approaches, the Dublin Bowie Festival is returning again from 5 to 10 January and to mark what would have been the great man’s 70th birthday, it promises to be bigger and better than ever with something to attract everyone from the most casual to the diehard Bowie fans.
The festival opens with the launch of the Pin Ups Exhibition in the Fumbally Exchange on Dame Lane. For this unique exhibition, Brereton approached some well known Bowie fans, including Gerry Leonard, Woody Woodmansey from The Spiders From Mars, and DJ’s Annie Mac, Tom Dunne and Ian Dempsey, to name their favourite Bowie song. Based on these suggestions, a group of top Irish illustrators have created a series of what they imagine those songs to be. “It’s really beautiful stuff,” Brereton says of the work that these illustrators have produced. These amazing illustrations will be on display in the Fumbally Exchange for the duration of the festival.
One of the highlights of the festival will take place in the Sugar Club later that evening is a Q&A session with playwright Enda Walsh, who worked with Bowie on Lazarus. As one of the last people to work with Bowie, Walsh is sure to provide a fascinating insight into Bowie’s working methods, as well as his more personal side.
The incredible tribute band Rebel Rebel will play Vicar Street on Sunday 8 January. Described by Gerry Leonard as “the closest thing to playing with Bowie I’ve experienced” after he appeared with them at the 2016 festival, these incredible musicians will take the audience from Space Oddity all the way up to Black Star during their two hour set.
Brereton will also be playing at the festival. “I’m a big fan of all of the 60s Bowie stuff which is kind of the unknown canon,” he says. “So we’re doing a concert in the Grand Social on Friday the 6th called 60s Bowie and we’re doing all of the early mod and vaudeville stuff.” The 60s Bowie night will be opened by the Gaiety School of Acting’s Acapella Group, a 10 strong troupe of amazing vocalists who promise to capture the remarkable essence of Bowie’s melodies and harmonies onstage.
Elsewhere, the I Heart Bowie group will reunite in the Opium Rooms after a stellar performance in January. Featuring some of Ireland’s top musicians, the group featured a number of guest vocalists, including Glen Hansard, Bell X1 and Jack L last time out so expect to see some surprises again this year.
Brereton also promises some very special guests at the Bowie Vigil which will close the festival in the Grand Social on 10 January. This special night will pay tribute to the legacy of Bowie on the first anniversary of his passing. It will feature an intimate acoustic performance from The Bowie Raw Collective, which features musicians such as Dave McGinley, Dave Frew of An Emotional Fish and Trevor Hutchinson of The Waterboys. There will also be space for those who would like to express their feelings through spoken word or song while you never know who else just might turn up to pay their respects.
It’s a fitting way to end a festival that marks the legacy of not just a musical legend, but a cultural icon. “When he died, he was the news event of the day,” says Brereton. “It was pretty unique for a pop star to have that much coverage in the news. It was as big as Elvis, if not bigger.”
There’s no better way to start the New Year than by paying tribute to the colossal legacy of David Bowie at the Dublin Bowie Festival this January. For full event listings visit www.dublinbowiefestival.ie.