Interview with Laurence Knight of Bowie Experience
St David’s Hall
Saturday 6 October, 7.30pm
THE Man Who Fell to Earth may no longer be with us, but the Starman’s spirit lives on in Bowie Experience at St David’s Hall on Saturday 6 October – commencing countdown!
This spectacular show is the world’s greatest tribute to the ultimate pop icon, David Bowie. Get ready to take off on an incredible journey of Sound and Vision through the Golden Years from Space Oddity to Let's Dance.
With astounding attention to detail, the spectre of the Thin White Duke returns to the stage to perform all the huge hits from A to Ziggy including Life on Mars, Rebel Rebel, Heroes, China Girl, Fashion and many more!
Neil Collins talks to Laurence Knight about his life as a David Bowie tribute.
Tell us about a typical day in the life of a tribute artist, especially one as extraordinarily charismatic and unique as David Bowie. Are there preparations you make before every gig to get into his mind-set? I’m guessing you will have studied hundreds of hours of tape to replicate his every nuance?
Well, a typical day for me usually has something to do with my role as David. For example - interviews, music arranging, logistics, conversations with the rest of the team (there is always something that needs addressing), looking at ways to move the show forward, and with the little time that's left it's home stuff that we are all familiar with – cooking, cleaning, feeding the birds.
I'm not sure I could ever get into his mind-set as you suggest, his mind not mine! It's often suggested that I must have studied hundreds of hours of tape and recordings but that's not really how it is, David has always been sort of one of the family, so I have just got to know him a little bit over time.
How did the Bowie Experience come about? Did you ever anticipate it becoming such a successful and enduring show?
I have always been involved in music one way or another. My Bowie show started back in 1997 just at the end of a college music course. People said that when I sung his songs I sounded like him and that I should do something with it, so with some trepidation I had a go at doing a show. It seemed to work ok, so I did another and then another and that's how it goes.
I always hoped the show would 'get its own legs' and succeed and endure, but you just never know. So whilst I imagined a future for the show when I started back in 1997, I can't honestly say I anticipated we would be where we are now.
What are the hardest traits of Bowie’s performance to master?
I can't do that thing he did with his hands where he twists his wrists to make finger and thumb 'eyes'. I know people who can do that like he did, but i just can't get my wrists to twist in that way!
How far are you willing to go to inhabit the role? Have you ever felt inclined to adopt a diet of milk and fresh peppers as Bowie did during the Berlin era?
I will do and go as much and as far as is needed at any given time so the only limits are the ones I impose upon myself. So far I haven't come across where the limits are.
Ha! Milk and peppers, well not that diet specifically, but I did go through a phase of eating only raw vegetables – you know the ones we normally eat cooked, not salad. It didn't end well!
After an initial period of modest success, Bowie became a global sensation when his alien alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust descended to Earth. The persona was a fascinating blend of Bowie’s influences including elements of Japanese dance-drama Kabuki, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Was Ziggy the greatest character ever created onstage?
David said of Ziggy Stardust that although that character was around for only about 18 months, he burned oh so brightly, and I don't think I can add to that!
Not only was Bowie a magnificent mix of his own influences, but he went on to inspire so many other artists (British bands like Placebo, Suede & Manic Street Preachers and American acts as diverse as Iggy Pop, Marilyn Manson & Iggy Pop to name a few). Is Bowie the most influential music artist ever, and could the acts in his wake have been so successful without him paving the way?
David is one of the most influential artists in popular culture, but let's not forget The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and there are many more. I think that among the many reasons for his eminent relevance is the way he built on the past and stayed on the cutting edge of time as it unfolded.
So many artists of all sorts have been influenced by him, as much I think for his relationship with his art as by what he actually did. Whether or not acts that have been influenced by him to the degree that they owe some of their success to him and his work is not possible to know. You would have to have a parallel universe with the same players, but without David so you could compare the two.
What is your favourite Bowie song and album? And do you have a particular favourite era?
My favourite era is not one era, my favourite times are between 1976 and 1981 and then from 1996 up to and including the last album Blackstar. I don't have a favourite song and album, I love (nearly) all his output.
Conversely, was there any era you weren’t especially fussed on? Bowie’s side project Tin Machine were much maligned, whilst his mid-90s period of electronica and drum & bass divided opinion. I’m guessing The Laughing Gnome won’t be added to the setlist any time soon either?!
Just to be contrary, I should tell you The Laughing Gnome was by D.R. Jones not Mr Bowie! I have infinite respect for David, so like him I wouldn't want to do that song. I suppose the album I listen to the least is Never Let Me Down – not that I don't like it – it’s just I hardly ever seem to play it. I shall remedy that and put it on as soon as I get a free album lengths worth of time.
Ever the enigma, Bowie announced the release of his penultimate album The Next Day seemingly overnight and amid absolute secrecy after a 10-year hiatus in 2013. What did you make of this as a statement in an age of relentless 24-hour news coverage and social media?
Yes, it was exciting when seemingly out of the blue there was a new album. The fact that no one got wind of it before its release has as much to do with the way he conducted himself throughout his career as anything else. David Jones and David Bowie were separate entities and from this end of the telescope, it seemed the two were never mixed. He directed people’s attention to his work and not to himself. He wasn't 'needy' like some we could mention and so when he wasn't making public his work, there wasn't anything else to get our attention. It's the contrast that made it seem out of the blue. For me personally when The Next Day came out seemingly suddenly without media chatter and speculation, my reaction was to smile and mutter "nice one David".
Likewise, he kept his terminal illness a closely guarded secret and his final album Blackstar was released just two days after his death. What are your memories of that day? The album (especially Lazarus) referenced his impending death, which meant there was even an artistic statement in his final moments.
Yes, isn't that astounding in this selfie era that someone famous could keep such an awful thing out of the public domain? It just goes to prove (if it was needed) that David Bowie was art and artist to the end. He meant it, he never faked it. I have memories of the day he died, but none to share.
What have crowd reactions been like since Bowie’s death? And what are your future plans with the show?
Crowd reactions have been lovely. I know some people bring their understandable grief and sadness with them – I get that, I share that – but David's life and work was so much more than the end, so we invite audiences to celebrate. On the whole, I feel people are happy to be let off the (grief) hook and give themselves permission to enjoy again all the wonderful things that came from such a wonderful artist.
With regards the future, I know how I want to continue to develop the show, but at the moment the details of that have to remain between me and my hard drive. But "I promise it won't be boring!"
Friends of St David's Hall | Students | Children Under 16 | Claimants | Over 60s | Disabled people (+1 plus companion)
Group 10+ (please call Box Office on 029 2087 8444.)
£1.50 off each ticket
Plus an optional £1 postage fee.
*Only one discount may apply to each ticket and proof of entitlement is required upon ticket collection.
To book your seats, please visit www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk
or call the Box Office on 029 2087 8444.