When David Bowie headlined the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2000 the BBC invited a deluge of complaint when the live broadcast was pulled after only five songs. It was done at Bowie’s request and the set remained frozen in time – gaining a notable release at the end of 2018.
The third anniversary of Bowie’s death will be marked to the day with the appearance of the three trusted lieutenants that stood beside him at Glastonbury. The David Bowie Alumni Tour: A Bowie Celebration will arrive in Glasgow on January 10th at the city’s 02 Academy.
Among them Mike Garson, Bowie’s veteran pianist, lead-guitarist Earl Slick who delivered “fat licks” on the likes Golden Years, and Mark Plati another long-serving producer and multi-instrumentalist who began working with Bowie in the mid 1990s.
Garson, who was originally hired for only eight weeks in 1972, brought his definitive avant-garde flourishes to Aladdin Sane the following year. “I have great memories of people flying off the balcony at Green’s Playhouse in January 1973. Glasgow was always a wild place to play where the fans had a deep love of the music so we’re looking forward to playing there.
“With Glastonbury 2000 coming out we’ve been looking at that set. It was a triumphant evening and of the thousands of shows I did with David that would be in the top three along with the Hammersmith Odeon in 73 and Isle of Wight Festival 2004. The band sounded amazing that night, we looked out at the audience of 120,000 and walking onstage David turns and asks me to warm them up with Greensleeves.
“I almost had a heart-attack when he started with Wild Is The Wind – it showed he was unafraid to try anything he wanted that night, he sang and played everything so well. When I heard it was coming out while I was touring with these musicians I was very excited.”
The new century saw Bowie shake-off the experimental zeal of the mid 90s while embracing hits from his back catalogue. Mark Plati points to the significance of Earl Slick returning to the fold after a 17-year hiatus. “Slick was perfect musically, personally and everything else. He fitted in like he had just stopped playing the week before, we plugged him in and he was there.
“For the set we played a lot of the material that Slick was involved with, we brought in Station to Station, Stay, Golden Years and Wild Is The Wind and he was the perfect call for those songs. I would stand in the middle of this triangle between David Bowie, Earl Slick and Mike Garson – little old me who grew up listening to these guys and the three of them are looking at me to start the song. I would have to kick myself and say ‘shut up and do your job’. That was incredible on every level because everyone involved was in such a good place, it was a wonderful period and one of the great performances of David’s later career.”
Face to face after a sweaty performance at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, Earl Slick is every inch the rock guitar hero with raven-black spiky hair, tattoos and long scarves. Behind sunglasses while smoking a cigarette in a long black winter’s coat the New Yorker recalls his first encounter with Bowie. “An audition was arranged at RCA studios, they set up in the main room and asked me to play while they mixed Diamond Dogs. Then there was dead silence which made me think this might not be good.
“David then walked in and sat down, we had a drink, a snort [of cocaine] and started noodling a couple of guitars. They said they’d let me know in a couple of weeks. I had a call the next day to meet David at his hotel and that was it.”
Slick would play a vital role on Bowie’s 1976 album Station to Station, where a “snort and a drink” were constant during the sessions while recording at Hollywood’s lauded Cherokee Studios. The black soul of previous long-player Young Americans (1975) was fused with experimental Krautrock and the repetitive, robotic rhythms developed by Germany’s electronic music pioneers. Bowie’s Thin White Duke personae, a cold, baleful European figure informed by the occult, Jewish mysticism and a fascination with the Third Reich was as potent a creation as Ziggy Stardust. Describing the album as “a wayward spiritual search” Bowie also drew on The Stations of the Cross and the lost, alcoholic alien he played in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth.
“David absorbed a lot of everything, he was interested in history and social issues and it all went in,” says Slick. “Station to Station came up out of nowhere, I had a call from him out the blue in LA and we began recording in a small rehearsal space for two days at the studio to touch on the vibe for the record which was not complete by any means.
“A lot of the lyrics were unfinished and the title track (clocking in at just over ten minutes) was three different parts of different songs that we glued together. The wail of feedback on the guitar was a spur of the moment thing at 5am in the morning, we were up all night recording as usual. That’s both of us with a wall of Marshall stacks; it’s not just me.”
Bowie worked closely with the guitarist relying on him to conjure essential riffs, textures and licks for the likes of Golden Years. “I have to say thank you to Eric [Clapton] for that one” he admits. “It came from Cream’s Outside Woman Blues and there was a little of Funky Broadway by Wilson Pickett. David would say ‘what’ve you got?’ I’d be like ‘give me a minute’ and come up with something on the spot; that happened on Stay, it was built around the lick of John, I’m Only Dancing Again the chords and chorus are the same. On Diamond Dogs the majority of the guitar work is David, that wasn’t unusual because he could play a few instruments well enough to come up with what was required. He came up with the riff on Rebel Rebel, if he couldn’t play something well enough or to his liking Mick (Ronson), myself or whoever would do it.”
Bowie toured Station To Station with replacement guitarist Stacy Heydon, who would later describe Slick’s work on the record as “extraordinary”.
Slick finally took Station To Station on the road for an acclaimed 40th anniversary tour in 2016 with Rolling Stones backing vocalist Bernard Fowler who will also join also him in Glasgow to perform cuts from the album.
“That tour was put together with David’s blessing, he endorsed it” adds Slick. “Once I got to the point of preparing for the tour I let him know Bernard was singing because the last thing I wanted was a Bowie clone, I knew I had the right guy.”
Garson suggests that he and Slick, who first performed together with Bowie in June 1974, will also revisit the Diamond Dogs Tour that worked to cement Bowie’s legend in America.
“We’re looking at Sweet Thing/Candidate which hasn’t been played live since that tour and other things from the period, we’ll rehearse We Are The Dead from Diamond Dogs. Lady Grinning Soul was a song we never did live which we played on the Aladdin Sane tour last year, the reaction was thrilling, I was always waiting to do that one, I think it was one of David’s greatest.
“Of course we’ll be doing more familiar songs like Life On Mars which I played maybe 200 times over the years and every time was different, I put my own stamp on it but stuck to the original vibe that Rick Wakeman brought to the track. The first time was on David’s first major American tour as Ziggy (Stardust) in September 1972 and the last was in 2005 at a benefit concert. I was nervous on that occasion and so was David but it was tremendous when we hit the last chord. I had the privilege of playing those early shows and of joining him on his final live performance.”
The David Bowie Alumni Tour: A Bowie Celebration will perform on January 10th at Glasgow’s 02 Academy
Source : HeraldScotland