On the night David Bowie died, I stood alone with my guitar under a tribute at London’s Hammersmith Apollo that read: ‘A Hero For More Than One Day, RIP David Bowie’.
Unable to get to the mourning crowds in Bowie’s birthplace of Brixton, I felt a keen desire for connection and was desperate to be with people who understood the gravitas of what had happened.
Now, five years on from Bowie’s death, I have changed my life to keep his memory alive and surrounded myself with those who still miss him as much as I do.
My journey with David Bowie began when I was 16 years old. I bought a copy of his album Hunky Dory and fell in love with his intelligent, soulful, melodic rock music. It spoke to me in a way no other record had before and it felt like it belonged to me even though it had been penned 29 years earlier, in 1971.
I started listening to as much of Bowie’s work as I could get my hands on. I’d been writing my own music for a year but Bowie inspired me to become more experimental.
He oozed the individuality I had been looking for – the thing that would set me, an insecure teenager, apart from my classmates. But he was also a symbol of acceptance and belonging, contrary as that might sound.
In the years that followed, I read countless books about him, his rise to fame and his time in London.
Bowie and London are symbiotic in my mind. It was in Trident Studio, near Soho’s Carnaby Street, that David and his bandmates crafted Hunky Dory. The same venue would be where they would later create their most definitive statement, both sonically and lyrically, with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, released in 1972.
And in a Soho alleyway, David’s illuminated figure, with yellow hair and a tight, turquoise combat suit, stood outside the furriers K. West and the persona of Ziggy Stardust was born.
After Bowie’s passing, in order to feel connected to my hero, I began visiting all the locations across London that formed the backdrop to his astronomical career.
First and foremost was the memorial shrine to Bowie I couldn’t get to the night of his death: the street art in Brixton depicting his portrait that featured on the cover of David’s 1973 album, Aladdin Sane, with the iconic red and blue lightning bolt painted across his face.
This is where the seeds of the David Bowie Musical Walking Tour, which I now run, were planted.
My wife came up with the idea – she knew how much Bowie meant to me, and it seemed like a natural fit. It was my way of coping, born out of my longing to meet others who were as affected by his death as I was.
The Brixton art became the centrepiece of my very first tour, which I launched on January 8 2017 – what would have been David’s 70th birthday.
I began with an introduction, before playing my guitar and singing a cover of Space Oddity for the small group assembled. I knew instantly that I had hit upon something; I felt connected to fellow fans in the way I’d been yearning for all year.
My wife and I ran many more tours in the following weeks (I’m the guide, she came on board to do PR and help with our special events). The feedback was so positive and there was laughter, sing-a-longs and dancing during the walks.
As fans shared their own stories, facts and anecdotes about David, the tour script expanded as fast as the meaningful friendships that were being made.
We eventually explored other significant places linked to David Bowie, beginning with Soho and soon stopping off for a pint in David’s favourite London boozer, The Ship in Wardour Street.
A year later, we launched a new tour in the London suburb of Beckenham, where David lived between 1969 and 1973. Over the last five years, we expanded our tour routes and January gatherings in Brixton became annual events.
Early tours had more of a historical focus but they transformed into pilgrimages to pay homage, a chance to commemorate Bowie’s birth and death, with fans coming together to sing his songs at the top of their lungs and feel a sense of unity all over again in tribute.
The loneliness and anti-climax I had felt in Hammersmith on the night of his passing is now just another memory to share with the new friends I’ve met.
As I’m now unable to conduct in-person tours due to government restrictions, we have moved online. Livestreams and virtual tours will keep bringing people together so we can continue to celebrate the life, legacy and everlasting music of David Bowie. Even when we are apart we’ll continue mourning and celebrating the loss of a hero for more than one day.
Five years after his death, his songs still resonate deeply. He speaks to people of all ages and his music seems to transcend boundaries, languages and cultures.
The influences behind many of Bowie’s characters’ looks and sounds came from sources across the globe, so I think many people can see themselves in him, while at the same time feeling he’s somehow super human – or ‘homo superior’, as he himself says on Oh You Pretty Things.
There hasn’t been anyone else like him. He was ahead of the curve, and was very much about breaking the rules and challenging people – that’s made me braver in my own songwriting.
I still feel like there’s things I’ve been processing; the final album Black Star, the stage musical Lazarus, the hints and suggested meanings in his final music videos and the hidden messages in his last album sleeve.
I’m continuing to discover his own statements about his life and death, and I feel like I’m storing it all up. That influence will no doubt inspire where my own creative work goes next.
Bowie was often referred to as a space alien on Earth, and it seemed that every character he embodied maintained that distance from the mundane elements of being human.
This made him open to personal interpretation and I’ve learnt that everyone, including me, seems to have their own unique ‘David Bowie’.
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