Ian Chapman Rocks WORD Christchurch Festival

David Bowie, who had many connections to New Zealand, sadly only toured here four times, but for fans there was a rare opportunity to experience his genius again today at the WORD Christchurch Festival through an extraordinary and rousing performance by the academic musicologist and Bowie aficionado, and author of the book Experiencing David Bowie: A Listener’s Companion, Ian Chapman. Ian was brilliantly accompanied by Liam Donnelly on piano and Pania Simmonds on acoustic and electric bass, and sounds they made together were sublime. Those lucky enough to be there were treated to a wonderfully entertaining celebration of eccentric creativity, a trait that Bowie and Chapman clearly share in abundance, and which Ian refers to as the art of being different.

The trio played two mesmerising sets of early Bowie songs, which bookended a remarkable talk by Ian who explained to us exactly why David Bowie had such a profound impact on so many people’s lives, not least his own. This is perhaps best illustrated by comparing the two alternative covers of the 1970 album The Man Who Sold The World. The British version features a picture of David in a full length dress and boots reclining on a chaise longue. This being a bit too gender-bending for the Americans at the time, the US release features a cartoon version of a scene set in front of a rather imposing gothic building, which is the mental hospital where David’s brother Terry was incarcerated. The British cover symbolises David’s ever-changing persona and his compulsion to explore all aspects of his creative self, continually reinventing himself anew by inhabiting different identities; as evidenced by a comment on the back cover of the album Hunky Dory, David considered his performance to be an act rather than a reflection of his true self, whatever that may be. The American cover represents Bowie’s embracing of the outsider, rooted in his relationship with his troubled brother. As Ian told us, someone once described Bowie as “a flame towards whom dysfunctional moths flew”, which David was more than happy to make a virtue of.

Cosmic Jive Trio. Image supplied.
Cosmic Jive Trio. Image supplied.

The second part of Ian’s talk was much more personal and we heard what David Bowie’s music meant to Ian after things went terribly wrong for him as a child when his life was turned upside-down by a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, a message that Ian now takes to schools to empower young kids and address the issue of bullying. In the end, what we were treated to was a tour de force on the transcendent power of music and performance to lift us out of our everyday existence and, if only for a brief moment, to take us to another place entirely (brilliantly captured in a picture taken by Mick Rock that was eventually rejected as the cover image for the Bowie-penned single All The Young Dudes by Mott The Hoople). We may have been sitting in a dark room in a college building on a late winter’s day in Christchurch, but for me at least, for an hour or so this afternoon I was transported to the heady days of glam rock in 1970s, and nothing else seemed to matter. This was a wonderful tribute to a much loved, and much missed genius, by someone who delighted in sharing his obsession with us.

Before I go, I’d must give a shout out to whoever was operating the lighting. Nice work! It really added to the atmosphere.

Ian Chapman is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Music at Otago University and Head of their Programme for Performing Arts. His doctorate was on David Bowie, and he has published many academic articles as well as several books about glam rock and the New Zealand music scene

For more about David Bowie, check out these two excellent online resources, which are available free to Christchurch City Library members

A favourite book of mine that touches on the darker side of some of the themes raised in Ian’s performance is All The Madmen (which interestingly, also features two of the musicians we heard playing before and after Ian’s show – Ray Davies of The Kinks, and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd).

As well as Ian’s books, you can find dozens of others about every aspect of Bowie’s life and work on the shelves of your local branch of Christchurch City Libraries, as well as CDs of his music, including my own personal favourite Bowie album, Hunky Dory.

What’s your favourite?

More music at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

A Date with Dylan at The Institution at tonight’s New Regent Street Pop-up Festival,Thursday 30 August 6pm
Philip Matthews, Adam McGrath, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, and David Slack talkin’ bout Bob Dylan.

Soundtrack Or, Dancing about Architecture Sunday 2 September 11.30am to 12.45pm
Featuring Philip Hoare, Pip Adam, Chris Tse and Nic Low, hosted by Kiran Dass.

Samuel Flynn Scott: On songs Sunday 2 September 2.45pm to 3.45pm

More about Ian Chapman: Read Kim’s interview with Dr Ian Chapman: The Dunedin Sound and a passion for music

Two years gone: Celebrate David Bowie

Can you believe it’s been two years since David Bowie passed away?

Bowie was the king of media in many forms. A lot has been published since he died that genuinely and tastefully celebrates his life and influence on fashion, music and freedom of the spirit. Here is just a taste:

Cover of BowieBowie

This book is by Pat Gilbert, who has also covered The Clash. Its an in-depth analysis of Bowie’s music; his influence on genres such as glam and punk rock, reinvention of his image and stagecraft itself. Richly balanced with concert and backstage images, posters and tickets.

Bowie Unseen

Gerald Fearnley is the brother of a bandmate from Bowie’s early days. He shot the sleeve images for his first album, David Bowie, in 1967. Fearnley’s portraits are published here for the first time, perhaps capturing the transformation from David Jones to Bowie.

Cover of David Bowie: a lifeDavid Bowie

Dylan Jones is a well respected biographer with quite a list of names behind him. In this biography includes interviews with around 180 people who knew, loved and worked with him. Many of these tales have never been told.

When Ziggy Played the Marquee

This book captures Bowie’s last performance as Ziggy Stardust, at the Marquee Club in Soho. The year was 1973. Celebrated photographer Terry O’Neill caught the behind stage action as well as the show. At the time, nobody knew that this was to be Ziggy’s last show.

Cover of The age of BowieThe Age of Bowie

Bowie didn’t follow fashion, he created it. This book looks at how David Bowie’s freedom of expression influenced society; breaking down gender barriers in fashion, the way he perceived the world could be, and especially ways he could make music – ultimately becoming a defining figure of his age.

Cover of Bowie A to ZBowie A to Z

One for the scrapbook keeper. I admit I had one once! Chock full of facts from Aladdin Sane to Z for Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie on CD – Try this list for some albums you might not have heard before. Notable are BRIT Awards 2017 and the New York stage show of Lazarus.

What’s your favourite David Bowie album?

My first and still firm favourite album is 1980’s Scary Monsters.

The industrial sound of this album reflected post punk experimentation, also used by the Cure in Seventeen Seconds. Fashion, of course, broke down barriers and sales records.

The album that gets played the most at my place is Changes Two. Some of the best songs on that one, from John, I’m only Dancing, to Wild is the Wind.

My personal favourite. A cover of Nina Simone’s also beautiful version.

Don’t feel sad on the 10th January. Get yourself some great Bowie media, light a candle and celebrate the Chameleon. Or Love the Alien?

More Bowie

David Bowie : The Man Who Stole the World DVD

On 10 January 2016 David Bowie died, leaving us his last album, Blackstar. The world as we knew it changed forever.

The Man Who Stole The World DVD is a tribute to the man “who stole the world and put it in a better place”, according to the narrator. The short documentary, the first to be released since his death, covers David Bowie’s life and music, looking at what made his albums so ground breaking; changing people’s perceptions of themselves, music and society.

I was worried, as a huge fan, that it would be corny and sensational. It isn’t. This is a moving account of the man’s life and incredible creativity. The DVD includes interviews with people who had a business or personal relationship with him, such as English DJ Paul Gambaccini and former NME photographer, Kevin Cummins. Some of the footage is new, and some you may have seen before.

Merry Christmas, David Bowie Fans

Christmas Tree, Central Library Manchester (Angel made by Kelly Davies)
Christmas Tree, Central Library Manchester (Angel made by Kelly Davies)

More music resources

Farewell to the Thin White Duke

David BowieDavid Bowie StyleThe Complete David BowieThe Man Who Sold the WorldBowieBowie on BowieStarmanWhen Ziggy Played GuitarMoonage Daydream

Read interviews with David Bowie and listen to the 1999 Interview by Chris Roberts at Rock Back Pages

Ground Control to Major Tom

Book cover of An Astronaut's guide to lifeGround Control to Major Tom…Ground Control to Major Tom…some sentences are impossible to say just once and thanks to David Bowie, Ground Control to Major Tom is one of them.

David Bowie isn’t the reason that song has been in my head recently though, it’s all thanks to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Chris’s performances of songs in the International Space Station, beamed back to Earth culminated in a performance of Space Oddity in May 2013. Now he has released his autobiography – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything.

Chris mixes details of life on the International Space Station and his training as an astronaut with life lessons he believes have helped him achieve success in life and space.

Book cover of postcards from spaceThere has also been a simplified version of his biography published for kids – Postcards from space, which features a lot of beautiful photographs taken by Chris while he was in space.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth was featured in our October Science and Nature Newsletter, along with a lot of other great space reads including Neil deGrasse Tyson and Red Rover: inside the story of robotic space exploration.