January is a lot of things to different people: a frosty, post-Christmas comedown to some, a time for positivity and resolutions for others. For many people, however, January will forever be dominated by the memory of one of music’s true icons: David Bowie.
When Bowie passed away on January 10, 2016, the global outpouring of grief revealed his influence to be even more widespread than anyone could have imagined. Since then, celebrations of his music and life have been appearing everywhere. And aptly enough, these celebrations are nearly as diverse as the man himself, whose creative endeavours spanned more genres, mediums, personas and outfits than most people could keep up with.
Three years after Bowie’s passing, the number of events and their popularity show no signs of slowing down. But what is it about him that continues to inspire such a wide range of happenings?
“There are so many interesting aspects of his life to be celebrated,” says Nick Stephenson, founder and host of Bowie Tour London, a series of musical walking tours that trace Bowie’s life and work. “He had such a rich career from all angles – film, music, photography, art – and he inspires people to do their own thing.”
Stephenson runs two tours, one in Brixton, where Bowie was born and spent his early years, and one in Soho, where he recorded various seminal albums – and partied like a pro. The tours have received lots of positive feedback, but the aspect he enjoys the most is the range of people that attend, from ages 8-80+ (literally, in both cases), and from lifelong Bowie-obsessives to newer fans who’ve only just discovered his music.
“Some people that come on the tours are completely wild,” says Nick. “They don’t fit into a conventional box, which I really like. I’ve met people from all walks of life and professions, from a Commonwealth Games gold medallist to an eye doctor, who told me in great detail about Bowie’s damaged eye [a fight as a teenager left him with a permanently dilated left pupil]. Everyone’s got a story about him, and I love that.”
His stories cut across so many mediums and locations that there needs to be something for everyone to enjoy and embrace him through.”
It’s not difficult to see that the Thin White Duke (one of DB’s many nicknames, for any Bowie newbies) inspired his fans in countless ways – some more unexpected than others. Bowie expert MJ runs the @legodavidbowieis Instagram account, which features delightful photos of LEGO Bowie figures getting up to all sorts of cultural adventures. “It started off as an account for myself and fellow Bowie friends,” says MJ, “but it’s grown into something much bigger over the last few years.” He’s not wrong: @legodavidbowieis now has over 20,500 followers.
MJ also hosts events, including the Bowie Paint-Off, which salutes Bowie’s love of art by bringing together fans and an artist to paint portraits of the great man.
Unsurprisingly, MJ confirms that January is always the busiest month for both his Instagram account and general Bowie-themed activity: “With his birthday and the date he left us so close together, it’s always a time for celebration and reflections, and the community in all its forms really comes together. But throughout the year there are so many musical anniversaries, exhibitions, books, etc, that it doesn’t really fade out. It’s a constant, perhaps even more so in London, with so many significant locations and connections.”
Like Stephenson, MJ believes the range of Bowie events on offer reflects the breadth of his achievements and interests: “His work allows artists across so many forums to celebrate in different formats, from classical interpretations at the Proms to Portuguese versions of his songs to the Muppets covering his music to walking in Bowie’s footsteps… His stories cut across so many mediums and locations that there needs to be something for everyone to enjoy and embrace him through.”
For some, however, Bowie’s enduring appeal is rooted in what he was first known for: the songs. Musician and composer Janette Mason organises the Wall to Wall Bowie concerts at south London jazz club Hideaway. The shows feature jazz reworkings of Bowie songs from across the decades, performed by Mason with acclaimed singers David McAlmont and Sam Obernik.
“His music is so eclectic and that’s what really influenced me – he’s not your average songwriter, says Janette. “Good songs lend themselves to being reimagined, so we like to see what we can make of them and do our own thing. The music is so strong that you can bend it a little bit.”
Once again, it’s not just die-hard fans in the audience. “We get a real mix across ages,” confirms Janette. “We often get people bringing their children, so his music is getting passed down through generations, and I think that’ll continue happening.”
It seems a given that Bowie’s music will continue to be heard, but will we still be organising and partying at Bowie-themed events in years and decades to come? His fans certainly think we will.
“Now that he’s gone, he’s become part of music’s history,” says Stephenson. “I think we’ll still be talking about David Bowie in 100 years’ time.”
Upcoming Bowie events
Hear classic Bowie tracks thoughtfully reimagined and given a creative jazz twist by three incredible musicians, taking place at a much-loved London jazz and blues club. Plenty for long-time fans and newcomers alike to revel in.
Hideaway Jazz Club, Streatham | January 24 | £16.76
Discover the places that shaped Bowie’s early life and other crucial landmarks, such as the much-photographed mural, as mega-fan Nick Stephenson guides you around Brixton, providing marvellously performed musical interludes along the way.
Brixton Tube | January 27 | £21.83
Break out the paintbrushes to create your own personal tribute to DB. Guided by an artist, you’ll be painting a multicoloured portrait of Bowie to take home, and the ticket also includes cheese and wine to get those creative juices flowing.
The People’s Park Tavern | March 21, 7.30pm-10pm | £47.75