WHITE ROCK – When tribute artists come into town, what might come to mind are meticulously thought-out fanatics who mimic and mime the originals’ every move – perhaps like Elvis impersonators who swing their pelvises to and fro or Dolly Parton doubles with over-stuffed bras, belt-cinched waists and tediously perfect country croons.
In the case of Syl Thompson, who fronts David Bowie tribute band Ground Control, it seems you just have to be a dead ringer for the guy.
Thompson, who played in many cover bands in the early 1980s and on, was approached by a club owner who thought the frontman bore a striking resemblance to the English glam-rocker.
“I was involved in this band called Innocent Bystander – another well-known top-40 band of the ’80s. We were quite popular at the time,” Thompson told the Now over the phone. “One particular club manager had mentioned to me in passing, he said, ‘Jeez Syl, you look so much like Bowie up there on stage, have you ever thought about maybe doing something like that?’ Of course I said no because I really didn’t see it at the time but … that’s kinda how it started. By doing the Bowie thing, it would garner us a little more money, too, so that was always there.”
After that, Thompson and members of Ground Control played the circuit with “A Night of Bowie”, with the lead singer picking up lots of attention for his uncanny likeness to Bowie. But he didn’t
go all-out with a false English accent or impersonate mannerisms. Instead, he says, he’s aware that’s there’s only one true original.
“I don’t talk like him, I don’t do the English accent. I’m not a Meryl Streep who’s able to just pull out accents but I go for the look, the clothes. I try to get that as best I can, there’s only one David Bowie and that’s the way that it is,” he said, adding, “I do my best to go up there and
give the best show that I can.”
Thompson quit the Bowie act around 1985 and later moved to Victoria to pursue a career in audio engineering, now running SS studios from his island home. The love of performing, however, clearly hasn’t left the musical veteran.
Twenty-seven years later, Rob Begg, Ground Control’s bassist, convinced Thompson to get back together with the band. Begg, Thompson and another
original member, guitarist John Gilliat, rounded up new members for the backing band: Sean Lang, Graham Howell, and Marc and Rob Gawthrop. Together, they form the new incarnation of Ground Control and have been back playing Bowie tribute evenings since 2012.
“I’ve always been a Bowie fan; ever since Hunky Dory came out I just loved the way he wrote songs, I always thought he was quite different from what was going on at that time, but I never considered myself a Bowie kind of a clone guy ’cause I’m not really like that,” the Ziggy Stardust impersonator said.
“Vocally I would try to give that part of the songs as close as I could, so I had a bit of experience doing that, so when doing the Bowie thing I tried to get his inflections down, so you know I definitely had to work on it so I was a fan but not a fanatic, crazy guy fan.”
While Thompson is relatively humble about his musical likeness to Bowie, one thing’s for sure: the physical resemblance is uncanny. Whether or not Thompson and the rest of Ground Control can give the Thin White Duke a run for his money will be up to fans when they take stage at Blue Frog Studios in White Rock this Saturday, July 12. Doors open at 8 p.m. for “A Night of Bowie.” Tickets are $35 and can be purchased online at Bluefrogstudios. ca/newshows.html.
Other tribute shows at Blue Frog this week include Up on Cripple Creek playing music of The Band (Thursday, July 10) and Sunshine, featuring Don Stewart and music by Miles Davis (Friday, July 11). Click the above website for show details.