Michael Bell

It’s been said I’ve worn many hats over the years. Publisher, promoter, festival organizer, activist, I’ve even run for Parliament a couple of times. But did you know, as a teenager, I began fronting bands, including years with local cult success Strobic Axe? After highschool I traveled the country as a busker and in the mid 80’s won the Q107 Homegrown Contest with EyeEye. I left the road as a musician after a short lived project called ChangesAllBowie and settled into a life with the girl of my dreams. Five years ago, I decided to dust off my musical career and began singing Sinatra and Buble, making my way through jazz rooms and theatres. That songlist changed the day David Bowie passed away….

Mb: Hey Michael, how’s your day?
Michael: Busy. Way too much to do!
Mb: So does it feel weird interviewing yourself?
Michael: Nah, I talk to myself all the time. Should I be worried?
Mb: Probably. (laughs) So, tell me about The Bowie Lives. Not your first tribute to Bowie.
Michael: No. I had a Bowie tribute back in the late 80’s called ChangesAllBowie. It was my agent’s idea at the time. Tribute shows were just starting to come online. My management in the day had the Blushing Brides, Tony Springer’s Fire; A Hendrix Tribute, so my agent thought it would be a good idea while I was waiting for a record deal to do a Bowie tribute. I’d just won a Q107 Homegrown Contest with EyeEye and things didn’t work out with the band so I was looking for the next opportunity. ChangesallBowie was sort of a place card holder until something original came along.
Mb: Tell me more about the Changes show. How did it go over?
Michael: I took a long time putting it together. I did 8 costume changes, from the hippy Bowie to the Blue Jean and everything in between. I couldn’t find a band so I pre-recorded the backtracks in the studio and created a bit of theatre with backdrops and props. I had a buddy pretending to be me on stage, a Bowie fan, and tried to visually describe my history as a Bowie fanatic. It was awfully heady. I don’t think anyone got it, other than Bowie fans who loved the music and the costumes. I was playing the Toronto A circuit but the fact I had no band weirded people out I think. Anyway, after a year I gave it up. My heart really wasn’t in it.
Mb: What’s the difference this time? Why did you decide to do it again?
Michael: I was looking for a sea-change in life. I left performing seriously when I got married in the 80’s and as you know, began publishing The Wire and working the back-end of the business. About 5 years ago, I decided to take another shot at being a performer and came out singing Buble and Sinatra with a mind to play the Ontario theatre circuit. That was starting to build and then David died. I started getting phone calls from promoters, that knew I did Bowie, wondering if I’d thought of putting another tribute together. I thought about it for months and with a push, and help from long time musical friend Michael Beauclerc, I took the leap. He put the band together, and the rest is history, as they say.
Mb: So what’s different, or the same, about this show?
Michael: First of all, I have a band. We’ve been able to enlist and keep some great players and that has been really exciting. We’ve got Chuck Dailey from I Mother Earth on bass, Sandor Schwisberg from Johnny Orlando and The Abrams on keys, master guitarist Jason White on guitar, and of course Michael Beauclerc on drums. They’re the original players and still with the band. Matt Lagan was on sax for a while, then he was picked up by the Shuffle Demons, so he was replaced by Jeremy Worden, who’s worked with Holly Cole, Pat LaBarbera. As you can imagine, this is the caliber of musician that you need to play the material and do it justice. Bowie wrote some pretty challenging songs over the years. This year we’re adding some more players including Marsala Lukianchuk who will sing some back-ups and most of all, wear the costumes.
Mb: So you aren’t wearing costumes in the show?
Michael: Can you picture me in a Ziggy jumpsuit? (laughs) No those days are long gone. I wear the iconic blue suit and Marsala will bring the other Bowie looks.
Mb: So how are you feeling, about the show this time around?
Michael: I’m thrilled that it all worked out. I don’t think I would have considered doing it if he was still alive. I was singing Sinatra because I’d been singing that material since high school and it seemed age appropriate. I was apprehensive about a Bowie tribute until the first rehearsal. Everyone showed up knowing their parts and basically with a couple of rehearsals in the fall of 2016 we were ready to book it and hit the stage. We haven’t really rehearsed since. (laughs) Don’t let that scare you, these people don’t need to rehearse. We’ve been making our way around Ontario playing 300 to 500 seat theatres, and now beginning to return to markets for the second time. I’ll have a great circuit built by year’s end. We’ve been getting rave reviews and the show is only getting bigger and better. More multi-media, more songs, costumes….
Mb: Tell me about the documentary?
Michael: A few years ago an old musical acquaintance, from the Strobic Axe days, Jim Smith, approached me about singing a song in a movie he was producing called The Things We Can’t Say. After its release, we were having a beer and he said he was looking for his next project. I first pitched him a behind the scenes reality show I’d thought of called Backstage. He liked the idea and we started talking about it. Then I said I had an idea for a movie about me called Being David Bowie. He instantly forgot about my first idea. (laughs) That was a year ago. He has been following the show around since then. Filming and interviewing fans, old and new and building a narrative about what it takes to put a show like this together. It’s also a story about the influence Bowie had on my life. As a teenager, I’d basically lost my identity and became the Aladdin Sane. So it talks about how that shaped who I am and my approach to fashion, music and business. Bowie had a very profound influence on me at a very impressionable time in my life. Anyway, we’ve had great interest in the project. The Market Hall show is the final day of shooting. I’m pretty excited to see its release next year.
Mb: And speaking of Market Hall, you’re returning January 10.
Michael: Yes. We haven’t been back in 2 years. We launched the show there back in Feb 2017, so it’s great to return. I actually rehearsed the ChangesAllBowie show there, in the old Market Hall, back in the 80’s, so it has a special place in my story. January 10 is also the 4th anniversary of David’s passing. It will be a special remembrance show I’ll move around year after year. It will be much more than our usual show. We’ve invited some stellar talent to do a solo acoustic performance of their favourite Bowie tune. Lindsay Barr, Matt Diamond, Ian Kurz and Lizeh Basciano will open the show, then a short intermission before we take the stage. We’ll have the Bowie Bazaar set up in the lobby where people can buy, sell and trade Bowie memorabilia and buy The Bowie Lives swag. Makeup artist Christie Read will also be on hand offering face-painting for those who want to get their Bowie on. We always ask people to get dressed up as their favourite Bowie. We’ve seen some incredible costumes in the audience. A major coup for the this show has been securing world famous rock photographer John Rowlands who will be set up in the lobby selling prints of his iconic Bowie pics and talking about the many opportunities he’s had to photograph Bowie over the years. He’s the guy who took one of the most recognizable Bowie pictures ever; The Archer. It’s one of the most famous shots of Bowie out there. Twitter even used it for a billboard in Time Square! So lots of reasons to come to the show. I can’t be more excited to launch the new show and help keep the memory of Bowie alive.

The Bowie Lives performs at Market Hall Friday January 10,2020 8pm

More info: www.thebowielives.com
Photo:
Wayne Eardley