By DAVID JACKSON
for Inland 360
Ground Control to Major Tom: Permission granted to land near Lewiston.
David Brighton’s “Space Oddity,” billed as the ultimate David Bowie experience, will be at the Clearwater River Casino Saturday night.
Brighton, who has been called the world’s best Bowie impersonator, talked to Inland 360 beforehand. He touched on how impersonating a Beatle prepared him to become Bowie, what it’s like to stuff all of Bowie’s different styles into a two-hour program and how meeting Bowie himself, while dressed like Ziggy Stardust, can really make you feel — under pressure.
Before becoming David Bowie, you had a background as a singer and guitar player and spent some time playing a Beatle. How did that come about?
DB: I took a job playing guitar as George Harrison with a spin-off of the BeatleMania show called “Twist and Shout” in Las Vegas.
It started when some friends of mine and myself played about six Beatle songs at a New Year’s Eve party and we wore these ridiculous Beatle wigs. The whole thing was a parody. The response was so enormous that people started calling us to play at their events.
Someone told me they had a friend who toured playing in a Beatles tribute act. I investigated this and played with a band called the Fab Four. I played with them and a lot of the other Beatle groups such as Rain, the cast of BeatleMania and When We Were Fab.
I had as much work as I wanted playing George Harrison.
You started “Space Oddity” in 2001. Why David Bowie?
DB: I saw a show in Las Vegas called “Legends in Concert” which had tributes to Elvis, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, etc. I didn’t see Bowie represented.
The only reason I thought of Bowie was because when I was doing original music, singing my own songs, the producers would sometimes say, “Dude, you sound too much like David Bowie.” I wasn’t trying to copy him, it’s just what came out.
I thought I might want to put together a David Bowie act using what I learned being a Beatle. It seemed like an interesting challenge.
As a performer, Bowie went through numerous personas involving costumes and styles of music. How difficult has it been to replicate all the things he did?
DB: It’s insanely difficult. As much as you sound like someone and look like someone, you still aren’t them. It’s a constant effort — learning the songs note-for-note, studying every videotape and photograph. He did so many genres of music, which means I had to get the best musicians on the planet to be able to carry all those styles. I had to try many costume makers and find ones that were willing to put up with the attention to detail necessary. The audience wants to see things as they were, and that’s what we strive to give them.
Do you have a favorite persona or genre of Bowie’s?
DB: I love the whole Ziggy Stardust era, what you’d call the glam era, and I love what came after, the Thin White Duke. There’s something I appreciate about all his eras, but Ziggy is probably my favorite.
Having studied Bowie for so long, was he more of a musician or a performer in your opinion?
DB: I would call him everything, not only a musician and a performer but also an actor, a producer and an incredible songwriter. The scope of his talents and the arsenal of his performance skills went beyond what the public was even aware of. Bowie played a lot of instruments. He was a phenomenal singer and performer. He influenced everything that followed him in terms of fashion and style.
You’ve toured all over the world portraying Bowie. Do you feel he was appreciated in the U.S. as much as he was in Europe or worldwide?
DB: There’s an enormous fan base in the U.S. and Canada. Places that surprised me? He’s huge in Mexico, Europe, very big; New Zealand, Australia. We’ve even been to China. People have come up to me and said, “You know, I wasn’t really aware that I knew all these songs, and now I’m a Bowie fan.” His stamp is on the whole world.
You also had the opportunity to meet and work with Bowie on a commercial set. What was that like?
DB: When you are young and starting out and you want to meet your hero, you don’t think that you’ll meet them dressed up like them. That was bizarre, surreal, flattering and humbling. My job in that commercial was to imitate everything he did. I had to imitate him, and he was watching! It was very nerve-wracking. When you do that in front of David Bowie fans, there’s a certain level of, “OK, I’m not David Bowie, but I’m portraying him and I hope they enjoy it.” But when you’re performing in front of David Bowie, that’s another kind of pressure.
When I met him and we shook hands, he was very warm — the perfect English gentleman. Off camera, he was doing performance bits, joking and doing things no one knew he had in his repertoire. It was really eye-opening.
Bowie died in 2016. How did that change your performance?
DB: It changed things considerably. The audience changed. The expectations changed. Their moods changed. People were crying during shows, grieving. At least for the first year or so, it was this huge catharsis taking place.
We’re filling a different role now. The demand has increased significantly. We were working while he was alive … it exploded after he passed. Sadly, when something is gone, you want it more.
Can you describe the “Space Oddity” show? What can people expect to hear and see?
DB: We do our best to recreate as many of Bowie’s iconic personas as possible, from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke, to what I’ll call the “Modern Love”/“Let’s Dance” era and up through electronica. We try and represent each of these as thoroughly as we can in a two-hour show. It’s a very theatrical, very musical show, represented with as much care and respect and expertise as possible.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Space Oddity — the Ultimate David Bowie Experience.”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Clearwater River Casino, 17500 Nez Perce Road, east of Lewiston.
COST: $25 at the door or crcasino.com.