guitar man | 

Dublin musician Gerry Leonard tells how he landed dream job with David Bowie

‘I miss the adventures. Whenever he called there was always going to be an adventure’

Eddie RowleySunday World

When Irish musician Gerry Leonard’s group flopped in the ‘90s, he emigrated to New York and saw his luck turn as he landed a dream job playing guitar with superstar David Bowie.

In 2003, Leonard would return to his native Dublin in a blaze of glory performing with Starman Bowie in what was then the Point Theatre (now 3Arena) on the legend’s Reality tour.

“If somebody had told me when I lived back in Clontarf in my youth that, ‘You’re going to meet and play with David Bowie,’ I wouldn’t have believed them, to put it mildly,” Gerry tells the Sunday World from his New York home as he gets set to perform at the Bowie Festival in Dublin this coming week.

As fate would have it, Leonard was in Dublin for the festival in 2016 when the shock news of Bowie’s death was announced that January 10.

“It was a real shock and I still miss him,” Gerry says of his old pal Bowie, whose anniversary occurs on Tuesday.

“I miss the adventures. Whenever he called there was always going to be an adventure. You’d get a call out of the blue and it would always be something like, ‘I’m coming over to write a song’ or ‘We’re making a new record’ or ‘Do you want to play Carnegie Hall with me on Saturday night?’

“To have had that close connection working with David Bowie is truly amazing. The richness for me is having had the experience of meeting him and working with him and being influenced by that. It’s almost like when you meet a spiritual master, they transmit things to you, and you see them work. It was such a gift.”

What was David Bowie like as a person? “First and foremost he was a real gentleman,” Gerry says. “He was a pretty incredible person to be around. He was so knowledgeable about art, music and fashion, it was just part of his vocabulary. “He was very dynamic. Generally, when we hung out we were there to be creative. He was super creative and really fast and really fun.

“David always had a big picture idea, he always had something really good to bring to the party and he loved to laugh as well, which I shared. We got along on that level.

“He had a soft spot for Ireland and when we did the year-long Reality tour he chose Dublin as the place that we would record a live DVD (in November 2003) because he knew the audiences there were great, which they were. The whole place was singing Life On Mars with him. That was one he did with just a piano player.”

As a teenager, Leonard remembers watching Bowie performing on Top Of The Pops and having his own dream of appearing on the iconic BBC TV chart show.

In 1987, it looked like Gerry might achieve that ambition when, along with fellow Irish singer and musician, the late Donal Coghlan, he landed a major record deal with their duo, Hinterland.

However, Island Records dropped Hinterland in 1994 after they failed to hit the dizzy heights – and Leonard headed for New York.

“Hinterland signed to Island Records and it seemed like we were going to hit the big time,” Gerry recalls. “We had some great experiences and we made a record. “But, as so many of those stories go, eventually if it doesn’t click the record company moves on, the limo door opens, you are thrown out on the side of the road and all you have is a leather jacket to show for it all. I went to New York with a guitar and 200 bucks.”

Leonard got involved in the local music scene, made a connection with Mark Plati, who was one of David Bowie’s “lieutenants”, and was signed up to work on Bowie’s Heathen album in 2001.

This would lead to Leonard forming a bond with Bowie and collaborating with him on songs, giving the Dubliner a place in the history of music.

Gerry, who has also played guitar with everyone from Cyndi Lauper to Avril Lavigne and currently tours with Suzanne Vega, also has a connection with U2 frontman Bono. “Our dads worked together in Dublin when we were kids,” he adds.

An Audience With Gerry Leonard will be staged at Whelan’s of Dublin next Friday as part of the Bowie Festival. For full festival details go to: www.dublinbowiefestival.ie


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