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Q & A: Jon Toogood on Symphonic Oddity: The Music of David Bowie

Cityscape caught up with Kiwi rock legend Jon Toogood of Shihad/Pacifier fame for an exclusive chat ahead of his upcoming collaboration with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra on what is sure to be a spectacular night for local music fans – May 27th's Symphonic Oddity: The Music of David Bowie.

What influence has David Bowie and his music had on you? 

His music has basically taught me that there really are no limitations when it comes to creating music. Creatively he was fearless, never settling on being one thing and constantly reinventing himself. At one moment a Glam Rock God, then the next the Thin White Duke making the deepest, darkest soul music, then ripping all that up and writing an album like Scary Monsters (my personal favourite) where he plagiarises himself by re-introducing characters from his past work and modernising them for the time he’s in. Whenever I’m stuck in a rut, in a writing sense he’s a constant source of inspiration to try something new which, whether it works or not at first is the way to stay interested and engaged in what you’re doing. He was incredibly brave. What makes Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) your favourite Bowie album? For me, the first side of that record (I’m showing my age now) is pop/rock perfection. I must’ve heard it a million times but, unlike a lot of music I’ve studied hard, it remains a mystery to me and therefore completely magical. The production is huge-sounding, but not overblown, and it finishes with the double whammy of ‘Ashes To Ashes’ (literally my favourite song of all time by anyone - it still sounds completely fresh to this day, nobody sounds like this and nobody else could write a hit single like this) and ‘Fashion’ – “Dance with me (don’t dance with me) No. Beep Beep”. The audacity! Truly brilliant.

Describe the upcoming evening in three words.

Big. Beautiful. Bowie. How will you interpret Bowie’s work? Within reason we will be staying as true as possible to the original recordings. No point messing with something that’s already amazing I reckon. And we liked the challenge of trying to get things sounding as close to the originals as possible. We’ll be playing stuff from all the best albums - Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Young Americans, Station To Station, Heroes, Scary Monsters, Let’s Dance and even Blackstar. It’s such a genius collaboration/concept performing Bowie alongside the CSO – how does it feel to be a part of this? Fantastic. We just did the same show with the APO in Auckland and the crowd were literally dancing in the aisles by the end. I love the band we are playing with and also the line-up of singers is really complementary. Everyone brings their A-game and something completely unique to the table. On top of that, whenever I get the chance I get to turn around and watch an orchestra play these incredible arrangements of some of my favourite songs onstage just behind me. It sounds amazing! What’s the best thing about performing with the CSO? Being onstage with so many human beings all doing something together at the same time - making beautiful music! My Auntie used to take me to the NZSO Sunday Pops at the Wellington Town Hall when I was a kid and I was fascinated at how humans could make such a huge sound together. It’s truly magical. What kind of pressure is there to do the music justice? As a massive Bowie fan myself there’s quite a lot of pressure. As a fan I know these songs inside out but to perform them is another thing entirely. We ended up rehearsing a lot more than what the APO originally had us scheduled to do purely because, once you crack into it, these tunes have so much detail and depth in terms of these way out-there backing vocals (which we perform ourselves also), not to mention the challenge of how Bowie wrote and sang his main vocal lines. But in saying this, I think we did a pretty good job in the end! How will you celebrate after the event?

A nice cup of tea!

Symphonic Oddity: The Music of David Bowie
The Christchurch Symphony Orchestra with Jon Toogood, Julia Deans, Anna Coddington and Laughton Kora
Horncastle Arena, Saturday May 27th
Tickets at Ticketek

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