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Tribute to music icon reveals new sides to Peninsula’s Ben Dunnill – Surrey Now-Leader

PBen Dunnill, eninsula singer-songwriter and pianist, admits that as a fan of pop and glam-rock superstar David Bowie, he was late to the party.

But his latter-day adulation for the influential artist, who died in 2016, inspires his latest self-produced single.

Song for Bowie is set to drop on most streaming platforms (including Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube) on Saturday, January 8 – which would have been Bowie’s 75th birthday.

A subtle meditation on Bowie’s presence and lasting influence in the music world, it features significant contributions from guitarist Ayla Tesler-Mabe (of Vancouver band Ludic), co-producer Nathan Tapsas (who has also played parts guitar), drummer Paul Fader and saxophonist Dave Say — and even Bowie himself (via some sampled interview soundbites).

Full of subtle musical allusions to the glam-rock era of the 1970s and 1980s – and some of the jazzy overtones that cross the genres that Bowie incorporated into his work – Song for Bowie is also a reflection of Dunnill’s matured confidence as an evocative and creative lyricist and composer and compelling vocal performer.

He does just the right amount of nod to Bowie’s singular vocal patterns without falling into impressionism or parody, and while affirming his own identity as a performer.

Still, it was hard not to fall for a Bowie-style delivery, he said.

“It was hard to sing the song any other way,” he admitted. “When I first played it, I admit I really went above and beyond.”

But Dunnill – who is gearing up for a higher profile in 2022 with an ambitious schedule in which he plans to produce and release a new song every six weeks – said he decided to tone it down so his tribute doesn’t become not unique. anomaly.

“I wanted there to be some cohesiveness between all the songs,” said Dunnill, well-known in White Rock from his residency (COVID permitting) as a pianist/vocalist at Bin 101 wine bar.

The development of ideas that led him to Song for Bowie developed slowly, but organically, Dunnill noted.

“I knew Bowie before he passed, but I didn’t realize the extent of his work,” he said. “But when rolling stone came out with a tribute magazine, I found it very interesting and started digging deeper into its catalog.

“When I started listening to songs like Life on Mars I began to realize that Bowie could encompass everything from French cabaret style songs rock and roll,” he said. “It blew my mind – I fell in love with Bowie’s artistry.”

The form of his tribute was suggested by one of Bowie’s own compositions from the album Hunky-dory (1971).

“I heard his Song for Bob Dylan – and also his Andy Warhol – and I thought it would be cool if I could write a song for Bowie the same way. I started writing about his life and how I thought he might have been a kid.

Dunnill’s lyrics refer to a “lone child (who) plays with UFOs…like an eagle near a flock of crows”.

And Bowie’s use of speaking vocals – a late addition to the mix – was inspired by a Charlie Chaplin spoken word clip used in Paolo Nutini iron skyDunnill said.

But there’s no such thing as a deadline to help focus a project, Dunnill said – and that was when he realized in September he had just three months left. before Bowie’s birthday, which motivated him to take Song for Bowie from concept to finished product.

Fortunately, he was able to enlist the help of excellent session musicians, including Tesler-Mabe (“in addition to being one of the best rising musicians in Vancouver, she has a vast knowledge of 70s music and ‘glam’ era”) and Vancouver jazz saxophonist Say, who gave a short but revealing conclusion to the piece.

And Dunnill himself – with his roots in jazz and musical theater (he once took part in Surrey Youth Theater Company productions) – said he found a resonance in Bowie’s work which is likely to continue to influence his own composition and performance.

The ongoing pandemic has derailed many musical plans, Dunnill admits, although he has managed to perform a few shows under the prevailing restrictions, and has also taught piano.

But he said he’s glad it forced him to focus more on recording – and hone his musical identity in the process.

“This (coming) year is when I plan to focus on really showing off,” he said.

To pre-register Dunnill’s Song for Bowie on Spotify, visit

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