David Bowie’s longest-serving band member has said his one regret is taking playing alongside the late musician “for granted”.
Pianist Mike Garson said that during the hundreds of shows they played together he had been so “narrowly focused” on his own performance he had not appreciated “the big picture”.
The 76-year-old, who played on nine of Bowie’s studio albums from 1973 to the 2000s, is bringing together a host of well-known artists for the second year running to celebrate the singer and his work.
Saturday marks what would have been Bowie’s 75th birthday and is six years since his death.
Bowie, one of the most influential and revered musicians of the 20th century, died with liver cancer on January 10 2016, two days after his 69th birthday.
Originally an avant-garde jazz musician, Garson was recruited by Bowie to join his backing band, The Spiders From Mars, for his breakthrough Ziggy Stardust tour in 1972 and 1973.
Garson said that when he first joined the group he had been awestruck by the musician.
“When I first joined… I didn’t play all the songs and I didn’t know him,” he told the PA news agency.
“I used to run out into the audience and sit in the first row and watch him when I wasn’t performing.
“I thought ‘this is the Miles Davis of rock and roll’ because Miles Davis would always change styles.”
Garson said another “amazing memory” was acting as Bowie’s “guinea pig” in front of live audiences.
“We would be in Hammersmith or Glastonbury and he would look out at the audience and he would get nervous and he would say ‘go warm up the show for me’,” he said.
“That’s pretty scary, you know? We did it in front of 25,000 people at Glastonbury in 2000.
“I saw him get a little nervous and he said ‘go out there and play Greensleeves’, so I did.’
“One time we were at the BBC and it was typical London weather, foggy, and he said ‘go play A Foggy Day In London Town’, so it became a little joke within our little family of musicians.
“I have hundreds of memories. If I have one regret it’s that I took it for granted.
“When you’re with a guy like that, you’re hired to play the piano the best you can, so I’m not looking at him from a fan viewpoint… I’m just there to support.
“I’m always seeing his back but I’m there to do my job.
“So when you’re doing that you’re so into it and narrowly focused that you don’t get to appreciate the big picture. But I am now… I’m seeing the love.”
Garson has worked 15-hour days, seven days a week, for three months to bring acts including Noel Gallagher, Duran Duran and Def Leppard together for the event.
This year’s A Bowie Celebration will also mark the 35th anniversary of Labyrinth – the fantasy movie Bowie starred in – and features actor Gary Oldman and comedian Ricky Gervais.
Garson said he already has a dozen artists on a waiting list for next year and he will continue to stage the annual event.
“Of all the artists I’ve ever worked with (Bowie has) had the most influence on other artists,” Garson said.
“Not just singers – actors and actresses and fashion people.
“That’s the thing that amazes me, they might like me or my piano, but they’re doing it because of David’s music. I’m just being that catalyst to help move it forward.
“I can’t tell you how creative and exciting it is, the only thing missing for me is David, but there’s nothing I can do about that except march on with his spirit and how he would feel about this show.
“I think he would like it.”
Mike Garson’s A Bowie Celebration will also feature Living Colour, Rob Thomas, Walk The Moon and Jake Wesley Rogers.
It will stream globally for 24 hours, beginning on January 9 at 2am in the UK.
A portion of ticket sales will be donated to Save the Children, a charity supported by Bowie and the beneficiary of his 50th birthday concert held in 1997 at Madison Square Garden.