David Bowie honoured at BBC Proms

The life and music of David Bowie have been celebrated and mourned at an eclectic edition of the BBC Proms.

The late-night concert featured orchestral reworkings of his music, performed by the likes of Marc Almond, John Cale and Laura Mvula.

“This is not a wake,” singer Amanda Palmer, of the Dresden Dolls, told a sold-out Royal Albert Hall.

“This is an amazing… secular celebration of some of the most incredible music in the world.”

Nonetheless, it was a largely downbeat affair, filleting Bowie’s back catalogue for maximum pathos.

Cale turned Space Oddity into a solemn incantation, while The Villagers’ Conor O’Brien gave a beautifully melancholy reading of The Man Who Sold The World.

Like most multi-artist tributes, though, it was an uneven affair.

Fame and Ashes To Ashes came untethered without a solid backbeat, while a droning version of Always Crashing In The Same Car, by French counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky, simply didn’t work.

But things always took a turn for the better when Anna Calvi took to the stage. Her duet with Palmer on Blackstar, one of Bowie’s final songs, was darkly devastating, while a visceral Lady Grinning Soul sent chills through the auditorium.

The British singer told the BBC she had grasped the opportunity to reinterpret Bowie’s songs with the Stargaze ensemble.

“The songs are so good that you can do anything with them and they still retain a magic quality.”

Palmer, wearing a crown of thorns, also gave a gutsy reading of Heroes, while Marc Almond delivered the two biggest crowd-pleasers of the night: Life On Mars and Starman.

Speaking before the latter, he recalled watching Bowie perform the song on Top Of The Pops in 1972, his arm draped around guitarist Mick Ronson.

“[It] was a life-changing moment for so many teenagers – such as me,” he said. “David Bowie made us look at the world through different eyes.”

Cale, for whom Bowie was a friend and musical collaborator, said the Prom showed “a different side to David Bowie” – but the experimental performances split opinion on Twitter.

“This is the worst thing that’s ever happened in the entire history of everything,” said musician Luke Haines, of The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder.

“I’m sure John Cale doing Space Oddity must’ve looked like a great idea on paper,” wrote David Baddiel.Broadcaster Stuart Maconie disagreed, writing: “The Bowie Prom was exactly what a Bowie Prom should have been: Quixotic, challenging, playful, maddening and mainly brilliant.”

‘Majestic’

“Beautiful and odd and disjointed and quite majestic all in one,” added Ethan Jones. “It was never going to be a TOTP compilation was it now?”

The last word, however, should go to Palmer, whose EP of string quartet Bowie covers helped inspire the Proms programme.

“David Bowie is such a reminder, as a musician, that life is so short,” she told BBC 6 Music.

“You only have this span of time to do whatever you want – so why not try the bizarre, and why not venture way outside the predictable, and why not follow your impulses?”

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