Singer pays tribute to David Bowie at Ardingly ArtsFest

ArtsFest at Ardingly College gets its very own taste of David Bowie this week in the shape of tribute act Absolute Bowie.

John O’Neill steps into Bowie’s shoes – all because they share a birthday.

“I discovered I was David Bowie because of the birthday thing and because I saw an advert from a band wanting a David Bowie for a David Bowie tribute. I was chosen out of eight. I made the grade. I had never done anything like that before. I have been doing it coming up for ten years now.

“I was slightly a fan of his, but never a massive fan. I was just a fan of Robert Plant and other 70s rock acts, but I was singing as a bedroom musician really. It was just something that I didn’t take where it needed to go. I was involved with people that were not really serious about it. It was really just a lot of preparation for a gig that never happened.”

And then came the advert. John was with the band until it folded, joined another and was then head-hunted for the current band.

“Over the last decade I have studied Bowie a lot. All the research is there on DVD to learn from. You have just got to hone it. I have got a four-octave range, but it is not that easy because you have to have about five different voices to do it. His voice changes all the way through from the 60s to the Let’s Dance era. I like the changing phases. He changed throughout the 35-year period, but we only cover 25 years of his music. We don’t do a lot of the later stuff.”

ArtsFest at Ardingly College runs on June 22, 23, 24, 25.

A busy programme lies ahead:

Sunday, June 22: Royal Opera House Gala Evening. Some of opera’s most well-loved music and arias performed by artists of the Royal Opera House and international soloist Sir John Tomlinson. 6pm: Sir John in conversation with David Lawrence-March; 7pm: Gala Concert

Monday, June 23: Comedy Night, 7pm. An Evening with Bradley Walsh: from footballer via stand-up comedy to star of Law & Order and host of ITV’s Hit Show, The Chase. In conversation with Matt Trueman, of the Guardian.

Monday, June 23: Comedy Night, 8.15pm. Radio 4’s Alex Horne and The Horne Section: Alex and his band create a heady mix of stand-up comedy, cabaret performances and live music with special guest Terry Alderton.

Tuesday, June 24: Bowie Tribute Band, 8pm. The UK’s premier Bowie tribute band, Absolute Bowie.

Wednesday, June 25: The Reduced Shakespeare Company, 8pm. Enjoy all of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories and tragedies in one wild ride.

Wednesday, June 25: ZIMBE! Come sing the songs of Africa, 6pm. A special occasion in support of Ardingly in Africa with more than 500 singers in a spectacular community performance of British composer Alexander L’Estrange’s African-Jazz choral masterpiece Zimbe!

For the full ArtsFest programme, visit