by Ken Sweeney / The Irish Times
2nd March 2013
AN Irish guitarist has revealed how he ended up as musical director for David Bowie – playing on his first album in 10 years and co-writing tracks with the iconic rock star.
Gerry Leonard, from Clontarf, north Dublin, was at the centre of a team of musicians sworn to secrecy as they recorded Bowie’s new album ‘The Next Day’, which was played for the first time to journalists this week.
“I keep telling myself I’m just a guitar player from Clontarf, but it does seem a bit crazy when you have David Bowie singing in your kitchen and you can’t tell anyone about it,” the US-based musician told the Irish Independent.
He hadn’t played with Bowie since 2004, so the 51-year-old was shocked to get an email from the superstar in November of 2010 asking him to work on some demos.
“The subject line of the email was ‘Schtum’ and David asked me not to tell a soul. It was a huge pressure, but I realised if I could keep it quiet, I would be part of the wonderful process of David Bowie coming back to music,” said Leonard.
The musician told friends he was working with a new UK band when he travelled to Manhattan for sessions with Bowie and producer Tony Visconti between 2011 and 2013, with Bowie visiting his home at Woodstock in upstate New York.
“I’ve learned so much working with David. He doesn’t spend three days trying to get a drum sound, he just plugs in and plays. I’d describe him as a prolific writer which is handy for him because at least one of the tracks on the new record, he pulled out of a bag from the 1970s,” he said.
The video for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, the latest single from the new album, has been released and shows Bowie coming face-to-face with his younger self.
It features Norwegian model Iselin Steiro who is seen dressed as Bowie in the late 1970s look he adopted for his ‘Low’ album sleeve.
The film also features screen star Tilda Swinton who plays the singer’s wife.
There are no plans by Bowie to tour the new album, but Leonard doesn’t rule it out.
A one-time member of Irish duo Hinterland, Leonard started life as a tape operator in Dublin studios Lombard Sound.
He moved to the US in 1997 and began working with Bowie after they were introduced by producer Mark Plati.
“At the start it was terrifying walking into a control room and meeting David. What broke the ice was he went to see me at a little gig I did in New York. There were only 50 people there, and they gave him a chair with a broken back to sit on, but he loved it and even started heckling me.”
Leonard first became Bowie’s live guitarist, and then toured the world with him as his musical director on his ‘Reality Tour’, which came to Dublin in 2003.