Sunspots: Oxford Playhouse, January 11 2016 "...farewell star!"

What an emotional day. Sunspots took a luxurious month off for Christmas, so on Monday morning I'm trying to splash myself awake into touring-mode when from the bathroom, around 7 a.m., I hear the Today programme announce the death of David Bowie. It almost gives me whiplash.

Surely I misheard, it's a prank, it's one of the reliable cock-ups that plagues the Today programme? But no. The nation lurches into shock, me with it, and I actually feel dizzy. It takes some kind of artist for their life to flash before your eyes, and your life to follow alongside. 

I check the usual channels to verify the news and to see how people are feeling. Across the board, shock and grief. All day permanent sad, to paraphrase Homer via Christopher Logue. I switch to 6 Music to hear song after song, tribute after tribute. It quickly becomes too upsetting to listen to, so I switch off.

Favourite songs of my own spring to mind, along with the inseparable moments of my life they coloured and supported: 'Quicksand', 'John I'm Only Dancing (Again)', 'Baal's Hymn', 'Teenage Wildlife', 'Aladdin Sane', 'Modern Love', even 'Blue Jean' for God's sake! It strikes me that if I hear 'Wild is the Wind' today I might actually dissolve.

And then there's 'Starman'. And today is the day I go on stage dressed as the Sun, to sing. It's palpably absurd. I can't move, I can't get my trumpet into its case, I can't pack my yellow jacket. I realise that if I don't put time aside for a really hard sob I won't be able to leave the house. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it's true. And millions are feeling the same way.

I sob, I leave, I listen to Blackstar on the way to Oxford.

The Burton Taylor studio is the perfect space for the show: dark, intense, intimate. I think it goes well. I was worried that my trumpet chops were too slack after the Christmas break and so I plan to improvise around some of the higher parts just in case. But I'm just out of sorts and the music is fine in the end.

All the time I'm aware of the approach of the final poem in Sunspots, in which our local star (taking its cue from Richard II) accepts its mortality and bids us farewell.

…Of comfort no man speak,
let’s talk of gravity, wormholes, nebulae;
make dust our photons and with pathless rays
shadow sorrow on the bosom of the Earth.
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills —
and yet not so; for what can we bequeath
save a grinding of celestial gears, spasms
of affrighted gas, the bloating of a corpse
on the battlefield of space, rifled by crabs
of crushing conscience, all the weight of guilt
I held at bay through this long middle age.
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
and tell sad stories of the death of stars.
How some have run upon their iron swords,
like Romans carving nought into their breasts;
some haunted by the comets they have lured
by making eyes across the void to guide
their suitors to a fiery death; some drained
of life’s blood by vampire lover; those
conflagrating through their store with no regard
for future days; some crushed by failed ambition,
turning tail and shrinking down to hide,
dragging their vain light with them, so singular
was their pride; some lost in Time, so distant
from their prime and now they fade, decline;
all murder’d, for within the hollow crown
that rounds the mortal temples of a star
keeps gravity his court and there the antic squats,
scoffing his state and sucking at his pomp,
allowing him a flare, a little storm,
to synthesise, be fear’d and kill with rays,
infusing him with self and vain conceit,
as if plasma, which walls about our core,
were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
comes at the last and with a little pin
bores through photosphere wall, and farewell star!

After the show, with a star-sized lump in my throat, I dedicate the performance, on behalf of Tom Chivers and myself, to "the real Starman."

Review of the show here. Click for Sunspots tour dates.

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