Bowie Guitarist Gerry Leonard Visits BIMM Bristol

2 June, 2016

Gerry Leonard is an acclaimed guitarist, record producer and musical director.

His career has seen him work with David Bowie, Rufus Wainwright and Suzanne Vega. We recently welcomed the Dublin-born musician to BIMM Bristol to learn more about his compelling life in music.

Fans of Gerry’s will be well aware of his solo work as Spooky Ghost. His visit to BIMM coincided with a highly-anticipated show at Bristol’s intimate Mr Wolf’s venue.

His ambient guitar-inspired works as Spooky Ghost have caught the imagination of many, including Bowie himself. The late musician previously praised 2002’s The Light Machine, describing it as, “the most beautiful and moving pieces of work I have possessed in a long time.” High praise indeed.

Our BIMM Bristol students were lucky enough to hear Gerry’s playing first hand, with the guitarist playing two songs during his masterclass.

He later revealed how his stage set-up comprised of a patched together pedal board, as his equipment had not made the Aer Lingus flight with his luggage. Gerry’s resourcefulness can be seen as a reflection of his no-nonsense work ethic. During the session, we learned that it was this attitude that landed him the job with Bowie.

Speaking with BIMM Bristol songwriting tutor Annie Gardiner, Gerry recalled his time with The Thin White Duke. He worked on two studio albums; Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003), as well as his 2013 comeback record The Next Day as a Musical Director, producer and co-writer.

“David needed someone to step in and I was already in the organisation, as they say. I think I had a trust with him.” he explained.

Our students were eager to learn more about Gerry’s work with David Bowie. Ollie Cant, a BA3 Songwriting student at BIMM, asked if former Bowie guitarists had inspired his work, namely Robert Fripp.

Gerry revealed that he’d intended to bring his own style of playing to the table and admitted he’d only listened back to Fripp’s work recently. The guitarist did say that Fripp’s work might have had some influence on him and commented on his place in music history.

It was fascinating to get Gerry’s take on his various music industry roles (MD, producer, guitarist, etc) and how they cross over. Annie asked if it was like changing hats, to which Gerry explained:

“I realised there’s another aspect to producing, which is listening to the artist and trying to figure out what they’re trying to do and what’s the best way to make that record. The MD role is kind of like the production role in that of worked with other artists.”

We later learned more about his time growing up in Dublin as a budding musician. Gerry said: “It was always about creating your own identity, there were so many bands so you had to be a little different.”

We also heard stories of his later success, of signing to Island Records with his then band Hinterland and living in New York – a move which would eventually lead to him playing on several tracks on Laurie Anderson’s Bright Red.

The Masterclass was both interesting and entertaining. Our students were given a real insight into Gerry’s impressive creative output and his time working with some of the world’s most prolific musicians.

We’d like to thank Gerry for his time and want to wish him the very best for the future from all of us at BIMM.

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