It is now 10 years since the death of the ‘King Of Pop’, Michael Jackson, in June 2009 but his music remains as popular and influential as ever. Ben Bowman, renowned as the UK’s leading Michael Jackson tribute artist, is currently on a nationwide tour with his spectacular show Michael Starring Ben.
“I was always enchanted by how people reacted to Michael, the way they screamed and became hysterical,” says Ben. “I love that we, as a team, are able to provoke that kind of reaction from a crowd.”
With an incredible live band, stunning costumes and iconic dance routines, Ben delivers the most authentic, lively and powerful re-creation of the iconic superstar. The tour continues through the autumn with several visits to venues across the North.
Ben was just 8-years old when he saw Michael Jackson live in concert. Already a devoted fan, the experience was to seal his fate as he embarked on a career performing a tribute to his musical hero.
“Me and my brother grew up with my mother’s vinyl collection and Michael Jackson was part of that. We especially caught on to him and I became one of those kids who learned all the dances from the videos. When I was around 16 or 17 a friend asked ‘How does Michael Jackson’s new song go?’. It was You Rock My World. I sang a couple of lines and she said I really sounded like him.”
At 19, Ben quit studying drama at college to pursue his dream. “They told me I could earn £77 a night in the West End, so I quit the course and said ‘I can earn more than that as a Michael Jackson impersonator’. It went from there and I started booking venues.
“Even when I started, I thought it was just something fun that I could do on the side. I never imagined I would be a full-time Michael Jackson impersonator – it’s not like it’s something that comes up at the job centre!”
14 years later Ben has built his Michael Starring Ben show into the ultimate Michael Jackson tribute that is in demand across the world. Mixing elements from Jackson’s own stage shows with exciting new arrangements and a stunning light show creates the perfect celebration of Michael Jackson and his music.
“Over the years, it’s become so rewarding to see what people take away from what we do. They don’t just come and see a show, they come up after and say ‘I saw Michael live and that was fantastic, he would be happy at what you’re doing.’ It’s wonderful that people feel that way about it.”
And emotional, too. Ben recalls playing to a crowd of weeping fans the day after Jackson’s death. “Where has that time gone? I still remember hearing the news and having to go out the next night in a bar to perform. It was a big bar, and there were about 700 people crammed in, and people outside. It was insane. I’ll never forget that night and the turn out. It would usually have been about 400 people and it was almost double. People were crying, it was a very emotional night.”
Musically Jackson’s career took many twists and turns and Ben says that his favourite is the Bad era of the late ‘80s which spawned a host of hit singles including the ballad I Just Can’t Stop Loving You and Man In The Mirror, believed to have been one of Jackson’s personal favourites.
“The first conscious image I remember as a child is the Bad era,” Ben recalls. “He had a cool, tough edge about him, and I’ve always loved that side.
“A few years ago, they released the Bad tour on DVD for the first time. I had learned from seeing him at an older age, from the Dangerous and HIStory tours and that stuff is great, but he was in his mid- to late 30s. But when I saw Bad, I was like ‘Back to the drawing board’, he was at his absolute peak in those concerts. Seeing that for the first time was ‘Wow’.
“Bad was also a crossover era as he wrote most of the songs on that album. Since he passed, they have found notes and notebooks from that time, with things like ‘I will no longer be known as Michael Jackson of the Jackson 5’. He created that aura to make himself the biggest star on the planet. He was a terrific businessman. He was a self-manufactured pop star and got the public to play to his tune. And the Bad era was when that started to happen and he was creating terms like ‘King Of Pop’.
“When I started out, I had a lot of trouble trying to recreate the album versions of his songs. They’re studio works of art and you just can’t recreate that live. Seeing the live footage, I can study the voice in the raw and for me, the live singing on Bad is the best.”
This anniversary year has also been significant for Ben with some very special events. “We had an amazing show at the London Palladium in April, and then a very special night in June at the Indigo O2 in London, just a few days before the anniversary of his death. It was such an honour and a real career highlight to be under the dome where he was due to play the This Is It concerts. How relevant and significant that was.
“The fans are so passionate. The screamers and criers are my favourites. I absolutely love that we incite that reaction, it means we are doing something right. It’s insane, incredible, that people are drawn into it for those two hours that we perform, that they believe in what we’re doing.
“It’s a feeling I wouldn’t swap for anything!”
Michael Starring Ben is visiting the following venues:
|Thursday 17 October||Newcastle, City Hall|
|Friday 25 October||Barrow, The Forum|
|Saturday 26 October||Harrogate, Royal Hall|
|Tuesday 29 October||Liverpool, Empire Theatre|
|Saturday 9 November||Hull, Bonus Arena|
|Friday 22 November||Bradford, St Georges Hall|
For more information and tickets please visit cuffeandtaylor.com/events/michael/