Church organist becomes global internet sensation with David Bowie tribute

chris nickol
Chris Nickol, musical director at New Kilpatrick Parish Church, Bearsden, near Glasgow. Image courtesy of Bearsden Choir.

A Church organist who became an overnight Internet sensation after paying tribute to music icon David Bowie has said he is "overwhelmed" by the reaction..

More than 2.4 million people around the world have watched a video of Chris Nickol playing "Life on Mars" on an organ in Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow.

The two minute 35 second video, which can be viewed via the Church's Facebook page, has been shared on the social media platform nearly 51,500 times - a level of interest he described as "quite alarming".

The lunchtime performance yesterday was met with rapturous applause by the audience, many of whom had woken up to the news that David Bowie had died aged 69 after fighting a secret battle with cancer for 18-months.

Mr Nickol, 55, the director of music at New Kilpatrick Parish Church in Bearsden, said he had grown up with the London-born star's music and thought it would be appropriate to honour his memory.

Recitals have taken place at Kelvingrove Art Gallery practically every day since 2007.

People from all round the world have turned their hand to piping out tunes on the handsome organ which dates back to the early 1900s.

Mr Nickol, a professional musician to trade who regularly plays at Kelvingrove, said: "David Bowie wrote some very good songs and after I heard on the news that he had died I thought I would play a tribute to him as yesterday happened to be one of my days there.

"I remember hearing Life on Mars when it first came out in the early 1970s so I know it well and it is a great song.

"I felt it would go well on the organ because it is a slow song, very melodic and has an interesting harmony and chords."

Mr Nickol, who was a guest on BBC Radio Scotland's John Beattie show earlier today, played the song from memory after listening to it online to remind himself of how it sounded.

"The crowd wasn't very big but there was a very strong round of applause and the art gallery staff later told me that some people had reacted quite emotionally.

"Bowie meant a lot to a lot of people but it wasn't until last night that I found out that somebody had filmed me playing and posted the video on Facebook.

"Nearly one million people had watched it by 11pm which is quite alarming - I am overwhelmed by the response."

Mr Nickol, an accompanist with Bearsden Choir, said he was pleased that the video uploaded by Milngavie-based art gallery owner Gordon Wilson had focused attention on Kelvingrove, the daily concerts and the organists who regularly play there.

The Rev Roddy Hamilton, minister at New Kilpatrick Parish Church, said Mr Nickol was a "superb, first class organist" who sensitively uses contemporary music to link faith and culture together to connect with people.

"He is very creative and he does that regularly on a Sunday morning – he has a real passion for it and people should come along and hear for themselves."

Mr Nickol, who has played the theme song to the James Bond film Spectre, ACDC's Highway to Hell and the song Let it Go from the Disney animated film Frozen at Kelvingrove, said: "The God who we worship is very much a living God who can express himself through contemporary music.

"Roddy is very creative and can do all sorts of things through words and visual images which appeals to people across the board and I am happy to collaborate with him."