Sterling Campbell has been David Bowie's drummer for the past ten years and he is currently part of Bowie’s Reality Tour, which plays the SECC in Glasgow tonight. An exponent of the ancient Chinese practice of Falun Gong, New Yorker Sterling was arrested and jailed in China for voicing his support for the discipline, which has been banned by the Communist government.
Q: First of all, Falun Gong. Explain.
A: It's an ancient Chinese practice of meditation and exercise. It can be of great benefit to a person's health and state of mind.
Q: How did you get into it and what has it done for you?
A: I saw people doing the exercises one day in Riverside Park in New York and became interested. After taking it up I stopped smoking, drinking and drugs within three weeks. I just didn't do it anymore. I've raised my standards as a person - you learn to consider others before yourself. It's completely about your heart.
Q: Sounds good, what's the problem?
A: It became massively popular throughout the 1990s, until at one point an estimated 70 to 100 million people were practising it daily in China. The Communist government began to have a problem with such a large group of people believing in something and so in July 1999 made it illegal. It claimed Falun Gong was anti-government and anti-Chinese.
Q: Then what happened?
A: Brutality and oppression on a grand scale. Hundreds of thousands of people have been arrested, beaten and persecuted. Some have been sent to lunatic asylums. It is estimated that at least 800 people have been killed for practising Falun Gong.
Q: So how did you get arrested?
A: I was among a group of 60 or 70 people who went to China in February 2002 to make a stand. We wanted to tell people that Falun Gong is not a bad practice and we headed for Tiananmen Square because it's symbolic and many people used to practise Falun Gong there. The police were waiting for us. They grabbed us and took us to the police station where we were met with brutality.
Q: How did you cope?
A: When I got beaten down I didn't get angry at the person. I tried to live by the principles of Falun Gong, which are truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. But the last thing I ever thought I'd be doing with my life is ending up in prison in China - I'm a musician! It was surreal, like being in water faced with a great white shark. One cop was writing me messages on his phone saying: "My president is a bad man." It's crazy, it's like George Bush banning yoga.
Q: How did it end?
A: We were expelled from the country.
Q: What does David make of all this?
A: He's very supportive. At all the concerts we have information booths about Falun Gong, to raise awareness about what's happening.
Q: He's a good bloke isn't he, what's he like to work with?
A: Oh he's great. Great! What's the word? Seasoned. We've all been in the business a long time, right back to playing in New York at four in the morning, years and years ago. You mentioned Pop Idols and Fame Academy, but for people like us this has never been about being famous, it's about being an artist, about making music.
Q: Who else have you worked with?
A: The B52s, Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper - I owe a lot to her, she jump-started my career. In the future I'd really love to do some stuff with Peter Gabriel.
Q: Who do you rate?
A: I like Travis. I was out with the bass player last night. And I loved Dido's last song. I was going to see Radiohead, but we have to do a Michael Parkinson interview instead.
Q: And what about your own performance, has Falun Gong helped with that?
A: I've improved actually. It's made me a better musician. I give more to David's music now, I'm more selfless. I have to admit that before I was really good at bringing the attention to me. It's all about improvement and growth and bettering myself as a person.
Q: What's your favourite Bowie song?
A: I don't have one. It changes all the time, there are too many periods.
Q: Mine's “Young Americans”, do you think I'll hear it tonight at the gig?
A: I don't want to disappoint you, but it's unlikely. We can't get him to do that stuff, maybe there are too many words in it!
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