An enduring passion for music

By Matt Bell | July 12 2016 07:00AM

Rob Gawthrop and Syl Thompson of Ground Control | Photo: Sandi Lovas

Rob Gawthrop’s accomplishments in the financial services field include his status as a qualifying and lifetime member of the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) and being a Canada Sales Congress speaker in 2015. He is also president of B.C.-based Gawthrop Financial Group and the author of a financial planning book. But his passion for helping his clients is matched by an enduring love of playing live music.

A seasoned musician, he has played everywhere from MDRT events in Malaysia to performing with his band as the warm up act for Gino Vannelli. “I’ve played music all my life; I come from a musical family. My dad, who is 89 still plays the guitar; we got him an amp for his 80th birthday and he still plays in a band sometimes. My mum, who is sadly no longer with us, was a singer,” Gawthrop says.

During his childhood, he played the trumpet and piano before joining a bunch of guys who were putting a band together and needed a singer.

Gawthrop graduated from school in 1975 and decided to pursue his musical talents. This led the band to becoming full time musicians and learning a heap of dance songs. The downside to being a rock musician became apparent when he wanted to marry his girlfriend at the time.

“Imagine my future father-in-law’s horror when he learnt his only daughter was marrying a rock musician. It was safe to say he wasn’t for it, but we’re still married 33 years later.”

Several years after leaving school, Gawthrop began his career in financial services. The demands of this flourishing new career and raising a family led him to drop his professional music pursuits for a time. Attending church, however, eventually led him back to his first love.

“The church we went to had a full band and the guy who played the keyboard was out of town, so they asked me if I could fill in. I said ‘I’m used to playing more rock music than church music’, but I did that and played the keyboard for the next few years.”

His renewed musical endeavours led Gawthrop to playing in a Vancouver restaurant every Friday, where he and his band would play dance music for those dining.

“The guys in my band where from the 50s and 60s era of music, so I used to joke that I bring in the modern stuff from the 70s, 80s and 90s era.”

David Bowie classics

Gawthrop’s current band is a tribute band to no other than the late great British musician David Bowie. The band called Ground Control is performing the show “A Night of Bowie” which runs through all the Bowie classics from Space Odyssey to Fame.



Gawthrop said he was the last to join the band. His brother Marc asked him to join and they were well received by audiences.

“Our first gig was in September 2013 and people told us, ‘It’s a great idea but you’re going to need a media package, website, promo video and that stuff, so we put on our first show and probably spent all the money we made on having a guy film us for our website.”

The members of the band all come from different backgrounds such as music teachers and a ship refueler. Gawthrop says they prefer to play in theatres as opposed to clubs or bars.

“We’re past playing in clubs or bars.” He said the band had not had many gigs because it was waiting for someone to come and book them. “We got tired of waiting, so we booked our own venue and put it on ourselves.”

After an “interesting” experience and a disappointing crowd; Gawthrop said the band began to comtemplate whether to hang up the Bowie show after lack of interest from venue bookers. However, the recent passing of David Bowie led to a revived interest in the band.

“After Bowie died in January, there was some demand. A guy called up, asked if we still did our Bowie thing and booked us for a show.”

Soon they were playing at the Cascades Casino in Langley, BC. Perhaps one of the great experiences as a musician for Gawthrop is during the annual Million Dollar Round Table conferences. For the past two decades, Gawthrop has been playing in a band called Roundabout with some other MDRT members. The band entertains the thousands of members in attendance at MDRT’s annual meeting. This gig has led to exciting opportunities.

“A few years ago, they asked if we wanted to perform at the MDRT Asia conference in Kuala Lumpur, (Malaysia) so of course we were going to say YES, but they (MDRT) said if we’re going to go all that way and perform we would have to speak. So we agreed and played in front of 5,000 people.”

Gawthrop has said his MDRT band will reunite as they do every year at the next MDRT conference in his home, Vancouver. Whenever he is at a conference, he is known for always being able to scout a piano to play for his colleagues.

“A lot of my colleagues have seen me play. I’m known for playing a piano at MDRT in a lounge or somewhere,” he said.

One of these experiences was in Vancouver in 2010, where Gawthrop found a piano and played for more than hour songs for all the generations.

“The lounge at the hotel we were staying at had a piano. The piano player left and everyone was urging me to go up and play. I went up to the manager and said, ‘I’m a professional musician and I’m wondering if I could play your grand piano as I have 30-40 friends who’ll come in and buy a drink,’” he recalled.

With the manager’s approval, Gawthrop spent the next 90 minutes playing with everyone singing and dancing to music from The Beatles and more.

And if you’re wondering what is Rob Gawthrop’s favourite David Bowie song?

“It’d have to be Fame. I do some of the backing vocals for it; it is a great song to play and a lot of fun.”

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