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Record Collector CHRISTMAS 2015 - by Kris Needs
HOW BOWIE BECAME THE SPECIAL MAN
David Bowie was little more than a one-hot wonder as he began plotting an outlandish concept which would become Ziggy Stardust. RC's Kris Needs was present at the birth of a character who would prove a turning point in both their lives, and changed the face of pop.
Wednesday, June 21, 1972: The seventeen-year-old me is careering down a concrete corridor behind Dunstable's oval-shaped Civic Centre in a state of almost hyperventilating excitement. David Bowie has just played his breakthrough show as Ziggy Stardust, the revolutionary futuristic new creation I've been following since he was unveiled at my local Friars Aylesbury club the previous January. Though crackling with almost post-coital delight and still some disbelief at the mesmerising spectacle I've just witnessed, I'm looking for my friends for that vital lift home, but lost in a backstage maze, trying doors and peeking round corners. Finally finding a door that opens, I tumble into what is obviously the dressing room and stop dead in my tracks. The room looks like the deserted aftermath of a party, but one guest remains, reclining on a plastic chair at a folding table, one leg crossed over the other to reveal multicoloured platform brogues.
It's David Bowie, freshly made up and not a carrot-orange hair out of place. Waiting quietly for his own lift home, he seems deep in reflection at what was the most hysterical reception yet for his recently minted creation, which is becoming a nation-gripping phenomenon since the album was released two weeks earlier. The show has been a lasciviously strutting, high-energy stormer, climaxing with The Velvet Underground's I'm Waiting For The Man and the new guitar-fellatio set piece with Mick Ronson, which I'd seen debuted at Oxford Town Hall the previous Saturday, climaxing with Bowie ripping up his shirt and throwing it into the crowd. Thankfully, a big smile lights up Bowie's thin white face at this manic apparition panting before him after bursting in like a satin-clad bat out of hell. We'd first met at his Friars show the previous September, a tentative maiden voyage for the future Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars as Bowie was joined by Ronson, then bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Woody Woodmansey. The crowd's overwhelmingly positive reaction urged him to take the plunge and bring the whole Ziggy concept to the stage, as unveiled at that return gig in January.
Being nearly forty-four years ago, I've forgotten the finer points of our conversation in the Dunstable dressing room, but we talked about that night's show, the Ziggy fan club I'd been helping with in Aylesbury, and his approval of me starting one for Mott The Hoople, whose career he'd just hauled out of the dumper by giving them a killer new single. One mental snapshot I have never forgotten is the living manifestation of the Ziggy visage perched before me. It was already staring loftily from T-shirts and the more daring bedroom walls, and will do for decades, but his odd alien eyes looked right into mine for a moment, probing and intense, before dropping with a flash of tiredness. "I guess nothing is ever going to be the same again," he sighed in his soft voice.
That's one way of putting it, and not just because this was the last time I'd be even permitted to get within arm's reach of Bowie for a year. Far from the sparser crowds of even just a few weeks ago, tonight's satellite Friars promotion had been packed with adoring space boys and girls, many sporting their own variations on the Ziggy look, including carrot spiked hair, self-customised lurex tops and plenty of slap. Many seemed to be revelling in the unfettered joy of having their own new star who seemed to have been beamed in from a distant planet to rescue music from the anonymous denim drudgery and excessive indulgence dominating that time. There was a unique euphoria around those early Ziggy days which I've never encountered anywhere else, but was probably similar to the time Jimi Hendrix landed in London. A star was being born in front of our very own eyes and that night in June 1972, before manager Tony deFries brought down the barrier, aiming to project Bowie as an untouchable icon, he still seemed like ours.
In some strange way, he always would be. Those first Ziggy shows instilled a weird kind of grounding and focus to hang on to as Bowie's star proceeded to rise and fall through its gamut of triumphs and traumas, physical and mental. Now, in 2015, he stands as perhaps the single most fascinating and deified musical figure to emerge from the twentieth century, and continues to cement his unique status in the twenty-first after his surprise return with The Next Day in 2013. Bowie's about to confound audiences again with Blackstar, an album insiders are calling as challenging as the second side of Low, that reflects his love of krautrock, the New York avant garde and jazz. True to form, it's obviously the vital rough to follow the accessible smooth, making sure everything doesn't get too safe. From Starman to Blackstar in a riotous, pinball arc.
This constantly reinventing side of Bowie has fuelled him since he killed off his free festival folkie persona to create Ziggy; his first high-profile alter ego. That particular transformation was underway, but still in its embryonic stages, when Bowie made that first appearance at Friars Aylesbury September 25, 1971, though, as he told me at the time, its success brought the path he should now take into sharp focus.
At that time, Friars Aylesbury was already one of the coolest clubs on the UK's vibrant gig circuit. An hour from London, it launched at the market town's tiny Ex-Servicemen's Club in June '69 and swiftly built a reputation through its open-minded, enthusiastic crowd and astute promotion. Mott The Hoople and Genesis were just two of the bands who counted the club's warm welcome as essential in their evolution into major names. By 1971, promoter David Stopps was phoning me to discuss prospective bookings and posers such as whether to book Stack Waddy or Can. One day he said an agency had offered David Bowie.
At that time, Bowie was only known in the mainstream for his Space Oddity hit of two years earlier and in the underground for The Man Who Sold The World, his edgy romp through unsettling Nietzschean paranoia, glowering insanity and dense proto-metal. The UK version caused a stir that April as Bowie was pictured sporting a dress on the cover. While darkening Bowie's previous spangled-folkie outings, the album went against the prevailing indulgent hippie grain and laid foundations for the glam rock he had presaged with ill-fated recent band The Hype, who kicked open the door to David's future with the addition of guitarist Mick Ronson from Hull and bassist (and future producer) Tony Visconti. The process which led to Ziggy and The Spiders was further stoked by Bowie's recent marriage to Angie, who encouraged and crystallised his torrent of ideas into sparkling shape.
While assembling the album that would become Hunky Dory in summer 1971, Bowie laid rough demos for new songs to be used at the right time, including a prototype Lady Stardust and Moonage Daydream. Hunky Dory was emerging as more piano-centred, defined by tracks such as Changes, Life On Mars and Oh! You Pretty Things, which had been a hit for Peter Noone. In August, Bowie signed to a management contract with Tony DeFries, who was negotiating his new deal with RCA. A hard-bitten, flamboyant London lawyer-entrepreneur who loved to swan around in fur coats while chomping a huge cigar, DeFries cited Colonel Tom Parker as his hero and would take many leaves from his book of grand visions and business manipulation.
Another crucial influence arrived when Andy Warhol's taboo-shattering Pork opened at London's Roundhouse in August. In 1977, I spent a memorable afternoon at an Earls Court at in the company of Pork mainstays Leee Black Childers, Wayne County and Cherry Vanilla, who were still revelling in the shock they'd stirred up in conservative London. They also recalled how they would pose as visiting US journalists to get into gigs, including Bowie's show at the Country Club on Hampstead's Haverstock Hill on July 26. The trio were intrigued by "the man in the dress" they had read about but were disappointed to encounter "a folkie". Yet they fell in love with this exotic, questing and oddly seductive kindred spirit. Bowie was enraptured by these louder-than-life denizens of New York's trailblazing underground and checked out the outrageous play, which was based on Warhol's taped phone conversations and was making the front pages thanks to the antics of its predominantly naked cast. While taking notes and drawing strength for his ongoing transformation, Bowie would soon have all three working for him, plus Tony Zanetta, who played Warhol in the play.
Bowie and DeFries followed up by visiting New York in early September to close the RCA deal, armed with a finished album. Again Bowie displayed his innate knack of being able to charm everyone with his head-turning allure and ability to make anyone he was talking to fall in love with him, which cloaked his steely ambition. The RCA deal was signed on September 9, brokered by Lawrence Hill, head of Gem, the management company of which DeFries was part. Tony Zanetta introduced Bowie to Warhol, who ignored David's calculated mime routine but said he liked his yellow shoes. After being introduced by powerful New York rock journalist Lisa Robinson, Bowie was entranced by Lou Reed, the most important songwriter to emerge from NYC during the previous decade, who was about to launch his solo career after his recent departure from The Velvet Underground. Lisa also introduced him to Iggy Pop, who'd fallen on hard times but was still a charismatic livewire when he swaggered into their first meeting at Max's Kansas City as the extreme embodiment of how far a rock'n'roll singer could take stage insurrection and audience confrontation. Iggy could also spellbind those who met him and, by the end of his trip, Bowie had arranged for the Detroit demon to come to the UK and sign with DeFries' proposed new management stable as soon as he'd cleaned up his heroin addiction.
Max's itself also made a profound impression on Bowie. Since being opened by Mickey Ruskin in 1965, the club was a focal point for New York's art scene, its red-lit backroom attracted artists and musicians in a no-holds-barred atmosphere of rampant excess, led by Warhol's merry troupe. The unshackled hedonism and spontaneous creativity of New York's underground was a whole new velvet goldmine for Bowie, to be plundered and assimilated into the moves he made next.
As a rabid fan of The Velvet Underground and Stooges since their respective first albums, I was instantly intrigued when I read about Bowie's new friends and fired up by the potential outcome. I was very excited when David Stopps agreed to pay DeFries £150 to allow Bowie to test the water with his new band at Friars on September 25 and I was asked to design the flyer. There was already a tenuous Aylesbury connection as Bowie had recently given a song he had written, called Star, to local musician Les Payne, who had often appeared at Friars with his band Chameleon. In 2014, I sat next to Les on the Bowie Night panel, which was part of a Friars Aylesbury exhibition at Aylesbury museum. Les described how Bowie had given him the song, then played his original demo (auctioned at Christie's in 2000 for £1,500). When RCA turned down Bowie's offer to produce Les, the song fitted snugly into the emerging new Ziggy concept.
On the afternoon of the gig, Bowie and band turned up at the Borough Assembly Hall (to which Friars had relocated earlier that year, relaunching with a bill consisting of The Groundhogs and John Otway, with me playing bongos). Bowie seemed very shy and quiet as he shuffled around the hall. He still had his long blond tresses, crowned with floppy black hat, and sported an outfit consisting of baggy black culottes, red platforms and beige jacket, and no shirt. He actually seemed to be shivering when he politely asked if we had a heater but was also obviously nervous. The hall was about half full with the four hundred punters who'd paid 50p for a ticket when he took the stage, after a limpid set by America (of Horse With No Name fame), for what was basically the first live show by David Bowie And The Spiders From Mars, though only the latter half and they weren't called that yet.
My view was up close and clear as I perched on a step at the side of the stage behind Ronno's amp. "We're gonna start slowly 'til we get the hang of it", announced Bowie before easing into Fill Your Heart and Buzz The Fuzz by American singer-songwriter Biff Rose to warm up, accompanied by a discreet Ronson. After Space Oddity ("to get it over with as quickly as possible"), he launched into an impassioned version of Jacques Brel's Amsterdam before bringing on drummer Woody Woodmansey and bassist Trevor Bolder (plus pianist Tom Parker replacing first choice Rick Wakeman, who'd decided to join Yes). Feeling their way in with The Supermen, and after a rambling introduction about New York subways, the band traversed songs from the upcoming Hunky Dory, including Oh! You Pretty Things, Changes, Song For Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol. Bowie explained how he'd "got hung up on writing about people... just well-known figures and what they stood for", then powered into the Lou Reed-inspired Queen Bitch, finishing with a roaring version of Chuck Berry's Around And Around, apparently the title of their next album at that point.
From my vantage point, I could see relief, then joy, start to illuminate Bowie's face, his nerves evaporating as the crowd started sending back the same Friars brand of enthusiastic encouragement which had first drawn Ian Hunter off his piano stool to grasp the mantle of Jerry Lee Lewis and lead Mott to become the nation's wildest live act. After being called back, the band charged through Lou Reed's I'm Waiting For The Man, then left the stage with arms raised in triumph while the Aylesbury crowd celebrated the new hero who had just parachuted into their lives.
It was a different Bowie sitting in the dressing room afterwards. Brimming with relief and new-found confidence, he seemed to have shocked himself as he declared, "That was great. I really want to come back and play here again, but next time you see me I'm going to be totally different. The reaction here has shown me how far I can take it. I think I'm going to be a huge rock star."
Fired up, Bowie repaired to his gothic Beckenham pile, Haddon Hall, and set about forging his new persona as a composite of Iggy Pop's kamikaze nihilism (though the Ziggy name was also inspired by a tailor's shop he had spotted on a train journey) and outsider loony The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, whose Paralysed single he had picked up in the US. Bowie was also influenced by British rocker Vince Taylor, who'd been worshipped in France before freaking out in the late '60s, believing he was Jesus Christ reincarnated from outer space, as Bowie found out when he encountered him on a London street.
Bowie and the band spent most of October ensconced in a basement studio in Greenwich working up songs for the next album he was now desperate to record. Fired up by New York and his new friends, he was becoming a different person from the one who had recorded that nice Hunky Dory, which wouldn't be released until December. Ziggy Stardust has often been portrayed as a concept work but was really a bunch of songs slotted together to tell a loose story after most of them had been recorded. His fully defined alter-ego emerged quite late, and was now a character who could be conveniently killed off. But in late 1971, even Bowie could have had no idea just how enormous, or even out of control, Ziggy was going to get. Or could he?
Recording started on November 8 at Trident Studios in St Anne's Court, Soho, with co-producer Ken Scott. Bowie's demos included the stately, wistful ballad He Was Alright (Song For Marc), supposedly inspired by his old friend Bolan, who was then riding his white swan to glitter-spattered teen idolatry. The song was now sculpted into the glacially gorgeous Lady Stardust. While Soul Love emerged as a languid shuffle with Bowie's alto sax to the fore, Five Years became destined to introduce the main plot, telling of an Earth doomed to destruction (rumoured to have been inspired by a dream in which Bowie's late father told him he must never fly again and would die in five years). The "market square" in the opening line referenced the cobbles and clock tower in front of the hall in Aylesbury.
Moonage Daydream had already been recorded by Bowie in February, using a band he constructed to hide behind called Arnold Corns, fronted by his clothes designer friend Freddie Buretti. Released as a single on B&C in May (with Hang On To Yourself on the flip), it tells of an alien messiah here to save the world from disaster, describing the creation of Ziggy Stardust from a combination of religious fervour, sexual freedom and original rock'n'roll attitude. Bowie's rock'n'roll and R&B mod roots never left him in the first half of the '70s, informing the Eddie Cochran-like acoustic scrub of Hang On To Yourself.
The November sessions also saw the band record Around And Around and Amsterdam, which would be replaced on the album by his harmless cover of Ron Davies' It Ain't Easy from the Hunky Dory sessions. Bowie also revisited his overlooked January '71 single Holy, Holy and recorded a song called Velvet Goldmine, which languished as one of his great unreleased curios before appearing on 1975's chart-topping reissue of Space Oddity. A similar fate would befall Sweet Head, a dynamic rocker about oral sex which referenced Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, "brother Ziggy" and a "rubber faced angelic whore" before declaring "'Til you had rock you only had God". Unfortunately, this lethal injection of his new Ziggy ethos and risqué lyrical bite was deemed too close to the bone by RCA guardians and had to wait until the twenty-first century reissues of the album it would have so greatly enhanced.
With most of his new album and concept in the bag, Bowie set about fashioning his new look, aided by Angie and Freddie Buretti. The band's jumpsuits, sewn by Freddie, were influenced by A Clockwork Orange and complemented by colourful wrestling boots from Russell & Bromley. The final touch was Bowie hacking off his blond locks, spiking his barnet into a more brutal, punk-presaging alternative to Rod Stewart's feathercut, which was already prompting the clacking of shears in teenage bedrooms.
Speaking on the Aylesbury Friars website, Trevor Bolder (who died in May 2013) remembered Bowie taking The Spiders to see A Clockwork Orange, which would soon be withdrawn by its creator after outbreaks of copycat violence, and pointing out that he wanted them to be his Droogs. If Bowie was gang leader Alex, that meant being dimwitted, violent and doomed to be expelled. "We got into character with those in the movie, just like a gang. The idea was that kids would easily latch onto us... and they did. We became their band because we looked completely different... All the costumes were designed around Clockwork Orange... It was a bit futuristic, which was what he was after."
In January, with Ziggy almost fully formed, Bowie sat for the interview which won him the front page of Melody Maker in a flurry of Victorian shock and spluttering after he told writer Michael Watts, "I'm gay and always have been, even when I was Davy Jones." There he was on the front page, grinning mischievously in his new threads and haircut for the world to see for the first time. The "I'm gay" pronouncement succeeded in surrounding Bowie's new fantasy creation with another dimension of alien threat. "I'm going to be huge, and it's quite frightening in a way," he rightly declared.
By then, Bowie was ready to unveil his new creation on stage. It couldn't be anywhere but Friars and the date set was January 29, 1972. I remember David Stopps finding me in the local pub and I did the flyer on the spot. After Bowie's parting proclamation the previous September, and now the Melody Maker piece where he declared, "Our new stage act will be outrageous... quite different to anything anyone has tried to do before," the crowd which filed into the Borough Assembly Hall that night was buzzing with anticipation and excitement.
From Ronnie Barker to Hendrix, the Borough Assembly Hall had played host to the greats of entertainment for decades, but this was the gig which put the now-razed old venue in the history books. The four dressing rooms and the side of the stage were reached by a single narrow staircase, which I ascended to find a backstage area scuttling with preparation, more like a theatrical event than a band. Though I decided to leave them to it, I still remember Mick Ronson's reaction when he was handed his shiny gold new jumpsuit. "I'm not fuckin' wearing that!" boomed his distinctive Yorkshire tones. But he did and, as Bowie loved to recall, the girls adored it, which clinched its place as essential Spiders clobber from then on.
After an interminable wait, the lights finally dimmed and Walter Carlos' electronic Ode To Joy from A Clockwork Orange filled the old room; ethereal, futuristic and building to a massive ecstatic climax accompanied by blinding strobes. The band, all sporting their jumpsuits, took their spots and kicked into Hang On To Yourself, suddenly joined by the alien vision of Bowie, strutting and posing in his diamond-pattern one-piece and red wrestling boots. Despite earthly amp and guitar problems, the impact was cataclysmic as he mixed moments of high drama, such as a soaring Life On Mars, with tracks from the as-yet-unheard new album, which ignited escalating pandemonium. Ronno took his Les Paul showcase during a pounding version of Cream's I Feel Free, which gave Bowie the chance to change into White satin strides and black-embroidered blouse. The home stretch included Around And Around, I'm Waiting For The Man and an old-school showbiz curtain-closer of a new song called Rock 'N' Roll Suicide, with its coda of "You're wonderful... gimme your hands". A few timid local girls were happy to grab Bowie's outstretched limb but the stage-front crush wasn't enough to support any Iggy-style crowd surfing.
I've said it many times, but the unbridled shock and awe of seeing Ziggy Stardust live for the first time remains a major turning point of my whole life. That night lit the fuse on everything - the '70s, glam, punk rock and all that came after. Before, we only had The Stones, Bolan, Mott and The Faces, who were all presenting their essential, but earthly, takes on rock'n'roll. Here was the future, though it was grounded in old-school Judy Garland showbiz, the theatre and New York's underground as directed by Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and Stanley Kubrick. Like The Stones before him, Bowie's impact would extend much further and deeper than the music, straddling image, pop culture - and social taboos with a huge Clockwork Orange jockstrap beaming like a searchlight to a future he was still trying to envision and solidify. The sexuality question added a dangerous modern edge, which could mortify conservative rock fans, alongside the usual parents and council chiefs.
And we were in love. Afterwards, the triumphant, grinning Bowie sitting in the dressing room was a far cry from the nervous figure of a few months earlier. When I walked in the dressing room, he fixed me with his odd-coloured, speed-pupil eyes, laughed and crowed, "I told ya!" Bowie rapidly described his new creation and its influences - Iggy, Vince Taylor, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, William Burroughs' The Wild Boys, A Clockwork Orange - while fielding queries about his makeup from the starry-eyed and ravenous teenage girls sat at his feet. "Well, I don't want to go around looking like a dead bear," he explained.
That night the image was too freshly minted to even stick on the bedroom wall. All we had to go on was this gorgeous creature sat before us, exuding charm and making us feel we weren't alone. We would have given him our hands and many would have given anything else. When I got home, I wrote in my diary, "Met David Bowie again tonight. I can't believe how nice he is."
Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor, from the newly formed Queen, had driven to Aylesbury in the drummer's Mini. Recalling that Friars Aylesbury seemed like "the end of the earth at the time", Taylor told the Friars website. "We were blown away. It was so fantastic, like nothing else that was happening and so far ahead of its time... I hate to gush but he did have it like no one else did at the time."
Bowie's brain was becoming like an overheating nuclear reactor of songs, ideas and grand plans, which all converged to knock the still-in-progress album into its final, messianic shape. Five days after the Friars debut he was back in the studio. RCA A&R man Dennis Katz insisted the album needed a surefire hit single to get it off the launch-pad, suggesting a joyful potential anthem he had heard as a demo. The band recorded Starman, which replaced Around And Around on the album and became its lead single. As Bowie explained to William Burroughs in his famous Rolling Stone interview in 1973, Ziggy himself was not an alien - just the earthly messenger for the Starman. The single describes Ziggy bringing the Starman's message of hope to the youth through the radio, told through someone who hears his broadcasts. As he told Burroughs, the album's story took place five years before the world will end because of depleting natural resources. "Ziggy is advised in a dream by the 'infinites' to write the coming of a starman, so he writes Starman, which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately... The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black hole-jumpers." The song contains the same dream of escape (and almost the same chords) as Judy Garland's Over The Rainbow, elevated by Ronson's string arrangement; its Hot Love-style chorale and morse code guitar link from the Supremes' You Keep Me Hangin' On. Using classic elements, Bowie arrived at the perfect pop single for modern times.
The band also recorded the supercharged decadence of Suffragette City, which would be the B-side to Starman in late April and managed to drag Little Richard's original ramma lamma rock'n'roll blueprint into a back alley in A Clockwork Orange with a hearty "Wham bam thank you ma'am". Bowie had originally offered the song to Mott The Hoople, a band who, after also finding their first enthusiastic crowds at Friars in 1969, had gone on to become the country's wildest live act, causing a riot at the Royal Albert Hall in 1971, but failing to match their notoriety with any record sales. Bowie was a fan but Mott turned down his song, considering it too risqué for the radio.
The final track on Bowie's new album would now be that new Rock 'N' Roll Suicide, which nudged off Holy Holy. Bowie saw it in the French chanson tradition, a show tune climax of a sort not heard in rock 'n' roll. He said it was influenced by Baudelaire, while the life-affirmation, "Oh no, love, you're not alone", referenced his beloved Jacques Brel's You're Not Alone from the musical Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris. Warhol had shown Bowie the potential of using subterranean outrage, gender-twisting and graphic imagery to stand out and cause a commotion. Now Bowie wanted to go one further and take it to the world's stage, foretelling the death of the old fashioned rock 'n' roll star. As he told Burroughs, "Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make them real because in their original state they are antimatter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song Rock 'N' Roll Suicide. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible."
The album was now ready, and needed a suitably otherworldly sleeve. The cover was shot by Chrysalis photographer Brian Ward in a phone box outside a furrier called K West in Heddon Street, a little alley off Regent Street. After the final recordings, Bowie took Ziggy on the road, starting at the tiny Toby Jug in Tolworth on February 10, before his first relatively high-profile London show two days later at Imperial College. He then traversed the UK's clubs, halls and colleges over the next few months, gaining steam and crowds as he went along. Aylesbury's small crew of early Bowie adopters followed him where we could (including turning up at Oxford Polytechnic on May 19 to find a cancellation notice pinned outside the venue). Bowie was always welcoming and considerate to the little gang he called "the boys and girls from Aylesbury". Maybe unsurprisingly, his fan club had been started by an Aylesbury girl called Hilda. I started helping out and, as I was still inking the Friars promotional flyers, designed the club's membership card. After the show at Oxford Town Hall, where Bowie unveiled his new red, green and blue quilted jumpsuit, we sent out a postcard of Mick Rock's photo of the fellatio set piece.
This brings us to the Dunstable show where we came in, which I consider to be another turning point event in Bowie's upwards trajectory, which was now so exciting and rapid that something new and exciting seemed to be happening every day. My diary says Bowie led the Spiders through Hang On To Yourself, Ziggy Stardust, The Supermen, Queen Bitch, Song For Bob Dylan, Starman, Changes, Five Years, Andy Warhol, Space Oddity, Port Of Amsterdam, I Feel Free, White Light/White Heat, Suffragette City and I'm Waiting For The Man. Through helping with his fan club, I discovered that, in a fascinating twist, Mott The Hoople had recently split up, but been rescued by Bowie. I had been following Mott faithfully since their Aylesbury debut in December 1969 and, though I was now traversing another parallel path, what happened next dovetailed beautifully with Bowie is mercurial ascension and would bring me right into the MainMan engine room.
Back in March, Mott had been playing more disillusioning European dates, including a converted Zurich gas station which ended in an onstage fight and the band's decision to split. Returning home, bassist Overend Watts remembered Bowie had sent Suffragette City to Mott and phoned the number on the cassette case, asking for a job. When he explained Mott had split, Bowie was horrified, pleading they reconsider and vowing to save their career by giving them a hit. He instructed DeFries to take Mott under the MainMan wing he was setting up within Gem, get them off Island and find them a new record deal. Bowie then finished a song he'd been working on with lyrics inspired by his vision of Mott as a Clockwork Orange-style punk gang.
The group trooped round to Gem's Regent Street office, where Bowie serenaded them with All The Young Dudes. "He just played it on an acoustic guitar," recalled Mott's Ian Hunter in 2009. "I knew straight away it was a hit. There were chills going down my spine. It's only happened to me a few times in my life: when you know, before anyone else knows, that's a biggie." Hunter added that Mick Ronson later told him that Bowie had already tried recording the song. "He'd been doing it. We did it in B. He did it in C. There was a lot of alto sax on it, which he plays. I can see why he thought it wasn't going to work. He said, 'it's for you', but later on Mick said he'd tried it, but it wasn't working. We grabbed hold of it. I'm a peculiar singer but I knew I could handle that."
As Bowie told Burroughs, the song carried the apocalyptic message of Five Years. "Ziggy was in a rock'n'roll band and the kids no longer want rock'n'roll. There's no electricity to play it. Ziggy's adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, 'cos there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. All The Young Dudes is a song about this news. It's no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite."
Hunter recalls Bowie coming to a Mott gig, thinking they were like a biker gang, "Shaking, real nervous. He thought we were a lot heavier than we were... heavy duty punks." He was slightly disappointed to encounter, "Ordinary blokes... He just liked what we represented. We were about the first punk rock band to come out of England."
Unknown to Island, Bowie sneaked Mott into Olympic studios on May 14 to produce All The Young Dudes, the year's perfect pop anthem, like an early '70s My Generation. Mott's crashing power entered a new dimension with Bowie's backing vocals and orchestrated flourishes. Giving Mott the song of his career showed that Bowie was basically still a major fan who simply didn't want his favourite band to split. Anyway, at that time another one would soon be along. DeFries extricated Mott from Island and secured them a deal with CBS, who had turned down Bowie two years earlier. Bowie then had to produce the All The Young Dudes album during June-July just as his own career took off beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Holed up at Trident, Hunter grew frustrated with Bowie's frequent absences, but clicked with Mick Ronson. By July, when the single was released, the UK was in the grip of the glam-rock kickstarted by Bolan and Bowie, bringing welcome ash to a country undergoing wage freezes and power cuts.
Though Bolan had sported glitter on his face in March 1971 while performing Hot Love on Top Of The Pops, Bowie's previous band the Hype had influenced him. Both saw the potential of glitter at the same time. "The whole glam thing had started," recalls Hunter. "We were starting to dress up now. I quite enjoyed it. The old fans didn't like it because we weren't theirs any more. It was unfortunate, but you've got to look at The Who with the mods. We didn't invent glam rock. It was there so we went for it. We knew that was what it was going to take at that time. We Were classy. We weren't daft, we could see the funny side of it, but nevertheless we still did it."
I floated in painful limbo for a couple of months before getting the nod to start the Mott The Hoople Seadivers (named after a track on the album). My first meeting with the band's personal manager Stan Tippins was at Gem's office in ]une, where he presented me with an advance promo copy of Ziggy Stardust, which was about to be released.
Bowie's star was now ascending at too astonishing a velocity to even realise that he'd just given away one of his greatest songs. The turning point is widely considered to be the Top OfThe Pap: performance which went out on July 6, on which Bowie performed Starman. His casual arm draped around Ronson during the "la la la la la" singalong was a casual move calculated to cause maximum uproar and changed the lives of many of the millions watching, catapulting the single into the Top 10 after its weeks spent languishing in the lower reaches. This was capped by the show at the Royal Festival Hall two days later in aid of Friends Of The Earth's Save The Whale campaign, which cemented Bowie as the country's new star. Melody Maker caught the wind with its "A Star Is Born" headline over its review.
Bowie also used the show to present his latest rock'n'roll rescue. With Iggy and The Stooges now in the country, signed to MainMan and initially intended to be produced by Bowie, and Mott about to take off with All The Young Dudes, Bowie now genuflected at the unsteady feet of Lou Reed, who joined him for three Velvets songs, sporting panda makeup and rhinestoned black velvet. Back in March, DePries had heard how Reed's first solo album had failed artistically and commercially and arranged for Bowie to produce the follow-up. As Ziggy took off, Bowie found himself in the exhausting position of first producing Mott, then the much harder task of coping with a messed-up and truculent Reed.
To fit Bowie's old-school star status, DeFries now cut him off from press interviews - and also fans. Bowie returned to Friars Aylesbury for a third performance on July 15, as a showcase for a planeload of American journalists and record company execs who had been own in to lay the foundations for Ziggy's forthcoming US invasion. He knew a Friars show would guarantee untold adulation from a full house. The guest list included such literary legends as Lillian Roxon, Lisa Robinson, Lenny Kaye and Creem's Dave Marsh. Robin Pike, the Friars co-founder and spiritual adviser whose speciality was decorating the dressing rooms with flowers to make visiting artists feel welcome, had decided the gig should be a gala, drawing from his experience in theatre and ballet. He set out the night before to catch Covent Garden market at its one-in-the-morning opening and bought a carful of blooms (also taking in Lou Reed's 2am show at the Scala, as he had been booked for Friars later that month). On returning to the hall next morning, Robin hung upturned benches filled with flowers above the stage.
Bowie turned in a showstopper which ignited a suitable buzz among the visitors. He'd added Moonage Daydream to the set list. Zigzag founder Pete Frame later observed, "All the times that I'd seen Bowie earlier, it seemed as if he was still prospecting... but at Friars that night, it was obvious that he'd found the goldmine. He charged around the stage full of confidence, secure in the knowledge that all the elements had finally come together and the time was right. He dressed, thought and sang in full technicolour. For the first time, the world was in his grasp. We all knew that nothing could stop him now."
Though I managed to witness the soundcheck in the afternoon, when I tried to make my way up the staircase to the dressing rooms, my path was blocked by Stuey George, Bowie's new bodyguard, who informed me that I would get to see David "over my dead body". Maybe these jobsworths were too busy picking on fans because Bowie still got smacked in the mouth when getting into his car with Angie afterwards, and there was blood everywhere.
Next day, Bowie held a press conference at the Dorchester Hotel, attended by the visiting press and also his latest acquisitions Lou Reed and Iggy. Suddenly, even overnight, it seemed that everything had changed. Those few months while Ziggy Stardust ascended to stardom had been fantastic but now Bowie belonged to the world and was ready to play it to the hilt, cast in an almost surreal situation where he was rebooting the careers of his heroes.
Bowie's next shows were two nights at London's Rainbow Theatre in August, which took theatrical presentation to levels never seen before in rock music. Having acquired a block of seats, Robin Pike organised a coach trip for Friars members, a colourfully daubed gaggle travelling to the big city to see our old friend Ziggy's latest escapade.
Though they had already played Friars the previous month, it was the first time many had seen a new band called Roxy Music, who opened both nights. From the opening piano pounding of Virginia Plain, their extra-terrestrial image and music reinforced the feeling that there was definitely something new and edgy happening in music.
The cubic scaffolding of Bowie's stage set looked like Elvis' Jailhouse Rock. He had gone the whole production hog, starting by emerging out of swirling dry ice to sing Lady Stardust, surrounded by dancers led by his old mime mentor Lindsay Kemp. It was frequently breathtaking as he careered through the album, getting down to business towards the end in his Japanese legless red onesie. Even the Starman made an appearance, fag in mouth.
It was great seen from the view of theatrical spectacle but, in some ways, oddly devoid of the excitement which had accompanied the breakthrough Ziggy shows. Bowie had already ascended from the sweaty clubs to a higher level of theatrical presentation but then, that had always been the plan.
I'd be back at the Rainbow the following month when Mott played their first London show as chart-riding pop stars, All The Young Dudes having stormed its way to the top three (ironically outselling John, I'm Only Dancing, Bowie's follow-up to Starman). I had a fan club table set up in the foyer and helped Angie Bowie throw balloons from the balcony to the crowds below.
By now, I was a regular visitor to the MainMan offices on palatial Gunter Grove in Chelsea, where DeFries would sit at his desk, cigar clamped between his teeth, fielding several phones ringing off the hook, and occasionally acknowledging my existence as he set up Ziggy's US debut. I always remember the party held there to celebrate Ian Hunter's marriage to Trudi. While assorted Stooges skulked menacingly, a belly dancer performed as a wedding gift from Bowie, who was playing New York's Carnegie Hall that night.
Though the single had rescued and relaunched Mott into their most successful period, the band were in no hurry to stay with DeFries, who Hunter reckons didn't really want them and shoved the contracts he was given under the bed. Bowie was now too busy to cope with them, though he did present them with a follow-up single called Drive-In Saturday, which Mott turned down in favour of striking out on their own. But Hunter will always allow, "He did great for us."
It would be another five years before Bowie appeared at our club again; this time as a determinedly anonymous backing organist in Iggy Pop's band, promoting The Idiot, which he had produced in Berlin. The first night of Iggy's March 1977 tour brought him back to Friars, now in its shiny new hall near where the town used to carry out its public hangings. I'd been a punk since the previous year, which greatly amused Bowie, who now dressed down in plaid shirt and flat-cap. "What's a clean cut young man like you doing in a place like this?" he greeted David Stopps, before noticing my savage winklepickers and laughing, "I used to have a pair like that!"
He also declared, "I could never have come back to Aylesbury as David Bowie," before having to convince an over-zealous security guard trying to throw him out that "I'm with the band!"
Bowie had every right to adopt this natural, content persona. That night's crowd would consist of the cream of London's punk uprising. He was safe in the knowledge that, not only was he partly responsible for this latest movement, but that the music he was currently recording in Berlin was going to play a major part in shaping the future for the next generation.
More from Kris Needs on Bowie next month...