INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Uncut AUGUST 2017 - by Michael Bonner
"I'M IN THIS UP TO MY NECK"
The Konrads, The King Bees, The Manish Boys. The Lower Third, The Buzz. The Riot Squad and The Hype. A baseball team called the Dulwich Bluejays, and a mime about the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Fifty years on from the release of David Bowie's debut album, Michael Bonner takes a very close look at Bowie's quietly momentous 1960s, and learns from many friends, lovers and accomplices how David Jones became Rainbowman, and invented the majestic creature mythologised as David Bowie. As his former girlfriend says, "Everything David did in the '60s led up to the '70s..."
Among the attractions, one visitor recalls, there was a puppet theatre, a stand offering Tibetan goods and Tarot readers dressed in colourful kaftans. There were burgers for sale, cooked on a makeshift wheelbarrow barbeque, stalls selling medicinal herbal remedies, underground newspapers, candy floss, exotic teas and authentic psychedelic posters from California. The event, a free festival, had been advertised in The International Times, promising "live music and discs from starting time at noon through to closing time at 8.00pm". The location for this momentous gathering? The South London suburb of Beckenham. It might not be the place you would automatically expect to find a countercultural happening; all the same, during one luminous summer's day in the late '60s, over a thousand commuter-belt dreamers and progressively minded heads descended on the town's croydon Road Recreation Ground. There, clustered around a Victorian wrought-iron bandstand in the middle of the park, revellers enjoyed music from the Strawbs, Bridget St John, Comus and other kindred spirits.
The date - Saturday, August 16, 1969 - was propitious. On the same day, Woodstock audiences were grooving to The Dead, The Who and Jefferson Airplane - and the Beckenham Free Festival was intended to celebrate a similarly optimistic, egalitarian spirit. "We were into personal development, growing into a new way of being, a new way of organising, a new social order, all those hippy dreams," says co-organiser Mary Finnigan. "The festival was a very worthy affair," says singer-songwriter Keith Christmas, who appeared on the bill. "They believed in a hippy lifestyle, they believed in sharing."
As it transpired, David Bowie had a busy day. In his capacity as festival Mc, roadie and co-organiser, he was a regular sight around the bandstand. He performed at various times during the festival, treating the audience to a range of new songs including Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud, Janine and An Occasional Dream.
A few weeks later, Bowie recorded a romanticised account of that day in Memory of A Free Festival - where "The children of the summer's end / Gathered in the dampened grass", and Croydon Road Recreational Ground was magically transformed into "God's land / It was ragged and naïve, it was heaven."
But the day itself was not so agreeable for Bowie. on August 5, his father Haywood Jones died of pneumonia. At the festival, Finnigan recalls Bowie's behaviour as "surly and rude, thoroughly miserable". Later in the evening, when Bowie spotted Finnigan and his future wife Angela Barnett counting the takings from the stalls, he called them "miserable bread heads".
But there may have been other factors contributing to Bowie's mood. The Beckenham Free Festival marked the symbolic end of Bowie's '60s. By summer 1969, he was finally going places. Exactly five years since he released his debut single, Liza Jane, a freakbeat 45 [based on the old standard Li'l Lisa Jane] written by Bowie and Underwood [with input from manager Leslie Conn, who is credited as songwriter], Bowie entered Soho's Trident Sound to record Space Oddity. After years of setbacks and career changes - churning through bands, looks and names along with colourful digressions into mime, cabaret and theatre - it looked as though Bowie might have a bona fide hit on his hands. Meanwhile, he and Angie were preparing to move into 42 Southend Road - an imposing Victorian villa, Haddon Hall, which became Bowie's operational base as he masterminded his peerless run of early '70s LPs. By the Beckenham Free Festival, it was time to move on. "He didn't hang on to things for too long," explains George Underwood, his childhood friend. "He discarded things if he didn't think it was working and got on with something else. The story of his life, really."
But Bowie never completely jettisoned those formative years. By scrutinising Bowie's '60s, we can identify threads he would later take up again, refining and refashioning as he moved deeper into future decades. There were wide-ranging interests in esoteric literature, Eastern mysticism, R&B, jazz and multi-media innovation. Inner flights and outer space; death and reinvention. "Everything he did in the '60s lead up to the '70s," confirms Hermione Farthingale, Bowie's former partner. "Everything was an experimental part of that learning curve."
Rock'n'Roll. The saxophone. The music of black America. Like many teenagers coming of age in the early '60s, David Bowie was a fashion-conscious modernist. George Underwood, a friend of Bowie's since they were both nine years old, remembers how the pair would subtly adapt the black school blazers of Bromley Tech. Tapered twelve-inch bottom trousers. Denson high pointers. Little Richard's concert at Woolwich Granada in october 1962, meanwhile, brought into focus Bowie's interests in the transgressive power of rockn'roll in one fairly explosive package. "David and I had fantastic seats, five rows back from the stage," recalls Underwood. "At some point, Richard stood on top of his grand white piano. Halfway through a number, he starts making these funny noises - 'Uh, uh, uh' - and he fell off the piano. All the musicians hurried over to him. Then the MC came on and said, 'Is there a doctor in the house?' David looked me and said, 'Oh, my God. George, we're watching history being made here.' Then suddenly, from the floor, Richard yelled out, 'Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom!' It was the best show ever."
It was an audacious stunt - one to rival that of Lazarus, you could say. "Little Richard was just unreal," Bowie told Rolling Stone later. "Unreal. Man, we'd never seen anything like that."
"David was into the more theatrical bands," confirms Underwood. "Screaming Lord Sutch, coming out of a coffin. Nero & The Gladiators, dressed up like bloody gladiators. It was amazing that all this was going on in the suburbs. Anything that was slightly off the wall, David was there."
But Bowie was absorbing influences from a wide range of sources, not just music. "We joined a baseball team, the Dulwich Bluejays," reveals Underwood. "David was interested in the outfits, the gloves. The way they looked, with the big shoulders. All this was stowed away in his memory banks. When Ziggy came later, he has the chance to put all these things together. America was one of his big subjects. Terry, his half brother, introduced David to Jack Kerouac, On The Road. Then jazz. America was such a long way away then; such a different place. It seemed like another planet."
From 1962-1964, Underwood played with Bowie in The Konrads, an R&B covers band, as well as a short-lived trio called The Hooker Brothers and also in The King Bees. Of the three, The King Bees seemed the most promising. On June 5, 1964, Davie Jones with The King Bees released their debut single, Liza Jane. But by now Bowie's focus had shifted. "He was quite ruthless, really," laughs Underwood. "When we were in The King Bees, he turned up for rehearsal one day and said, 'Actually, I've got another band. I'm off. See you, bye.' We were left high and dry. He'd been rehearsing with The Manish Boys while he was with us. He realised we weren't going anywhere. Fair enough. He wanted to go somewhere."
Bowie was moving forward, keeping pace with the decade's own astonishing changes. He experimented with permutations on his own name - David Jay, Davie Jones, Davy Jones - but in September 1965, he made a more permanent transformation. "I was around his parents' house," recalls Underwood. "'I'm going to change my name to David Bowie.' 'Oh, OK.' It seemed to have a good ring. It was after Jim Bowie, who died at the Alamo. If you watch the film, it's pronounced 'Bow-ee' not 'Bough-ee', which is how David wanted it. It wasn't unexpected, really. He didn't want to be any old Jones. David was planning his career in his head before it happened.
"Later, I realised I didn't have my heart in the business," continues Underwood, who went on to work as an artist, designing album sleeves for Bowie, Marc Bolan, Gentle Giant and others. "And David knew that. He said to me once, 'It's all right for you, you've got your art. But I'm in this up to my neck.'"
Between 1965 and '66, Bowie moved restlessly through bands - The Manish Boys, The Lower Third, The Buzz - searching but never quite finding artistic or commercial fulfillment. Phil May remembers this young, pre-fame Bowie turning up regularly at Pretty Things gigs. "I wouldn't necessary have picked ourselves out as a main influence," admits May. "But I remember one time, he came up to me onstage. I must have moved out of the flat because he said to me, 'Oh, I rang your number. It's changed. Can I have the new one?' I wasn't going to give it out here - we were surrounded by kids - so I said, 'Give us your address book.' He was very reticent to hand it over. When I got the page, it said 'G-O-D' next to my old number. I didn't say anything. I crossed out my old number, put in the new one and gave him the book back."
Bowie later covered two Pretty Things songs, Rosalyn and Don't Bring Me Down, on Pin Ups, his album of teenage influences. "He copied them faithfully," says May approvingly. "Even down to the little scream before the solo on Rosalyn."
Bowie played almost a hundred concerts during 1966, bringing maximum R&B to far-flung regional venues from Ramsgate's Coronation Ballroom to the Lion Hotel in Warrington and the Holly Bush in Dundee. Influenced by The Kinks and The Who, The Lower Third's live shows usually culminated in a heavy version of Holst's Mars, Bringer Of War - better known among Bowie's generation as the theme to Nigel Kneale's sci-fi drama, The Quatermass Experiment. When he wasn't on the road, George Underwood recalls Bowie putting all his spare energies into songwriting - "He was determined to be able to write. It was his main task, the thing he had in the back of his head."
In 2002, Bowie re-recorded a number of these mid-'60s songs on the unreleased Toy album. Historically viewed as curios by a writer who has yet to find his creative voice, all the same there are occasional glimpses of the more mature Bowie. The London Boys - a B-side to his first Deram single, Rubber Band - was a sophisticated vignette about pill-popping teenagers in nocturnal Soho, reaching a bleak finale that foreshadowed Bowie's own fall a decade later: "You've got what you wanted but now you're on your own."
By the time Bowie came to record The London Boys, in October, 1966, he was working with The Buzz. They represented a critical change in Bowie's methodology. "David regarded his previous band The Lower Third as a four-piece with a lead singer," says Buzz guitarist John 'Hutch' Hutchinson. "So this was a move to becoming a solo act, if you like, with a backing band. We understood we'd been hired to back an up-and-coming singer. He regarded us as the best musicians he could find at the time by auditioning and asking around."
"At all times he used the best musicians as he hasn't got time to be the best at everything," says Hermione Farthingale. "Other people specialise. He was good at the overview."
"Onstage, we all wore matching check shirts and beige slacks," continues Hutch. "David did that later, too - he designed his band to have a certain look. David himself would come on in these tartan trousers, maybe dress up a bit more; he wouldn't look like us. I think David wanted us to look like working musicians, not the act."
Although Hutch identifies The Buzz peer group as "The Herd, Rikki Farr & The T-Bones or Spencer Davies, we wanted to be like all the other Marquee or Flamingo Club bands", Bowie had expanded his tastes in an unexpected new direction. In late 1966, Bowie's manager Kenneth Pitt returned from a visit to America with a test pressing of The Velvet Underground & Nico. "In December that year, my band, Buzz, broke up," Bowie told Vanity Fair. "But not before my demanding we play I'm Waiting For The Man as one of the encores at our last gig. Amusingly, not only was I to cover a Velvet's song before anyone else in the world, I did it before the LP came out. Now that's the essence of Mod."
Bowie's next band, The Riot Squad, committed a growing fascination with The Velvet Underground to vinyl:, by recording a cover of I'm Waiting For The Man and also a Bowie number called Toy Soldier, which liberally quoted from Venus In Furs. Future Only One Alan Mair, whose Scottish band The Beatstalkers were also managed by Ken Pitt, remembers seeing The Riot Squad at Tiles on Oxford Street in April 1967. "They wore make-up and they were quite theatrical," says Mair. "You could see that he reacted differently onstage to other artists. Avant-garde. David always had an aura, even if you met him at Ken Pitt's offices. I'd heard some music by The Lower Third, who were more like The Who. It was so different to Riot Squad that he was obviously still searching for his direction, where he wanted to go."
Bowie moved at great speed through 1967, morphing from frontman to songwriter for hire and solo artist before, as the year ended, moving sideways into performance art. He wrote novelty songs (The Laughing Gnome), childhood reveries (There Is A Happy Land) and folk-pop ballads (Sell Me A Coat). Then there are more bizarre numbers like We Are Hungry Men, which offers a foretaste of the messianic leaders and dystopian futures that engrossed him over the following decade.
Bowie also had another idea brewing - a musical, called Kids On The Roof. He outlined his plans to Melody Maker in 1966 before adding, "I want to act. I'd like to do character parts. I think it takes a lot to become somebody else."
Kids On The Roof never came to fruition - this was not the last time Bowie would try, unsuccessfully, to mount a stage musical - though some of the songs made their way onto his self-titled debut LP, released June 1, 1967. Notes Hermione Farthingale, "Sell Me A Coat, There Is A Happy Land. Little Bombardier. They're like nursery rhymes. Or they're seriously weird, like Uncle Arthur."
As it transpired, the characters who appeared in the songs on David Bowie were a characteristically outlandish bunch of misfits and outsiders - "lesbians in the army, cannibals and paedophiles," Bowie told Michael Parkinson in 2002. "I thought, 'Yeah, this is my bag, this is what my career's going to be like.' And the first LP is the most extraordinary piece of work in that way. I mean - utterly forgettable, but there's no faulting its ambitions."
"The songs on his first album were something else," notes Lindsay Kemp, a future collaborator. "They didn't strike a contemporary note at that time. Many of them hark back to the French cafés and Jacques Brel and his Tony Newley influence. They were lovely little story songs, songs that often concerned childhood. No-one was singing songs about paedophiles or childhood."
Coming after a string of flopped 45s, the LP's failure was another setback to Bowie. "When I met him, he was only nineteen, twenty," says Alan Mair. "He'd gone through bands since he was fourteen. So he decided, 'I'm a songwriter, not really a performer.' The Beatstalkers recorded three of David's songs and every time he presented a song to us, he performed it. He'd play acoustic guitar and stand up in the middle of the room.
"He was very involved in the recordings," continues Mair, whose five-year old son Frankie was the original inspiration for Little Bombardier. "The studio sessions were three hours, that's it. He played acoustic guitar and sang backing vocals. I remember one day saying, 'Don't worry, everything will be hunky dory.' He said to me, 'What does that mean?' I said, 'It just means everything's going to be OK.' He said, 'I like that.' That was very David. He absorbed everything he was involved in or anything he went to see. He was very good at that."
Lindsay Kemp remembers first meeting David Bowie during the summer of 1967. "I was doing a little show called Clowns in a very little theatre off St Martin's Lane," he says. "David was much taken by it. Backstage, he asked if he could study with me. The very next day, he started my classes at the Dance Centre in Covent Garden."
The meeting with Kemp proved serendipitous. "He'd become increasingly disillusioned with how his career was going," explains Kemp. Bowie's relationship with his label Deram had become increasingly strained. A thirty-minute rock opera called Ernie Johnson - about a pre-suicide party held in the protagonist's Bayswater flat - fell by the wayside, underscoring the difficulties Bowie, at this point, had in realising his more extravagant concepts. For him, a career swerve into theatre seemed an inspired leap in the dark.
"When we started working together, he felt he was finally taking off, but in another direction," says Kemp. "It was a surprise - but it was a delight, too. He relished the classes. David wasn't a natural mover, like Mick Jagger or Michael Jackson. I had to increase his flexibility. I taught him to express himself and communicate through his body. We spent a lot of time on breathing. We'd improvise to everything from African drums to Carmen Miranda, Bach, Beethoven, rock'n'roll, the whole gamut. David was very good at improvising other characters."
Bowie joined Kemp and a small company for a nationwide touring production, Pierrot In Turquoise. Over a decade later, Bowie commissioned the show's costume designer Natasha Korniloff to make a Pierrot costume of his own for the Ashes To Ashes video. In this 1967 production, meanwhile, Bowie played "a protean character called Cloud," says Kemp. "He was kind of a balladeer, but he'd also wear different masks from time to time, mime different characters."
It proved to be a fruitful collaboration. Kemp recalls going to see the Ziggy Stardust tour at the Rainbow in August, 1972 and seeing elements from the Dance Classes assimilated into the production.
"David learned stage craft from me," says Kemp. "How to be, how to look, how to make an entrance. I've never seen a more beautiful entrance than that of David as Ziggy Stardust, slowly emerging through clouds of dry ice towards the audience to sing Lady Stardust.
"Everything that I taught him, it was all there," Kemp continues. "Nothing was forgotten. He absorbed everything that was around him, everything that he might find useful. I taught him the importance of stillness. He demonstrated that so marvellously in Jacques Brel's My Death, when he sat on stool and didn't move at all, except for his fingers strumming his guitar. That was the most potent part of the show."
My Death became a significant song for Bowie. He continued to perform it well into the early '70s, before reviving it again in the mid-'90s. "David was fascinated by Brel for the gutsiness of it," says Hermione Farthingale, a dancer who met Bowie in January 1968. "It was about prostitutes and drug addicts. Next and Port Of Amsterdam [the B-side of 1973 single, Sorrow]. He was fascinated by My Death. I didn't question why. I could see why he was, too. But looking back, it was astonishing that a young man was singing about his death - and continued to do so - and then 'staged' his own death in the most phenomenal theatrical way. I was nineteen, he was twenty-one. He was singing about death, and singing it beautifully."
When John Hutchinson reconnected with David Bowie in summer 1968, he noticed a change had come over his old friend in the eighteen months since the guitarist had left The Buzz. "He wasn't trying to be the star," says Hutch. "He was a lot more together. David could end up in tears after a gig or in the middle of a gig. He was under some kind of unseen pressure in The Buzz, and I don't believe he was like that during the Ziggy days. I think he was worried about money, that kind of thing. But with Hermione, he was suddenly arty. He was really happy with that."
"David was certainly recalibrating," says Hermione, who was in a relationship with Bowie throughout 1968. "What he wanted to do was this mixed media group of mime and poetry and folk songs and Jacques Brel songs. He was on safe territory with Hutch and I, because we weren't competitive. We were mates, happy to help him out." The project, called Feathers, performed mostly in London and the South East. "David did his Little Bird, Old Woman mime," recalls Hermione. "There's a tiny little bird and a little old lady who's feeding the bird and the bird gets bigger and bigger until the bird is bigger than the woman and eats her up. Never ends well, does it? And The Mask. All these things are symbolic, aren't they, of his life and his fame? The nightmare of something you nurture - the little bird - then it bites you in the end."
"He wanted to use techniques he had learned with Lindsay Kemp," says Hutch. "He was pushing the inside of the glass sheet, even in Ziggy Stardust days. Some of those moves he would keep in. He was adding things up."
"He never stopped thinking he was a musician and songwriter," Hermione says. "Those elaborate mimes, like The Seagull or the one about the Chinese invasion of Tibet, I don't think he saw those as any different from a song.
"He was always drawing," she continues. "If he had to go to Germany to do a TV performance, he'd draw his pale blue suit, so he knew how he was going to look. There was no division."
Bowie mixed Feathers shows with intermittent solo performances - including one at Middle Earth in May, 1968. "There was this funny bloke putting on white face in the dressing room," says photographer Ray Stevenson. "He knew lots of stuff, he knew lots of people. He was a sponge. He was always seeking information. Finding out from me what was happening in folk circles."
Another friend who often joined Bowie and Farthingale at their home at 22 Clareville Grove, South Kensington, was Tony Visconti, who first worked with Bowie in September, 1967. "Tony's a little bit older and at that age, three years makes a lot of difference," says Hermione. "He was American and that was hugely sophisticated. He was like a grown-up and we were not! He was the one who was doing it and producing records and David was trying to make it happen. So he was quite a mentor at that age."
In spring, Bowie and Hermione went to see Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. A few months later, Bowie wrote Space Oddity, an interstellar yarn that chimed with both Kubrick's film and NASA's developing moon shot programme. But the song also resonated with something deeper in Bowie's consciousness; a tug back to a childhood spent during the era of Dan Dare, Sputnik and Quatermass. Originally conceived as a two-hander - with Hutch as "Ground Control" and Bowie as "Major Tom" - "The song wrote itself," remembers Farthingale. "We lived in a pretty little shared Georgian house. Our bedroom was the top floor - the attic. We rehearsed up there. Marc Bolan gave David the Stylophone. It was written incredibly quickly. I remember him having made it up and playing it on the floor in our bedroom. There it was. I thought it was completely wonderful."
Bowie and Hermione split up a few months after the composition of Space Oddity, while Bowie and Hutch pursued a brief career as a folk duo in the vein of Simon & Garfunkel. "When I met him, he was living at home and had a quiet resignation that his career was going nowhere," says Mary Finnigan, who took in Bowie as a lodger in April, 1969. "But there was a quality to him, steely, very determined, a very clear perspective about what he wanted to do and needed to do to get there."
The tea was naff, the milk was sour and everyone smoked, recalls one musician present in Trident Studios. Despite these unpromising circumstances, Bowie and a small team of musicians began work on Space Oddity in February, 1969. "David was so right on the button," recalls Herbie Flowers, who played bass on Space Oddity. "He was an original thinker in every way. Everything about him was clean. He probably spent a lot of time with a pencil in his hand. Tony Visconti wasn't one hundred per cent settled with how the song had finished up and asked David to have another go at it. He got Gus Dudgeon in, who made a masterpiece of it."
Musically, Bowie had changed beyond recognition in the two years since his first solo album. "David had a very clear vision of himself as a singer-songwriter," says Finnigan. "He was experimenting, hanging out in folk clubs. I think the reason he did this, he didn't have a band. All he had was a twelve-string Gibson."
Finnigan remembers Bowie "would sit either on his bed or in the front room, or the swing in the garden, and scribble in his notebook and strum chords. He'd piece songs together, bit by bit. When he thought he'd got something that was ready to be heard, was a whole piece, he would very shyly come to me or my children and say, 'Can I play you a new song?' We would say, 'Yes, please!' Except for Space Oddity, they were all composed at my place, 24 Foxgrove Road. An Occasional Dream, Letter To Hermione, Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud, Janine."
His new songs had sharper focus. Gone, too, was the music hall whimsy, replaced largely by folky jams - more in keeping with his performances at the Arts Lab he and Mary Finnigan established at the Three Tuns pub in Beckenham High Street. It was, according to Finnigan, "a dingy, old fashioned pub. Beer and sawdust. Very dark, very stained. I don't think they even sold peanuts." Nevertheless, every Sunday evening, the back room was transformed into the Arts Lab. There would be a psychedelic light show, incense, candles, cushions and Indian bedspreads draped over the walls. "It was a hippy happening in the back room of a pub," says Finnigan. "David and I were interested in a social phenomenon; something that inspired people to look at life through a very different prism and to explore their own creativity." All for five shillings on the door. The inaugural night of the Arts Lab took place on May 4, 1969. "There was a handful of people the first weekend," recalls Alan Mair. "He was just playing on his own, acoustic guitar. But people came back to see him the following week. By the fourth week, there were so many people there that they opened it out into the pub garden."
One regular, Steve Harley, remembers Bowie "with his baggy trousers and long blond curly hair and a cheap old Eko acoustic guitar. It was really thrilling."
Buoyed along by this growing interest in his late-blooming career, album sessions at Trident found Bowie on confident form. "David was quick," says bassist Herbie Flowers. "He'd have a couple of takes and that was it. Hidden in that, it was spot on. Even his vocals. He got it right every time."
"David was totally on top of himself," adds Rick Wakeman, who played piano on Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud and Memory Of A Free Festival. "He knew what he wanted to do. But there was still room to manoeuvre. If we tried something in the studio and after half an hour it wasn't happening, he'd say, 'Move on. If it's not working it means there's something wrong with the song that's got to be put right.'"
"We'd get there say 11 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon," recalls drummer John Cambridge. "We'd arrive maybe half an hour beforehand to set up, and go from there. David would get up on a stool and say, 'We're going to have a go at this one.' He'd go through it a couple of times, then say, 'Shall we have a go at it, then?'"
"The studio had the atmosphere of the inside of a container ship," recalls guitarist Keith Christmas. "The control room was up a flight of stairs. We sat down, David facing me. He had a mic on his voice, he had a mic on his guitar, and I had a mic on my guitar. One of the first songs we did was Letter To Hermione. We did a couple of takes. I played that riff constantly throughout the song in places to accent it. At one point, I started picking harmonics. Later, they accented it with another instrument. He was using me to help him get the songs down, then they were adding instruments later.
"He was very excited about the album," continues Christmas. "I remember when he was listening back to God Knows I'm Good, David was crying his eyes out; he got very emotional. We didn't cry much in those days. That was the point I slipped quietly out and left him to it."
In a move characteristic of Bowie, he found it difficult to stay creatively in one place for too long. By the end of the summer, he had advanced beyond the folkie, hippy ideals of the Arts Lab. Critically, Bowie was unwilling to become pinned down. If Memory Of A Free Festival presented a benign view of the Arts Lab crowd and August's Beckenham Free Festival, Cygnet Committee was its shadow incarnation. Here, Bowie railed against the Arts Lab and the underground spirit of the late '60s. But the song also offered a glimpse of a more personal internal struggle between Bowie's private independence and the urge for success. Lines like "I gave them life / I gave them all / They drained my very soul dry" become increasingly potent as Bowie progressed through the '70s, experiencing first-hand the pernicious effects of fame.
Bowie and Angie moved into Haddon Hall in September, 1969. If Cygnet Committee signalled a retreat from the Arts Lab community and the wider trappings of the established counterculture, Bowie's move into Flat 7 marked a different kind of retreat. Within the confines of its grand Victorian setting he was free to recreate himself - again.
"It was a baronial flat," says Mary Finnigan. "It had a huge hallway with an enormous stained glass window and a minstrels gallery. That's where the musicians slept, mostly. It was run as a commune when they first moved in there. Angie put herself behind David one hundred per cent. Angie was a dynamo. She said, 'You've got to be a star, even though you are not a star yet. You behave like one, you act like one, you think like one and I will help you become one.'"
"Even when David was walking round Haddon Hall making a cup of tea and some toast, he had this aura around him," adds John Cambridge.
At Haddon Hall, ideas percolated freely. Music was made and plots hatched between Bowie and his associates. "I was sectioned for twenty-eight days at the psychiatric hospital, Cane Hill," says George Underwood. "David's half-brother, Terry, was there at the time. I remember going back to Haddon Hall, sitting down with David and talking about my experiences there until the wee, wee hours. We'd talk about whether there was interplanetary people looking at us, things like that. You've got to remember, the '60s were full of esoteric comings and goings. You had the moon landing, but you also had people like Carlos Castaneda... false magic."
After his second self-titled album (now commonly known as Space Oddity) was released in November 1969, Bowie made plans to form a new band - his first since The Riot Squad, which seemed a lifetime away by now. As became habit, he gathered players around him according to the individual requirements of the project. "My brother had come up with this phrase, 'Observe the trend and do the opposite'," says Stevenson. "Everyone was in the tail end of the hippy thing, with superstars dressing down. The opposite would be to stand onstage and say, 'I am a god! Worship me!' To hammer the point home, why not call yourself The Hype? David was against it, but Angie loved it. Being American, she had a different perspective. The English don't brag. But it's part of the American psyche."
Tony Visconti, by now another Haddon Hall resident, played bass in The Hype. John Cambridge, on drums, introduced Bowie several months later to a friend and former bandmate from his native Hull, Mick Ronson.
"Mick was very quiet and maybe David liked that," says Cambridge. "They'd get together in David's bedroom room and go over songs. You don't know whether all those riffs at the start of songs were David or Mick."
John Hutchinson is considering the moment he thinks David Jones completed his transformation into David Bowie. "It was with The Hype, I felt he'd got something going there," the guitarist explains. "The songs were already quite interesting shapes and subjects, like David does, but The Hype played quite basic rock'n'roll. They were a good, strong heavy three-piece band, like everybody used to have in the old days. Mick Green and those guys with Johnny Kidd. Nero & The Gladiators. Screaming Lord Sutch would do gigs with a three-piece. It was pared down to the essentials. The dressing up and showing off - he was starting to get the hang of something there."
"They bought me a cowboy hat and I was Cowboyman," recalls John Cambridge. "Mick got David's old suit and he was Gangsterman. Tony had a Superman suit with an H on and he was Hypeman. David was Rainbowman."
The Hype made their debut on February 22 at the Roundhouse; only weeks later Bowie and Ronson were in the studio together for the first time, re-recording Memory Of A Free Festival with Visconti at the controls. Listen to the version on the 1969 album and this new recording, released as a two-part single, and you can get a sense of how liberating Ronson's arrival must have been for Bowie - particularly the long, expansive jam at the end. Kicked off by Bowie on his Rosedale electric chord organ, it introduces a psychedelic heaviosity into David Bowie's musical vocabulary.
"You know the chorus at the end, 'The sun machine is going down'?" asks John Cambridge. "Mick said to David, 'Why don't you put some ad libs in between?' He cited Paul Rodgers, that kind of soul singer extemporisation. This was the first time Mick had input with David. David looked at Mick and said, 'You go and do it.' So all those 'Yeah, yeah, baby's at the end? That's Mick."
Bowie, Ronson, Visconti. The key components of Bowie's 1970s were now in play. From this moment on, it is possible to map out the arc of Bowie's career that runs from The Man Who Sold The World to Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). But it wasn't all about the future. As the new decade progressed, Bowie occasionally called on the services of his early collaborators. One such musician was Rick Wakeman, asked back into the Bowie camp during spring, 1971.
"David had got to that stage where he wasn't just ready to present people with new ideas and new music; people were waiting for it," he says. "I remember going to Haddon Hall and hearing the songs on Hunky Dory for the first time, then coming back and going to the pub. Mates of mine said, 'What's he up to, then?' People were already incredibly fascinated by what he was going to do next. And he didn't disappoint, bless him."
How David Bowie nearly became a Buddhist monk
In 1967, Bowie read Heinrich Harrer's memoir, Seven Years In Tibet - "I became an overnight Buddhist," he admitted years later.
"David talked about wanting to travel the world and take in as many cultures as he could," says Beatstalkers bassist Alan Mair, who spent time with Bowie in the late 1960s. "Tibet came up quite a lot in conversations. We'd all read about Tibetan monks living in caves. Tibet was a mystical place at that age."
"He had been studying Buddhism quite seriously for a couple of years before he met me," adds Lindsay Kemp, his former mime teacher. "He was planning on going up to a Buddhist monastery, Samye Ling, and becoming a Tibetan monk."
"He'd been to Samye Ling, the Tibetan Buddhist centre in Scotland," says Mary Finnigan, Bowie's former landlady and lover. "David was extremely impressed by the whole panoramic, multi-dimensional consciousness perspective of Tibetan Buddhism. It's kind of like shamanic Buddhism. you experience altered states and different levels of contemplative awareness very quickly. David did a lot when he was at Samye Ling. as far as I know, he spent many hours on the cushion and he was very, very keen to make it work for him and I think it did at some level. But he could not shake off the music."
Publicly, Bowie revived his interest in Tibet years later, when he wrote Seven Years In Tibet on 1997's Earthling album. But privately, its influence was life-long. According to his will, Bowie wanted his ashes to be scattered on the island of Bali "in accordance with the Buddhist rituals".
"IT WON'T STAY IN TUNE"
Erratic. Temperamental. And that's just the Mellotron! Rick Wakeman tells us how he kept in tune on Space Oddity
"I had done some sessions with Tony Visconti for a band called Junior's Eyes a few months earlier. A Mellotron had arrived at the studios in North London. During one of the breaks, I said, 'Can I have a go?' They went, 'Yeah, it's a bloody nightmare, won't stay in tune, the more notes you put down, the more it goes out of tune.' I played around and found a way of holding the tuning. Tony came in and the engineer said, 'How did you do that?'
"When they were recording Space Oddity, David wanted real strings and Mellotron together. But again they couldn't keep it in tune. Tony said, 'I know somebody who can keep it in tune.' David said, 'Get him.' I was rehearsing with a seventeen-piece band in Reading. So I drove up. It was a doddle to do, to be honest. I loved the song, and also credit has to go to David and Tony as I don't think anyone else at that particular time would have heard Mellotron on that piece, where it came in. There would have been other things, more obvious to do. It was clever.
"He was determined to get the Stylophone on the record. Herbie Flowers said, 'You'll never get it on. I bet you a fiver.' He did. Of course. He got it in before the solo, just before the solo section, before the little glissando up. But that's another thing I liked about David. He never stated the obvious."
BOWIE VS BOLAN!
Friends? Rivals? We hear both sides of the story from those who knew them best
David Jones met Mark Field in June, 1964. As it transpired, both men had a lot in common: they were born the same year (1947), shared a producer Tony Visconti and, for a while, were both managed by Les Conn, which is how they met - whitewashing Conn's Denmark Street offices. The extent of both their friendship and rivalry seems a flexible point. While Bolan's Tyrannosaurus Rex enjoyed modest success between 1968 and 1969, Bowie was still struggling. Ray Stevenson sees Bolan's early triumph as a motivating factor for Bowie: "He was kind of angry that Marc was selling so many records. It got him really determined."
"David was good with Marc," says George Underwood, who designed sleeves for both. "Later on, Marc was a bit jealous of David's success, but generally they were good."
"They weren't the best of friends, ever," adds Hermione Farthingale. "Maybe they got on some times well enough. But Tony was the friend. They were both baby pop singers with this mentor."
"At The Hype's Roundhouse gig," says John Cambridge, "I've seen a photo taken from the stage looking out at the audience, and Marc is right at the front of the stage, with his arms leant on the stage, looking up at Bowie... "I'll have a bit of this.'"
Herbie Flowers played bass with both artists - including Bowie and Bolan's recording session for The Prettiest Star.
"It was beautiful," he says. "You can't sit down and write a song with somebody if they're your mortal enemy. There's no witchcraft. Everyone was working flat out to make it."
Whatever the precise nature of their relationship, it ended on a positive note with Bowie appearing on the final edition of Bolan's TV show, Marc, a few weeks before Bolan's death on September 15, 1977.
"WORKING TITLE: THE '60S ALBUM!"
Bowie's Toy: or how Bowie reconnected with long-forgotten songs from his past
In July, 2000, David Bowie began work on his first new album of the twenty-first century. Only it wasn't entirely new. The bulk of the album, called Toy, consisted of songs Bowie originally cut for Deram in the 1960s - including Liza Jane, The London Boys, In The Heat Of The Morning, Conversation Piece, Let Me Sleep Beside You, You've Got A Habit Of Leaving and Silly Boy Blue". The LP was slated for the fourth quarter of 2000, but gradually slipped back. Unconfirmed rumours suggested Bowie's then-label Virgin/EMI wanted the easier sell of a new greatest hits compilation. Eventually, Toy was quietly shelved, though several songs later made their way onto B-sides and bonus tracks. A version of Toy eventually leaked online in 2011.
Here, Mark Plati - Toy's coproducer and Bowie's musical director from 1999-2001 - recalls the making of Bowie's lost album. "The idea for Toy was jumpstarted by doing Can't Help Thinking About Me on VH-1 Storytellers (August, 1999) - David wanted to dig up something from that period, something very early, and feature it on the show as well as tell some stories from that time period.
"He enjoyed it so much that we continued it play it on the Hours tour that followed. It was a real favourite of both us and the fans... In fact, when we were in Ireland Joe Elliott of Def Leppard came to our show and remarked on how much he loved it, and maybe we ought to do some others! So, I don't know if Joe helped push it along, or if David was already thinking how much he liked revisiting this period and wanted to go further down the rabbit hole as it were... All I do know is that a few months into 2000 when we began to talk about the Glastonbury gig, David mentioned pursuing an album of these older songs. The working title of it was The '60s Album. David felt that it would be fun to revisit this period in his career given where he was in 2000 - a much more capable artist, with a band he knew well and were suited to performing this batch of material with him. With Toy the songs now had the benefit of his thirty-plus years of experience and insight as a singer, artist and producer. It was an honour to produce it with him.
"To me, Toy seemed in character with David's ability to cherry pick from his own previous work and recycle it in a fresh, new way. From the first project I worked on with him - the Earthling recordings in '96 - we often listened to older material of his, and many times found the multitrack tapes looking for ideas to update. I'm Afraid Of Americans was indeed one of these; so was Bring Me The Disco King, which, while we worked on it in '96, didn't see light of day until 2003 in yet another completely different form. So to me, looking back seemed like a part of his artistic process."