I mean 'Stage' is damned good BUT this band for 'Heathen' tour were brilliant, the sound was so full but perfectly clear with individual parts being discernible and all played with so much energy. I cannot remember the whole setlist (especially in order) though I can write about the most memorable ones that left the greatest impression upon me, and the overall impression that so many numbers from my favourite David Bow album 'LOW' were being included made me feel so lucky as I had been too young to see him performing these live in 1977 - What a bonus in addition the the 'Heathen' album being such a fantastic new album in itself. And other songs from his Berlin period too, 'Heroes' and 'Alabama Song' which in particular I had not heard him perform live before and was even more entertaining than the version I was familiar with from CD.
Altogether the concert was nearly three hours long (in two sets) and in the second half the band really picked up the pace - the audience often on their feet so the good old Hammersmith Odeon (as it will always be to me) was literally rocking, and you could sense the adulation from the audience for him. Heathen Tour, Hammersmith Apollo London, 2nd October 2002 I do not have the words to describe how exciting it was being in the audience for that show, and the lighting added to that (yes, the lighting again - so simple, so effective) throughout the performance, the letters illuminating in sequence, or running in a frenzy, flashed on and off or slowly brought up and faded down to suit the song.
Amongst the other surprises that night was 'The Bewlay Brothers' which David said he had never performed live before - Marvelous. Forty five years ago I was sat anxious, fidgeting, watching the clock, willing the hours by, impossibly excited but frustrated as time seemed stood resolutely still. I was on the drabbest caravan site imaginable somewhere on Lancashire’s Fylde Coast.
No-one in my family can even remember where it was. I was 14 years old, a tubby little schoolboy stuck in the middle of a mundane family holiday in the middle of nowhere. But the night which followed that endless day changed my life.
It was May 31, 1973 and the biggest sensation in pop since The Beatles was about to be beamed down into my home town. David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars brought the Aladdin Sane tour to the stage of King George’s Hall in previously grey, depressing, drab, dismal, monochrome cotton town Blackburn. It actually might have been quite a bright, sunny day to be honest.
It was my first live gig and in another four decades there would never be another to send my head into a whirl and my insides feeling like they were revolving around my body at Formula 1 speed for two hours. If you had been allowed those years of hindsight you would have chosen that band, that frontman, that time to see rock’n’roll made flesh for the very first time.
Ours wasn’t a particularly hip household. We had a record player – one of those suitcase Dansettes on legs - and by the end of my third year at school I had a collection of singles and a handful of albums. But Bolan and The Jackson 5 had to vie with Jack Jones and Helen Reddy for turntable time.
I’d been to a couple of those end-of-pier shows and perhaps the biggest names I’d seen to that point in terms of chart action were Dana and Frank Ifield. Even at 12 and 13 you knew that wasn’t where it was at. One of those same summers I’d sat in the TV lounge of a bed and breakfast in Scarborough and seen Marc Bolan on TOTP have a strange, unspoken effect on a bunch of slightly older holidaying teenage girls that I didn’t quite understand.
I knew it was a direction you’d probably like to go in but hadn’t a clue how to set off, never mind arrive there. It certainly wasn’t any reaction a middle-aged guy singing “I Remember You” in a suit provoked. But the only time I’d ever sat in the stalls at King George’s Hall before that night was at tedious, interminable school speech nights, a mandatory but utterly dreaded annual event.
I was only allowed to go to the Bowie gig because an adult was taking me. Fortunately it wasn’t my dad, who might have been utterly outraged by the spectacle. His workmate John, it had emerged, was a huge fan, which at least lent my pre-occupation with Ziggy some adult-endorsed credibility.
I had bought the Ziggy album after an unexpected windfall. After seeing the Bolan effect and placing a personal ad in “Disco Songwords” or some such publication stating “Boy, 13, into T Rex, wants girl penfriend” I received about 400 replies. With almost more bags of letters from pre-pubescent females than the beleaguered postman could carry, I launched the one entrepreneurial success of my life and sold them for 2p a time at school.
“The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” cost me £2. I still have it with the sticker on somewhere.
But dad came home one night with some sage advice: “John at work reckons you should get an LP called Hunky Dory. ” My letter-selling profits allowed for that and that Christmas of ’72 I got the Space Oddity and Man Who sold The World re-issues and by the time Aladdin Sane came out in April of 1973 – delivered to my house by an RCA rep at tea-time on release day in a van after insufficient copies were available to satisfy pre-orders – I was in a frenzy over the fact that Bowie was playing not one but two Lancashire dates.
John had bought his wife and myself tickets for both shows and consented to take me, to allay any parental fears that I would be whisked away from the venue by a make-up wearing gay cult who sang lyrics like “I’ve got eyes in my backside that see electric tomatoes” (“Go on then, what on earth does that mean?” I was regularly quizzed) never to return. Maybe about 30 then, beautiful wife, great house, posh car and the most fabulous huge stereo system I’d ever seen in the huge modernised cottage I waited in, having been transported from Knott End or wherever, to be taken to the show.
I wish I could remember the journey there and the crowd but the next thing I can remember is sitting in the front row balcony waiting for the lights to go out. They eventually did and Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” as distorted through A Clockwork Orange (which of course I hadn’t seen or read) played. There was no support act that night.
No hammy pub-rock band in jeans and t-shirts cranking out blues licks or Chuck Berry licks. No Fumble or Stealers Wheel or any such. As the hall darkened and Ode came to mad climax, strobe lights – something else I’d never seen – flashed and momentarily illuminated figures walked across the stage with great coloured Ziggy/Aladdin flashes briefly visible then invisible on the backdrop behind.
Two of the first three guys I saw walk on that stage, Mick Ronson and Trevor Bolder, are no longer with us but along with Woody Woodmansey there could have been no more striking, futuristic prelude to the drama to come as a maelstrom of spangly tights, stack heels, hair spikey or platinum and enormous Dickensian sideburns flashed in and out of vision in a blur of white light and bacofoil costumes. Ducks Deluxe sauntering on an hour and a half before the main act just wouldn't have been the same. A nano-second of silence and darkness and then. “Bam-bam-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-Bam-Bam.
” Ronno thrashed the intro to “Hang Onto Yourself” out on his Les Paul, all billowy blouse and black sparkly matador pants and your eyes turned to centre stage where Bowie stood in a Japanese costume practically impossible to move in, bright orange barnet and pale face, arms extended.
“Well she’s a tongue-twisting storm.
” Of course what I can actually recollect is mixed up with what I’ve seen many times from the Hammersmith film by Don Pennebaker, basically the same show. But what I can remember is the gulping, gasping slack-jawed feeling of awe to be in the moment, the presence, the time. a pair of girls - future Mrs ronson and Bowie hairstyle creator Suzi Fussey one of them - came oput in black cat type costumes and pulled from either side to reveal that the ensemble was velcroed together down the front and suddenly Bowie was posed there in a silky white tunic with matching thigh-length boots.
It was often said that hitherto macho/straight builders fancied him and though not many would have admitted it in 1972 East Lancashire at that juncture, it's still possible to imagine why. "Ziggy Stardust" was freed from his Yansai Kamamoto wardrobe restrictions and free to gyrate as he wished in a series of numbers which even today in display cases at the V and A museum people are paying good money to gaze in wonder at. By the fourth number, “Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud (segued into “All The Young Dudes” and “Oh you Pretty Things” ) I had got my breath back and recall the astonished wonderment of seeing these songs I knew so well played by the people who created them in the same bloody room I was sat in! The mirrorball shimmering as David strummed the 12-string intro to “Space Oddity”. I hadn’t noticed that at school prize night.
The strobey guitar fight with Ronno in “Width Of a Circle”.
The mimed “gap in the wall” routine.
Myriad costume changes while Mick solo’ed. Garson’s insane jazz stylings.
”Suffragette City” practically blowing the roof off. The closing “Gimme your hands” set-piece of “Rock’n’Roll Suicide.
Simply incredible to see that at 14, before you saw any other live band in the whole wide world. #competition The stage was surprisingly bare, and industrial by previous concert stages where my brother and I had seen David Bowie, but the starkness meant that the five truss lighting towers across the back of the stage stood out all the more.
Even unlit it was obvious the letters made up out of many lamps at the top of each tower spelt out 'B' 'O' 'W' 'I' 'E', and below each of the letters (about half way up each truss) were a smaller double bank of lamps as well. David Bowie is a legend and a was true rockstar. As a newspaper critic said at the time "Whatever he had, he has still got it", and as I said at the time "For a man of fifty (plus), that should give us all hope".
The songs that really rocked were 'Look back in Anger', 'Hallo Spaceboy', 'I'm afraid of Americans', and of course 'Ziggy Stardust' the final song of the night. After which David and his band all held hands at the front of the stage for the final applause, and, when they left the stage the only lights left one were the one's that spelt 'B' 'O' 'W' 'I' 'E'. David took to the keyboard for 'Speed of Life', and played a harmonica for 'A new career in a new town' and on another number he picked up a Stylophone to play out the ending on.
That too was surprise! I could write on about the many other lighting effects that we're being used, the layout of the stage, positioning of the other musicians and their part but I really should get to the man himself.
And no doubt everyone was equally delighted with his dandy get-up - a very shiny (silk apparently) bright blue tonic type suit of a cutaway single breasted (single button) jacket with peak lapels, the trousers, perhaps a little too narrow for my liking sat well with the black Chelsea boots. His white shirt had unusual cuffs as much as I could make out, the black waistcoat not matching the suit was a nice twist and a bright silver (pocket watch?) chain from lapel buttonhole to breast pocket added a bit of sparkle. #competition He sang the songs from the new album with much emotion, so much so that you thought he was going to cry at one point whilst singing the title track 'Heathen'.
'5:15 and 'Sunday' may have been written specifically for his vocal range now and might be why those in particular sounded so good, his singing voice sounding smooth and crooning but still able to rise to belt it out when impact was needed.