David Bowie at the
July 2nd 1973
I read with some amusement recently that Steve Jones, the guitarist with The Sex Pistols, saw David Bowie at the Hammersmith Odeon, the night before he retired as Ziggy Stardust,on July 2nd, 1973.
I was there, tho' I don't recall seeing Steve.
But I do recall guitarist Mick Ronson (Ronno) playing a white Les Paul at the gig, one that looked remarkably similar to the one Steve Jones played in the Pistols. I wonder if this was one of Jonesy's infamous heists?
To give you some background about myself at the time, I was sixteen and had been gig-going since the previous year.
I'd heard 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars' in September '72. A friend, David Gowlett, had bought it pretty much when it came out. I don't know who'd advised him that Bowie was cool, tho' I suppose by late in '72 he was a chart star with 'Starman'.
I recall David bringing Ziggy to my house, and all of my friends and I listening to the whole album from start to finish. On Ma and Pa's trusty radiogram! I can remember it being an amazing, life changing listening experience.
The guitars were seriously hard, and rocked more than any Brit Glam Rock that was around at the time, perhaps with the exception of the Sweet's b-sides. Not that I was listening to British Glam at the time. In fact I thought it was totally uncool - "Brickies in Baco foil!"
The Stooges entered my life round about then and I thought they rocked harder than anything I'd heard before. And the New York Dolls were about to enter my life too. By 1974, I was listening to the Dolls albums continuously, at least a couple of times a day.
I had an outrageous sound system at the time, a Linear valve amplifier - donated, I think, by Nick Fisher. The sort of amp us junior players would run our guitars or basses through, amateur-esque, but still damn loud! I ran a Wharfedale turntable through the amp. It was mono, obviously.
The amp drove a pair of two by twelve cabinets. One was a Marshall, which I probably bought from my Sister Helen's club book! (Hands up how many of you bought your first amp or combo from Kay's? I can see Uncle Stom's hand up at the back there, and maybe Jem's too?) The other amp was a Fender - the 2x12 that came with my brother-in-law Jed Wilson's amp, an infamous Bandmaster.
That beautiful cabinet was stolen when the Accidents supported Lilliput at the Rock Garden, in Covent Garden, on the 8th of October, 1980.
I can't imagine what hell my parents went through, having to listen to the Dolls day in and day out, through what I suppose was my first p.a.!!!
But back to the gig...
Ronno's guitars definitely hit the spot for me. But the whole vibe, the lyrics - some of which were fairly outrageous for the time - and Bowie's voice really took me somewhere else. It was part futuristic, and in retrospect, pre-defining certain aspects of Punk. Surely Bowie's ginger/red mullet hair do, often imitated but never equalled, spawned the spikey punk architype sported by Johnny Rotten?
I know there's been a million different interpretations of the Ziggy story, but I just thought it was about an alien rock 'n' roll star, whose biggest misfortune was to hit the Top of the Poppermost, just as Earth went into it's final decline. Oh no!
The cover of Ziggy looked as though Bowie had just popped down to planet Earth for a quick photo shoot and his rock 'n' roll Flying Saucer was parked just around the corner and out of the shot.
There was a very important thread running through my life in those days, and that was Veronica Peyton. Veronica was my second girlfriend, and pretty much the hippest person on the planet at that time. At least I thought so.
We met at school. It was 1972, the autumn term. Her parents were great, they'd drive us back to their fabulous country abode,and let us listen to our music quite loud, on an original early 60's Dansette record player!
I'd heard of Roxy Music through 'Virginia Plain', but never heard their album, which Veronica had.
Someone I wasn't familiar with at all, was Lou Reed. David Bowie had produced the fabulous 'Transformer' album (with major and not fully credited help from Mick Ronson). Veronica turned me onto that too. And with a lot of help from David Gowlett, I was fully immersed in the Velvet Underground by the Spring of '73.
It was the sound track to our school leaving exams. Oh dear!!!
Veronica also had Bowie's recent (at the time) re-issues of 'Space Oddity' and 'Hunky Dory' - both of which I loved. But the one that really got me, cos it rocked so hard, was 'The Man Who Sold The World'.
Tony Visconti played the bass on it, and his playing really rocked, as of course, did Ronno's guitar. It was pretty much the same guitar sound as 'Ziggy', but much more aggressive and proto metal. And the lyrics projected a lot of sexual ambiguity, fairly homosexual or bisexual.
Thankfully 'She Shook Me Cold' alleviated my fears. It was really raunchy in a very heterosexual way.
The other big revelation which Veronica gave me, was 'Raw Power' by Iggy and The Stooges, which was also produced by Bowie.
Iggy was so hard, in your face - "wild" and "rebellious" don't come close to describing this sound. This band sounded like crashing chunks of sheet metal, the most devastating noise I'd ever heard. It was the rawest rock 'n' roll ever, I thought - I and probably still do.
Aside from the Bowie thread, and the fact that Roxy were from a planet in Bowie's universe, and that Lou Reed had been brought back to life by him, all of which Veronica understood, there was a look - which both Veronica and her sister Hilary had.
It was part Victorian - frock coats and fox furs. And perhaps lacy shirts or tops. They were both hip to Biba (where the New York Dolls made their first UK appearance) and when money allowed, they would shop at Kensington Market.
Though Hil was an amazing seamstress, she would often use both sources as inspiration. A dash of glam, diamonte and classy stack heeled boots. And black nail varnish. Lots of expensive looking rings, jet and chains.
Straight legged red tab Levis, which I'd not seen before, except on the occasional better dressed skinhead.
Like my good self, neither were adverse to plundering Oxfam charity shops, which seemed to be bristling with late Victorian and 1920s fashion in those days. And long, usually black hair (or in Hil's case blonde), a pre Joey Ramone look, that sometimes obscured quite large parts of the face.
Kee-rist, that sounds like Russell Brand!!!
I remember seeing a few other friends of Veronica's and Hilary's, who all had a similar but less classy look. Perhaps they went to the same school in Brentwood? I can't give you a label or an "ism" - it was their look. It was unique and very attractive. Certainly, again, it was a precursor to the punk look.
So when Veronica told me that her and Hilary had tickets to see David Bowie, and would I like to go along with them, I was deleriously happy!
When we got to the Hammersmith Odeon for the David Bowie gig on July 2nd 1973, there were a lot of glam kids wandering about. But they looked like a bunch of David Cassidy fans! Tho' there were a few Zig-a-likes, mostly girls.
Unlicenced merchandise ran even more unchecked than it does nowadays. There were lots of cheap Bowie scarves, posters and mags. Of course, wish I'd bought a bunch of it now, it'd look great next to my official Ziggy programme and ticket, and the signed (albeit in 2000) unpublished Ziggy pic.
On the hoarding of the Odeon, it said 'FROM 8 P.M., WE'RE ALL WORKING TOGETHER WITH DAVID BOWIE' which intrigued me enormously. Like we'd be invited to some grand party, a huge team.
Our seats were in the circle, and cost £1.50, but we weren't too high in the "Gods", and had an excellent view of the stage.
As far as I remember, prior to Mike Garson coming on and doing his solo medley on piano, I believe the music coming from the p.a. was excerpts from the Walter Carlos soundtrack to 'A Clockwork Orange'.
A Clockwork Orange was released in 1971, but its influence was still evident - it certainly influenced Bowie's style, as Ziggy. I went to a party at Bob Mardon's house, at Christmas '72, and among the freaks and occasional hippy, several guys were dressed like droogs, complete with one eyelash, bowler hats, white boiler suits, and DM's (Dr Martin's) boots. I thought they looked totally cool, tho' they drew some protestations from the "peace, maaan" types.
Mike Garson sounded like some lounge style piano player given a free hand with Bowie's then recent back catalogue!
After Garson had finished his piece, the march from A Clockwork Orange blasted out (Ninth Symphony, fourth movement, not second movement - archivers, use your ears!!!). It wasn't the theme, as is often reported - this mistake could easily be rectified by a quick earful of 'His Master's Voice' or the soundtrack remaster.
As the man in teddy boy gear finished the announcements, the band literally thrashed into 'Hang Onto Yourself'.
The sound, I recall, was pretty dreadful initially - tho' Mick Ronson's guitar was loud and proud, and good enough for me! Ronno looked kind of 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' round the edges - white or silver (I can't remember) long socks going up to what looked like black pantaloons. Shiny black "highwayman" type shoes, and a frilly white shirt. He had a little catwalk in front of him, that took him into the edge of the front of the crowd.
I can recall once he'd stepped out on the catwalk he pretty much stopped playing guitar, and just let the crowd paw at his white Les Paul for a while rather than play it. I was horrified! He wasn't playing, just hamming it up! And in the meantime, the crowd went wild...
I can remember the three lightning flashes in big white circles behind the band, and when I listen to the soundtrack to the Ziggy movie I recall the songs and, of course, the marvellous costumes Bowie was wearing. But I think it's fairly pointless for me to repeat things you can find on other web sites.
Again, this must've been a school trip. As I wearily plodded back to the coach, what should be playing on the radio, but 'Drive-In Saturday'?! I have to be honest tho', while I can look back on the gig and say I witnessed a major event in the history of rock 'n' roll, I was terribly dissapointed.
With the exception of John Lennon, Bowie was probably my biggest hero at the time. And the whole event smacked of teeny bop, which I loathed, because it was so false and plastic. And, although the sound improved, it left a lot to be desired, compared to other gigs I'd been to that year.
I was at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, a few weeks later, for the Traffic 'On the Road' tour, and the sound was phenomenal.
I met a chap there that had been at both the last Bowie gigs, as a St. Johns ambulance brigade man - apparently a great ruse for getting into gigs for free. He said that aside from the fact that he'd been appalled, 'cos the floor of the Odeon had apparently been awash with pee downstairs (a standard feature at most teeny bop gigs he assured me, from the boppers wetting themselves!), he reckoned Bowie had "sold out".
"Sold out" was a term used when an "underground" band signed to a major label, and were no longer the exclusive property of a few hip minded individuals.
I won't say that was Bowie's intention entirely, because I think his art has always come first. (Okay, I like 'Let's Dance', don't give me a hard time!) But obviously he wanted to be popular with the masses. However, I suppose I couldn't equate Bowie with major popularity at the time.
I wanted him to be the outsider, for us outsiders! No sell out! And the gig just seemed like the carnival that was the Osmonds, The Partridge Family et all. So I bitched and moaned to Veronica and Hil majorly, so much so that by the time we got back to the coach I think they both hated me! Which was a shame, 'cos as a teenage boy I loved them both dearly and of course still do......
© 2008 Terence Ruffle. All rights reserved.