Scotland On Sunday - 13 June 2004

You've got to hand it to the homo superior

By Aidan Smith

Oh yes, it's Edinburgh's Festival Theatre these days, and ballet and opera happen there, but a generation ago, when summers were long and winters didn't mess around either, this was the Empire, and after the second bingo house of the night, the place turned into Glam Rock Central.

I saw Roxy Music play the Empire, and in December, 1973, I saw David Bowie there. What a culture clash! As the beehived bingo-mums beetled through the slush to the bus-stops, the Children of Ziggy - a very Scottish mish-mash of self-conscious experiments with eyeliner and some Clockwork Orange loutishness of the "Who are you callin' a poof, ya poof?" variety - clomped into the auditorium in Freeman, Hardy & Willis's finest stack-heeled boots.

What was the concert like? Oh, I can't remember. The sound was almost certainly terrible - it always was back then. But the spectacle! A three-decade, on-off love affair - "It's platonic, ya radge - or metaphorical or somethin'" - was sealed with a kiss that night.

I wasn't as bad as some. A boy at my school, Ronnie Mills, bought every record our hero released and scribbled Bowie-esque love-poems in a jotter in a desperate attempt to get off with Alison Donald, the first girl in our year to progress from her trainer bra. Sometimes I see him on the bus to work and can't help wondering if he kept the faith, not with Alison, but with David, right the way through the Tin Machine tragedy and beyond.

I had the great misfortune to witness Bowie's heavy-metal hobby-band. "Good evening, Livingston!" he must have said, for that was where the gig was, but for different reasons - greatly improved sound, completely chronic songs - I don't remember much about this one either. An argument often trotted out is that while Roxy's Bryan Ferry made one musical leap - from brilliant to crap, or at least from far-out to stay-in, supersmooth sounds for the smug marrieds - David was constantly ch-ch-changing. Tin Machine, however, was the best advertisement there's ever been for remaining the s-s-same.

Murrayfield I do remember. I even remember the 5am queue for tickets - this was still the 1980s, still pre-credit-card rip-off hotlines - and wrote about this crucial part of the gig-going experience for the Edinburgh Evening News.

Yes, I reviewed the queue. I'm sure if I'd been allowed to write about the show, it would have been 500 words of highly subjective guff. But I've long since revised my opinion of the Serious Moonlight Tour, the dull, thudding stadium-rock of the Let's Dance album and - oh dear, so not his colour - the blond quiff.

Then - the 1980s weren't over yet - there was Ingliston. That tour was supposed to mark the last ever performances of the old songs, the Ziggy songs (not to be confused with the original Hammersmith Odeon "retirement" gig). Fans were urged to phone-vote for their favourites; the Mainman wore a suit of sombre black to croon about how, finally, he was going to "break up the band".

We could have crushed his sweet hands. He didn't stop playing them all through the 1990s. What did we expect? We didn't like his drum 'n' bass album. What did he expect?

Last December, 30 years after those days of Empire, David Bowie returned to Scotland and the SECC to sing new songs that sounded like old songs and old songs that sounded, well, as fantastic as he looked - a slinky vagabond who's proof positive of the life-enhancing powers of heroin, bisexuality and a flirtation with fascism. (Oh, and marrying a supermodel).

And next month he's going to sprinkle more Stardust memories at T in the Park. David, we can say it loud and proud now - we're actually rather fond of you.