Bowie Remembered by MR
I cannot for one moment profess to being an expert on David Bowie, I'm barely a fan. I love his work, but I've never truly explored it, just the stuff you hear on the radio, the iconic songs which everyone knows.
But whether or not I can call myself a fan per se, suffice to say I am a huge admirer of a man who never sat still. Like a chameleon he changed his colours to suit the time, to adapt to a fickle, ever changing industry. Sometimes, in the case of his move away from glam rock to a more black, soul channeling sound with Plastic Soul, he'd shift away from a burgeoning trend.
He was a true artist and innovator, but he was also a business man in the most wonderfully stubborn way. Instead of becoming simply a ripple in a glitter sprinkled ocean, he created a reservoir of his own and once more stood out as an original, as a renegade. Even when he flirted with drum n' bass or a dash of nu metal with Tin Machine, he was always relevant, always innovative and cutting edge while remaining against the grain.
And he will always, always be loved. Lazarus is beautifully haunting, listening to those lyrics now, they take on a much darker character. As far as final chapters go, we may close the book with a tear in our eye, but also with a smile curling our lips.
It was 1969 and a six year-old me was wide-eyed with the excitement of the Apollo mission and the lunar landing and when I heard David Bowies Space Oddity single I just had to have it. And so it went, whenever there was a Bowie single played on the radio, again I had to have it, but I never bought the albums at that earlier time (and yes, I did buy the Laughing Gnome single too). Beauty And The Beast is still my favourite Bowie song, a single from 1977 taken from the Heroes album.
A cassette copy of T-Rex’s Electric Warrior was a gift from my grandmother who had been on a cruise. Apparently she asked for something by David Bowie for me but they didn’t have any, the salesperson obviously pointed her in the direction of Bolan. And so these two events started my interest in Bowie, “art rock” which extended to electronica, prog and the new romantic scene.
I managed to see Bowie live a number of times but there were two shows that really stood out. The first was the “Glass Spider” tour where he played at Maine Road in July 1987. In many respects it was a ground-breaking tour taking the idea of a “the reality and unreality of rock” and moving them several steps further than had been done before – extremely theatrical meaning music, theatre and rock! The stage set was a huge spectacle and resembled a large spider and was to become the largest touring set at that time, requiring 43 trucks to move all 360 tons of it!
It was massive and from my perspective hugely enjoyable, a combination of hits, new songs and a few surprises too. For me there was the added bonus of seeing Bowie’s schoolboy mate, Peter Frampton, playing guitar for him and of whom I was a huge fan.
There were props, dancers and Bowie lowered onto the stage from the spiders mouth at the start of the show. I loved it. The critics hated it probably because they didn’t get it (the NME: “unmemorable tedium,” Melody Maker: “the paucity of ideas is quite incredible,” Sounds: “frenzied schlock”). Yes there were clichés and stereotypes but that was all part of the show. In the 2000’s the show was reassessed by critics as it had laid the framework for rocks show tours by the ‘Stones, Madonna, Prince, U2 et al. and won a posthumous award.
As a consequence of this tour Bowie was physically drained and in critically low standing even though the tour had been a huge commercial success. He then decided to make music for himself. Enter Tin Machine.
Again, personally, I liked Tin Machine. It was a back to basics rock band with arty elements but also a considerable amount of impure blues rock too. But again the critics took a huge swipe at Bowie and the two albums because they wanted Bowie. He was just ahead of the curve…again. The band toured the UK to promote the second album and in November ’91 they played at the International 2 on Plymouth Grove (pretty much where a Chinese restaurant is now situated).
It was a complete contrast to the Glass Spider tour. Not only were the theatricals gone but you could actually see Bowie on a small stage with a small band. It was loud, powerful, raw and great fun – something that many Bowie tours were not. You could clearly see the man was enjoying himself being part of a band with Reeves Gabrels providing some sharp guitar sounds that could rip your throat out and the Sales brothers delivering a very solid rhythm. And being a small venue, about 1000 person capacity, it was packed, hot and sweaty which just added to the evening.
Bowie was always in my conscience with such a varying body of work and with so many of the artists I do like pointing and referencing back directly to him. Thanks for everything Mr Bowie, you were a hero for most of my life.
Photographs ℅ davidbowie.com, Blackstar birthday portrait © 2016 Jimmy King via davidbowie.com