1967-1968: STAGE BALL, FESTIVAL HALL AND CABARET

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar

Repertoire included:

Love You Till Tuesday | The Day That The Circus Left Town | The Laughing Gnome | When I'm Five | When I'm Sixty Four | Yellow Submarine | All You Need Is Love | When I Live My Dream | Even A Fool Learns To Love

David had long since parted company with The Riot Squad by November 1967, when he played two very different engagements. The first was in Amsterdam on November 8th when he performed "Love You Till Tuesday" for the Dutch television show Fenkleur, transmitted two days later - his first television appearance since March the previous year. The second was on November 19th, when he played a ten-minute live spot at London's Dorchester Hotel, this time accompanied by the Bill Saville Orchestra. The event was the Stage Ball on behalf of the British Heart Foundation, and Kenneth Pitt records that among those who enjoyed David's performance were Danny La Rue and Frazer Hines.

Outwardly, 1967 had seen the greatest advances yet in Bowie's career. His first album had garnered good reviews and the year ended with further acclaim for his part in Lindsay Kemp's Pierrot In Turquoise. Nevertheless, by now his finances were in a parlous state. Pierrot In Turquoise was arranged on a profit-share basis and, as any actor who has gone down that path will know, "profit-share" is a euphemism for "unpaid". Sales of David Bowie had not yet recouped David's original advance. After the excitement of the past twelve months, 1968 was to prove a year of frustrations.

A still from David Bowie's 'Love You Till Tuesday' video

Bowie's first live engagement of the year involved a trip to Hamburg to perform three songs for ZDF television's 4-3-2-1 Musik Fur Junge Leute on February 27th. The show's producer Gunther Schneider congratulated David on being "by far one of the most sensible and creative young artists I know." Not long afterwards, on a trip to London, Schneider would take David to see Cabaret at the Palace Theatre, and for this he deserves at least a footnote in the history of Bowie's theatrical influences.

Early March brought the second leg of Pierrot In Turquoise at London's Mercury Theatre, during which Bowie also returned to the Decca Studios with Tony Visconti to begin recording "In The Heat Of The Morning" and "London Bye Ta-Ta". These were completed in April, and in the same month Bowie contributed backing vocals to The Beatstalkers' cover of his composition "Everything Is You". However, after nearly a year of rebuttals Decca's rejection of the proposed single "In The Heat Of The Morning" proved the last straw, and by the end of April Bowie had left the label for good.

While Pitt busied himself trying to secure a new contract (being rejected by the Apple label among others), David recorded his second BBC radio session on May 13th. Next came a brief appearance in an eight-hour multiple-bill concert at Covent Garden's Middle Earth Club. This was in preparation for a twelve-minute spot on June 3rd at the Royal Festival Hall, where David supported Tyrannosaurus Rex on a bill that also included Stefan Grossman and Roy Harper. The compere at both events was John Peel, a newcomer to David's music who became a supportive ally in the years ahead.

David's brief spots at the Covent Garden and Festival Hall gigs consisted of a mime piece he had devised in the aftermath of Pierrot In Turquoise. Entitled Jetsun And The Eagle, it was performed against a specially prepared backing tape which incorporated "Silly Boy Blue" alongside some new music he had created with Tony Visconti: "David and I prepared a soundtrack containing what we thought might pass for Tibetan music, played on a Moroccan guitar-like instrument I'd bought in Portobello Road," Visconti explains in his autobiography. "We added improvised sound effects with saucepans (they were ceremonial cymbals) and I read a narration written by David. For some reason he decided my American accent made it sound more like a documentary." According to Visconti, the fiercely competitive Marc Bolan had only allowed David on the show's bill on the condition that he stuck to mime. "He didn't sing at all but had a tape going," Bolan later recalled, "and he'd act out a story about a Tibetan boy. It was quite good actually." Bowie later explained that the piece "told the story of how the Chinese had invaded Tibet and though the Tibetans may be struck down their spirit would fly for eternity." The piece culminated in the flying eagle mime that David would resurrect several years later for the Ziggy Stardust tour. According to Kenneth Pitt, "during the course of the [Festival Hall] performance an American voice suddenly shouted out, "Stop the propaganda", or words to that effect." Bowie recalled that "Word had got around that I would be doing this spot of propaganda and all the Maoists turned up and heckled me, waving their little red books in the air. Marc Bolan was delighted and thought it an unmitigated success. I was trembling with anger and went home sulking." Nevertheless, Jetsun And The Eagle drew praise from the International Times, which noted that "David Bowie, although one or two drags were heckling him, received the longest and loudest applause of all the performers, and he deserved it. It was a pity that he didn't have a longer set."

David Bowie - in mime: Middle Earth/Royal Festival Hall 1968 Poster

David was continuing to audition for various film roles while working part-time at a Carey Street printing firm called Legastat. During the summer, financial pressures led to his reluctant decision to revive an idea originally proposed by Kenneth Pitt a year earlier: that he should devise a one-man show specifically for the cabaret circuit. By late July he had begun rehearsing his act in earnest at Kenneth Pitt's flat, drawing up a repertoire which alternated his own compositions with several Beatles covers. His props included a glove-puppet "laughing gnome" and four home-made Beatles cut-outs, based on the Yellow Submarine figures which Pitt had borrowed from the film production's office. The pieces were linked by spoken interludes scripted by Pitt, and the variety-act ambience was sealed by the recitation of a poem: Roger McGough's "At Lunchtime - A Story Of Love", later an influence on "Five Years".

Before the cabaret act was unveiled, David played a 25-minute spot at the Marquee on August 1st as support to The Beatstalkers and Australian band The Groop, whose business affairs Pitt was managing during a British sojourn. Two weeks later, on August 15th, David privately auditioned his 27-minute cabaret showcase twice in one day, firstly in Kenneth Pitt's office before the booking agent Sidney Rose, and later at the Astor Club for two more agents, Harry Dawson and Michael Black. Although Dawson wrote an encouraging letter to Pitt the following day, the auditions met with no success and, as Pitt recounts, "I knew there and then that it was the end of the cabaret road." Pitt's recollection that Harry Dawson apologetically turned David down because he was "tremendous...marvellous...too good!" has been dutifully trotted out in many subsequent biographies, but in his 1988 book Starmakers And Svengalis Johnny Rogan tracked down Dawson, who told him, "I turned around to Ken and said, 'Let him have a good day job - he's never going to get anywhere'."

The abortive cabaret a show has been held up as proof of Pitt's inability to comprehend what he had in David Bowie, but while it was clearly a dreadful idea the episode has rebounded unfairly on Pitt's reputation. "Contrary to popular opinion," he told Christopher Sandford, "I hated cabaret. In the course of four years, I mentioned it to David once. That was when he was broke and unable to feed himself." Pitt later told Kevin Cann: "I never wanted David to go into cabaret at all. It was simply a way of trying to help him to make some quick money to appease his father, which is why it didn't go further than the auditions we did that day."

Within days of the ill-fated auditions David had moved on once more, leaving Pitt's Manchester Street flat to live with his girlfriend Hermione Farthingale. By September the pair were performing in a new acoustic three-piece called Turquoise.

The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg

The Complete David Bowie

by Nicholas Pegg

New Edition: Expanded and Updated

"This is the best Bowie reference book one could ever hope for"

Tony Visconti

David Bowie 1967
David Bowie 1967