1969-1970: GROWTH, FREE FESTIVAL AND SOLO DATES

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar

 

WITH on selected dates only:

  • Tim Renwick: Guitar

  • John Lodge: Bass

  • John Cambridge: Drums

Repertoire included:

When I Live My Dream | Space Oddity | Let Me Sleep Beside You | Amsterdam | God Knows I'm Good | Buzz The Fuzz | Karma Man | London Bye Ta-Ta | An Occasional Dream | Janine | Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud | Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed | Fill Your Heart | The Prettiest Star | Cygnet Committee | Threepenny Pierrot | Columbine | The Mirror | Don't Think Twice, It's Alright | She Belongs To Me | I'm So Glad

Following the dissolution of Feathers, Bowie's live career followed its nose with a sporadic series of engagements during the run-up to the Space Oddity album. On April 14th he took up residence at the flat of his new friend Mary Finnigan in Foxgrove Road, Beckenham. Here, out of Kenneth Pitt's orbit, David and Mary established a folk club with the assistance of Calvin Mark Lee and Angela Barnett. Its inaugural meeting took place on Sunday May 4th in the function room of the Three Tuns pub on Beckenham High Street. Twenty-five people attended, and after a guest spot by Tim Hollier, Bowie performed an acoustic set against a projected psychedelic backdrop. "He was very together," recalled Finnigan later. "Barry Lowe brought his 'liquid whirl' and the people loved it."

David Bowie - Growth - Arts Lab

The success of the first folk club meeting ensured a regular run of Sunday gatherings at the Three Tuns. The following week 50 people came, the week after 90, and thereafter the meetings spilled out into the pub's garden. "David was very idealistic in those days," said Mary, "and we began to get more of a community feeling. Love and Peace were moving out to the suburbs." As other creative types pitched in - poets, film students, even Mary Finnigan's children - the club developed into what was popularly called an "Arts Laboratory", and was renamed Growth. "There's a lot of talent in the green belt and there is a load of tripe in Drury Lane," David told Melody Maker. "I think the Arts Lab movement is extremely important." Among the names who made guest appearances at the Three Tuns were Lionel Bart, Steve Harley, Marc Bolan, and Bowie's erstwhile mentor Chime Youngdong Rimpoche. The less established regulars at Growth included local guitarist Keith Christmas, shortly to play on the Space Oddity album, and puppet maker Brian Moore, who would later forge a successful career creating weird and wonderful creatures for films like The Neverending Story, and bestowing on a generation of BBC viewers the gift of Otis the Aardvark. Keith Christmas later told Christopher Sandford that Bowie was "something of a twerp in those days...someone who'd strum a few folk songs in between a lot of crap about changing the world," but qualified this by adding that "there's no doubt he really meant it. One thing about Dave - he always believed in what he did when he was doing it." Of course, the reality of the Arts Lab fell short of the lofty idealism on which it was founded, as Bowie later admitted: "Very little happened at these 'happenings'. The idea was to let everyone take it over and do whatever they liked but, as is always the case with those situations, it ended up with three of us doing all the work and everyone else sitting on their arses."

Along with other early landmarks on Bowie's road to fame, the Three Tuns has since become something of a Mecca for fans. It was renamed the Rat and Parrot in the 1980s, but after a petition by the Beckenham Town Residents' Association in 2001, the Noble House Pub Company consented to revert its name to the Three Tuns. On December 6th 2001, a plaque was unveiled by Mary Finnigan and Steve Harley to commemorate the pub's key role in the development of Bowie's career. "Following a change of ownership the plaque was later removed for a few years, but on October 18th 2010 it was restored to the building, which had now become a branch of the Italian restaurant chain Zizzi, its interior subsequently redecorated on a Bowie theme - click HERE for more info.)

In addition to the regular Arts Lab meetings at the Three Tuns, Bowie played various other gigs in the summer of 1969, most of which were one-man acoustic affairs. On May 10th David and Tony Visconti recorded an appearance with The Strawbs (miming to their number "Poor Jimmy Wilson") for the BBC2 show Colour Me Pop, broadcast the following month.

David Bowie - Growth - Arts Lab 1969

On July 24th, by which time the Space Oddity sessions were under way, David flew with Kenneth Pitt to Valletta to take part in the Malta International Song Festival. From there they continued to Rome and made the six-hour coach journey to Mansummano Terme for a repeat performance at Tuscany's Festival Internazionale del Disco, arranged by the same entrepreneur and with the same roster of artists. In his memoir Pitt refutes the accusation made by some, notably Angela, that this sojourn was some sort of attempt to wrest control of David from his new coterie - "Our main reason for going to those Mediterranean countries was to get a free holiday in the sun...I made no demands, expected nothing," he insists. At the Maltese Festival David sang "When I Live My Dream" to the backing of the house orchestra, and came second behind the winning Spanish entrant, Cristina. Before leaving for Italy he joined his fellow artists in an impromptu concert for the ship's company on board the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. At the Italian Festival in Monsummano Terme on August 1st he again performed "When I Live My Dream", which received a "Best Produced Record" award during the following day's closing ceremony.

Bowie and Pitt arrived home on August 3rd to the awful news - not broken to David until after his gig at the Three Tuns that afternoon - that his father was seriously ill with pneumonia. David rushed to the bedside and is said to have pressed into his father's hands the trophy he had won at the festival. Haywood Jones died two days later.

While the Space Oddity sessions continued, August 16th saw the apotheosis of the Growth Arts Lab in the form of an open-air free festival held at Beckenham Recreation Ground. On the other side of the Atlantic, crowds were massing for the second day of the free-love generation's zenith, the three-day Woodstock festival. At Beckenham's rather more modest contribution to the global love-in, Bowie's headlining set was supported by performers including Space Oddity sessioner Keith Christmas, The Strawbs, Sun, Gas Works, Miscarriage, Amory Kane, Bridget St John, Oswald K, Gun Hill, Comus, Clem Alford, Peter Horton, Appendix To Part One, and Kamirah & Giles & Abdul. Also on offer were ceramic and jewellery stalls, puppetry and street theatre, a Tibetan shop, coconut shies and an assault course. The event was committed to legend in "Memory Of A Free Festival", although the story famously goes that David's mood on the day was at odds with the nostalgic sentiments expressed in the song. Few have bothered to point out that he had buried his father only five days earlier.

​It was during August that David and Angela moved to their celebrated home at Haddon Hall, a spacious Edwardian house converted into flats at 42 Southend Road, Beckenham. Bowie's apartment incorporated a grand central staircase leading to a stained-glass window and horseshoe-shaped landing whose connecting doors had been blocked off during the conversion, leaving what David and his friends dubbed the minstrel's gallery. Over the next few years Haddon Hall would become an unofficial demo studio, photo-shoot location, campaign office and all-purpose commune for the Bowie entourage, and was home at various times to such individuals as Tony Visconti and Mick Ronson. Its air of tattered Edwardian finery and its reputation as a haunted house (Bowie, Visconti and many others insisted that they often saw the ghost of a young woman in the garden) made Haddon Hall the perfect setting for David's gradual rise to stardom.

Growth Summer Festival and Free Concert August 16th 1969

On August 25th David was in Hilversum, Holland, recording a mimed performance of "Space Oddity" for the Dutch television show Doebidoe. On September 13th he compered another open-air concert, this time a smaller affair at Bromley's Library Gardens, where in addition to his own set he joined local schoolboy band Maya for an unrehearsed performance of the blues classic "I'm So Glad". On October 2nd he recorded his first ever Top Of The Pops appearance and, as "Space Oddity" began catching on, Kenneth Pitt arranged a 20-minute support slot on a tour by Humble Pie, the band led by Steve Marriott and David's old schoolmate Peter Frampton. Their manager Andrew Oldham originally wanted Bowie to perform his mime routines, but acquiesced to his wish to play straight songs instead. The nine-date tour started in Coventry on October 8th, and later in the month David recorded a BBC radio session for The Dave Lee Travis Show.

Following the end of the Humble Pie tour, Bowie flew to Berlin - his first visit to a city that would later become pivotal to his music - to perform "Space Oddity" on ZDF's 4-3-2-1 Musik Fur Junge Leute. November 2nd saw another inaugural trip, this time to Switzerland for a mimed performance of "Space Oddity" on the following day's edition of Hits A-Go-Go.

Having played a couple of solo dates in England at the end of October, Bowie began a short tour of Scotland the following month to coincide with the release of Space Oddity. This outing, on which David was backed for the first few dates by Junior's Eyes, can justifiably claim to be Bowie's first bona fide solo tour. The show began with a Junior's Eyes support set, after which David replaced vocalist Graham Kelly to play a selection of numbers from Space Oddity peppered with a few covers. "It was quite a strange affair, a bit of a lash-up really," guitarist Tim Renwick later recalled. Bowie, whose previous gigging experience rested largely in the realm of loudly amplified R&B, was unprepared for the reception awaiting his new acoustic folk style: "I thought haughtily, 'I'll go out and sing my songs!', not knowing what audiences were like in those days. Sure enough, it was a revival of the Mod thing which had since turned into skinheads. They couldn't abide me. No way! The whole spitting, cigarette-flicking abuse thing by audiences started long before the punks of 1977 in my own frame of reference." Angela Bowie later recalled that the Gillingham audience was particularly hostile: "The crowd didn't want to hear David, they wanted to hear Buddy Holly. So I rounded up the support band and asked if any of them knew any Buddy Holly songs. They did, so David went out and played an entire set of Buddy Holly numbers and went down great! Then he came to the end and sang "Space Oddity" and that was that. Everybody started throwing beer bottles and cigarette ends at him."

The most prestigious of the autumn gig's was David's headliner at the Royal Festival Hall's Purcell Room on November 20th. Kenneth Pitt had booked the concert a year earlier in the hope that David might have had some success by then, and his timing turned out to be immaculate. However, Pitt's dwindling influence and the ascendancy of David's new ally Calvin Mark Lee led to a dispute between the two over responsibility for promoting the gig, and each would later blame the other for what ensued. The Purcell Room concert was a personal triumph for David, but was attended by so few journalists that its purpose - coverage in the national press - was confounded. Bowie was furious, and neither Pitt nor Lee would ever be fully trusted thereafter. "I have never seen him perform so well, either before or since," said Pitt many years later. "David Bowie happened that night. Had the press been there, everything that happened to him in 1972 would have happened in November 1969."

Among the few who reviewed the show was Tony Palmer of The Observer, who commended the "sizzling concert" and the "spectacularly good" "Space Oddity", but found some of David's "love reveries" - "An Occasional Dream" and the like - "dreary, self-pitying and monotonous". Music Now! reported that "His performance was astounding. He had the audience bewitched with his words, his music, his voice and his professionalism. With simplicity and sincerity he sang his songs. He has his own style, but also great imagination and versatility."

On November 30th David performed "Space Oddity" at Save Rave '69, an all-star charity show at the London Palladium in aid of the Invalid Children's Aid Association. The concert was attended by Princess Margaret, to whom David was presented. It was his final live show of the year and of the decade. On January 8th 1970, his twenty-third birthday, David performed at London's Speakeasy club after beginning work on the single version of "The Prettiest Star" earlier the same day. This was the first of several one-off bookings organised through the NEMS agency. David played acoustic guitar, accompanied by Tony Visconti on bass and John Cambridge on drums. The gig was attended by Tim Hughes of Jeremy magazine, who recorded that Bowie sat "Perched precariously on two boxes - a luminous elfin face surrounded by an aureole of blond curls - he looks very vulnerable."

On January 29th David and Angela travelled to Aberdeen to record an appearance on Grampian TV's Cairngorm Ski Night. "London Bye Ta-Ta" was still being mooted as the forthcoming single and this was the song David performed, backed by the show's resident ensemble The Alex Sutherland Band. Cairngorm Ski Night was a hybrid of variety and arts review, and in keeping with its title the musical acts were encouraged to wear ski jumpers: apparently Bowie declined this request and stuck to his own attire. A member of the production team later recalled that David also performed a mime or dance piece with Angela, and that a synthesizer recently purchased by Grampian was pressed into service; sadly the tape is long since wiped. To make the trip financially worthwhile Pitt secured David an engagement at Aberdeen University the following night, at which David was accompanied by drummer Tex Johnson, a session player drafted in at short notice by Tony Visconti, who played bass. When Lindsay Kemp, now based in Edinburgh, heard of David's forthcoming Scottish trip he contacted Pitt to offer David two days' work on a television adaptation of Pierrot In Turquoise.

At the Marquee on February 3rd Bowie was backed by a trio of Space Oddity veterans: Tony Visconti on bass, John Cambridge on drums and Tim Renwick on guitar. It was while socialising after this gig in La Chasse, a Wardour Street bar popular with the Marquee crowd, that David was first introduced to Mick Ronson, a friend of Cambridge's from Hull who had been wooed down to London to meet Bowie at the drummer's insistence. Within two days of the Marquee concert Bowie had hired Ronson as a full-time guitarist, and one of the cornerstones of his forthcoming success had been cemented into place.

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 1969
David Bowie 1969