1971: AMERICA, GLASTONBURY & AYLESBURY

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar

WITH on selected dates only:

  • Mick Ronson: Guitar, Piano

  • Rick Wakeman: Piano

  • Trevor Bolder: Bass

  • Mick Woodmansey: Drums

  • Tom Parker: Piano

Repertoire included:

Holy Holy | All The Madmen | Queen Bitch | Bombers | The Supermen | Looking For A Friend | Almost Grown | Kooks | Song For Bob Dylan | Andy Warhol | It Ain't Easy | Memory Of A Free Festival | Oh! You Pretty Things | Eight Line Poem | Changes | Amsterdam | Waiting For The Man | White Light/White Heat | Fill Your Heart | Buzz The Fuzz | Space Oddity | Round And Round | Quicksand | It's Gonna Rain Again

In contrast to the non-stop gigging that would begin the following year, 1971 was one of Bowie's quietest periods in the live arena. On January 18th he made his only substantial television appearance of the year, performing his new single "Holy Holy" for an edition of Granada Television's Newsday shown two days later. On January 23rd he travelled to America to begin a short tour arranged by Mercury Records to promote The Man Who Sold The World. David Bowie's first trip to the land of his dreams began inauspiciously with a body-search at Washington's International Airport, where immigration officials were apparently alarmed at the spectacle of the long-haired, effeminate English musician.

Despite having acquired a green card when he married Angela, David was as yet unable to perform owing to the union stipulations of the American Federation of Musicians, and the promotion was restricted to interviews and personal appearances in Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In LA he was looked after by the Mercury publicist, disc jockey and local scene-maker Rodney Bingenheimer, who would become one of David's staunchest champions in America over the next few years. While in Los Angeles David stayed with RCA Records producer Tom Ayers, another influential figure who, following David's move to RCA later in the year, would play a key role in helping him to break the American market.

The Man Who Sold The World - Alternate Album Covers 1971

David had brought along some of his Mr Fish dresses, and wherever he went in America his unusual attire caused a stir: on his first night in Los Angeles he was refused entry to a restaurant on the grounds that he was a transvestite. More accommodating were the Valentine's Day parties thrown by various of Ayer's Hollywood contacts, including attorney Paul Feigen and socialite Dianne Bennett. At Feigen's party David strummed a selection of numbers from The Man Who Sold The World, perched cross-legged on a waterbed. Many years later, a snatch of "All The Madmen" recorded at this soiree would appear on the 2004 soundtrack album of the Rodney Bingenheimer biopic Mayor Of The Sunset Strip.

While in America Bowie was interviewed by Rolling Stone's John Mendelsohn, who inadvertently captured a crucial moment in the genesis of the coming superstar. David, whom Mendelsohn found "almost disconcertingly reminiscent of Lauren Bacall", announced that he was intending to "bring mime into a traditional Western setting, to focus the attention of the audience with a very stylised, a very Japanese style of movement." In the same interview Bowie made his now famous pronouncement that rock music "should be tarted up, made into a prostitute, a parody of itself. It should be the clown, the Pierrot medium. The music is the mask the message wears - music is the Pierrot and I, the performer, am the message." In this convoluted conflation of Warhol, Marshall McLuhan and Lindsay Kemp, Bowie had set the template for Ziggy Stardust.

Several other pieces of the Ziggy jigsaw fell into place during David's first American visit. The period of intense creativity which would soon spawn both Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust was already well under way, and at Tom Ayer's house in Los Angeles David made demo recordings of several new compositions, including "Hang On To Yourself". It was also while staying in Los Angeles that he first began speaking of an album concept about a character called Ziggy Stardust.

Back in Britain, following months of intensive songwriting, demoing and toying with artificial group constructs like Arnold Corns and Nicky King's All Stars, Bowie finally assembled a band towards the end of May and prepared to begin work on his next album. He had played no substantial concerts for nearly a year, and his return to the live circuit in the summer of 1971 was not without its teething troubles. The first engagement was a concert session for BBC radio on June 3rd. Bowie was unhappy with the results - among other things, he made a complete hash of the lyrics to "Bombers" - and according to Bob Grace of Chrysalis he "freaked out" in the pub afterwards: "He thought his career was over, he thought he had blown it."

Thankfully he had not, and at the open-air Glastonbury Fayre festival in Somerset on June 23rd, Bowie was warmly received despite some unusual circumstances. The previous night's schedule had overrun disastrously and David's slot was cancelled when the authorities insisted on a 10.30pm cessation. Undeterred, David began his set at five o'clock in the morning, just as the 8000 muddy festival-goers were stirring in their tents. A team from the London-based Radio Geronimo, which had ceased broadcasting a few months earlier and was now investigating fresh avenues in the music business, had obtained permission from the organisers to record the Glastonbury performances, but Bowie's dawn chorus caught them on the hoof. "I came out of my tent and heard this glorious sound," engineer John Lundsten said, "so I pounded down the hill. The recording equipment was on a platform immediately under the stage, so I crawled under and got to work. I only missed the very beginning."

Bowie's Glastonbury set consisted of "The Supermen", "Quicksand", "Changes", "Oh! You Pretty Things", "Kooks", "It's Gonna Rain Again" and "Memory Of A Free Festival", followed by an encore of "Amsterdam", "Song For Bob Dylan" and "Bombers". Playing alone, David alternated between acoustic guitar and electric keyboard, adding some harmonica on "Song For Bob Dylan". Between numbers he was relaxed, garrulous, intimate and funny: introducing "Kooks" he announced that "I married an American - round of applause, please," before going on to claim that the three-week-old Zowie had weighed eight stone seven pounds at birth and was "three feet taller than I am." Before "Oh! You Pretty Things" (by some distance the most familiar number in the set, with Peter Noone's hit cover version sitting at its chart peak that very week), David treated the Glastonbury crowd to a snatch of the song's antecedent, the knockabout composition "I'd Like A Big Girl With A Couple Of Melons". This unexpected intermezzo was interrupted by another, as the stage was invaded by a Scandinavian girl on an acid trip: David did his best to accommodate the interloper, good-humouredly inviting her to sit beside him on the piano stool as he paused to remove a beetle which had crawled between the keys, but as he attempted to launch into "Oh! You Pretty Things", his newfound friend repeatedly insisted on wailing tuneless and unsolicited backing vocals. "This is about homo superior, love," laughed David. "You're letting the lyrics down badly!" Exhorting his uninvited collaborator to "go and get some bacon and eggs", David was left in peace and a drew a line under the interlude by putting on his hat and camping it up for the crowd in finest Sombrero-going fashion: "Oh, it's given me a new personality. I feel a different man every day!" Free at last to take an uninterrupted run at "Oh! You Pretty Things", he rose to the occasion with one of the highlights of the set. As the performance continued, the waking crowd began to gather in greater numbers. According to Dana Gillespie, as David began singing "Memory Of A Free Festival" "the sun came over the hill and lit him up and everyone warmed to him. He was a huge success." There's every reason to believe that Bowie's reception at Glastonbury buoyed up his enthusiasm for the momentous work that lay ahead: before "Memory Of A Free Festival" he told the crowd, "I'll try and be serious for a second...I just want to say that you've given me more pleasure than I've had in a good few months of working, and I don't do gigs any more because I got so pissed off with working, and dying a death every time I worked, and it's really nice to have somebody appreciate me for a change." In the aftermath of Glastonbury, David would be among the artists who vetoed the release of the live recordings, but instead he donated his 1971 studio version of "The Supermen" to the following year's Revelations album.

Glastonbury Fayre Festival June 23rd 1971
David Bowie at Glastonbury June 23rd 1971

As the Hunky Dory sessions progressed David played a handful of low-key gigs, including an acoustic set on July 21st at the Country Club in Hampstead, accompanied by Mick Ronson on guitar and Rick Wakeman on piano. The gig was attended by the cast of Pork, the controversial show that was about to open at the nearby Roundhouse, marking Bowie's first encounter with the future stars of the MainMan circus. Of the show itself, Jayne County later recalled that David "had on these baggy yellow pants, a floppy hat, long hippy hair. I hated the way he was dressed, although his songs were nice..."Changes", "Kooks", all those. He'd written "Andy Warhol" by then, and when he played it Cherry [Vanilla] stood up and popped her tit out. The other 28 people in the audience all gasped."

On the completion of Hunky Dory in September, David returned to America with Angela and Tony Defries to sign his new contract with RCA. As on his earlier visit he was unable to perform, but the trip was memorable for a number of other reasons: at the invitation of Pork's Tony Zanetta, David met Andy Warhol at the Factory in Greenwich Village, while at the Ginger Man restaurant he was introduced by RCA's Dennis Katz to another hero, Lou Reed. "David was flirtatious and coy," Zanetta later recounted, "He was in his Lauren Bacall phase, with his Veronica Lake hairdo and eyeshadow. So he let Lou take the driver's seat conversationally." At an RCA reception at Max's Kansas City later the same evening, David had his first encounter with yet another pivotal figure in his career: Iggy Pop. The last-minute meeting was arranged at David's request by journalist Lisa Robinson, a friend of A&R man Danny Fields, at whose New York apartment Iggy happened to be staying at the time: "I was there one night, watching Mr Smith Goes To Washington on TV and getting misty, because I identified with it," Iggy recalled many years later. "Then the phone rings, and it's Danny at Max's. It took three calls for him to get me there to meet David: 'Look, this guy could help you'." The morning after the party, Iggy joined David and Defries for a breakfast meeting at their hotel; having recently lost his recording contract, Iggy was about to be thrown a lifeline by his influential new admirer.

David Bowie in L.A. 1971
Friars, Market Square, Aylesbury - Saturday September 25th 1971

Back in England, the Ziggy Stardust sessions now imminent, David and his band played at the Friars, Aylesbury on September 25th. Although in itself an inauspicious one-off, this date was of crucial importance as the first full concert by the band soon to be known as The Spiders From Mars. The show opened with Bowie and Ronson alone, performing acoustic versions of "Fill Your Heart", "Buzz The Fuzz", "Space Oddity" (introduced by David as "one of my own that we get over with as soon as possible") and "Amsterdam". Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey then joined in for "The Supermen", and having played piano on "Oh! You Pretty Things" and "Eight Line Poem" David introduced Tom Parker, sometime organist with The Animals, to "take over the piano and play it properly for the rest of the evening." There followed four more Hunky Dory numbers, then "Looking For A Friend", "Round And Round" and a final encore of "Waiting For The Man".

Kris Needs, a local journalist who covered the gig, told Dave Thompson that Bowie "was still going around with his long hair and floppy hats, but he was great to watch on stage. He had just got back from New York and was full of talk about the people he'd met there, Lou and Warhol, and he played "Waiting For The Man"...which was the first time I'd ever heard anybody acknowledge The Velvet Underground. The response to that gig was amazing. I still think that, more than any other show he played, it was that one which finally decided him that he could make a go of it in this country. After the show he was sitting there, very quietly, but very excitedly."

Busy in the studio, Bowie remained largely absent from the stage until the end of January 1972, when he reappeared in Aylesbury with a rather different show. The quiet excitement detected by Needs had been justified. David Bowie's time had come.

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