HYPE

FEBRUARY 5th - JUNE 16th 1970

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar

  • Mick Ronson: Guitar

  • Tony Visconti: Bass

  • John Cambridge: Drums (February - March)

  • Mick Woodmansey: Drums (May - June)

Repertoire included:

Amsterdam | God Knows I'm Good | Buzz The Fuzz | Karma Man | London Bye Ta-Ta | An Occasional Dream | The Width Of A Circle | Janine | Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud | Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed | Fill Your Heart | The Prettiest Star | Cygnet Committee | Madame George | Space Oddity | Memory Of A Free Festival | Waiting For The Man | The Supermen | Instant Karma!

The introduction of Mick Ronson to the Bowie camp in February 1970 was the latest in a succession of auspicious arrivals - Tony Visconti, Ken Scott, Angela Barnett - who would prove fundamental to David's commercial and artistic breakthrough. Ronson was Bowie's first true partner and collaborator, and many still believe that the level of his contribution to David's work has been underestimated. Ever a shy and self-effacing character, Ronson told a reporter many years later that "I was never really a writer, I was always more of a performer. David was a writer and a performer. What I'm good at is putting riffs to things, and hook-lines, making things up so songs sound more memorable." But there was more to Mick Ronson than that: his hard-boiled rock sensibility, combined with his classical training and multi-instrumental skill (Ronson's string arrangements and piano playing on albums like Ziggy Stardust are often criminally underrated) brought Bowie exactly the colleague he needed.

The chain of events by which Ronson entered Bowie's orbit is complicated and has often been misrepresented, so let us attempt an accurate - if potted - version. A classically trained pianist who turned during his teenage years to the violin, recorder and finally guitar, Mick Ronson hailed from Kingston-upon-Hull, where his early bands had included local pub outfits called The Mariners and The King Bees. The latter - no relation, of course, to Bowie's 1964 outfit - also featured future Steeleye Span bassist Rick Kemp, a connection that would pave the way for a Bowie collaboration many years later. After spells with The Crestas, The Voice and Wanted, in 1966 Ronson joined a three-year-old Hull band called The Rats, who had already cut a couple of flop singles (which pre-date Ronson and in which, contrary to widespread belief, he played no part). A band of ever-changing line-ups, The Rats were fronted at this stage by Benny Marshall, who would later play harmonica on "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed". During the Space Oddity sessions Marshall was introduced to Bowie by drummer John Cambridge, another former Rat who had left to join Junior's Eyes in early 1969. Cambridge proceeded to recommend other members of The Rats to join Bowie, in particular their talented guitarist. Meanwhile The Rats' replacement drummer was another Hull player, Mick "Woody" Woodmansey, who would soon displace John Cambridge once again.

David Bowie and Hype - Roundhouse London February 22nd 1970

At around the time that Benny Marshall was playing harmonica for Bowie, Ronson was making his vinyl debut, not with The Rats but as lead guitarist on Michael Chapman's Fully Qualified Survivor. This record was produced by Gus Dudgeon, hot on the heels of his work on "Space Oddity", and indeed Dudgeon would later claim that it was this connection, and not John Cambridge, that brought about Ronson's first meeting with Bowie. According to Tony Visconti, Ronson actually dropped into Trident during the mixing of "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" and played "a little guitar line in the middle part and joined in the hand-claps in the same section," but most sources dispute this recollection. Whatever the case, by November 1969 Ronson was back in Hull with The Rats who, despite undertaking some studio sessions at around this time, were drifting into the doldrums. By January 1970, when John Cambridge travelled north to seek him out, Ronson was working as a municipal groundsman for Hull City Council, marking out the lines on a rugby pitch. Although on the point of abandoning music Ronson agreed to accompany Cambridge to London, where he was introduced to Bowie after the Marquee gig on February 3rd. "We just sat around in David's flat," Ronson recalled in 1984. "I picked up a guitar and jammed with him. He said, 'Hey, do you wanna come down to do this radio show and play with me?'" Sure enough, two days later Ronson was playing in Bowie's band.

The new four-piece received its baptism at the BBC's Paris Cinema Studio on February 5th 1970, in a live concert recorded for John Peel's The Sunday Show. "I didn't know anything, none of the material," Ronson later said. "I just sat and watched his fingers. I didn't really know what I was doing, but everybody seemed to like it. I don't know if it was treated as an audition or not, I never really thought of it like that. I was just playing, it was a normal thing for me."

After collecting a "Brightest Hope" award at Disc & Music Echo's Valentine's Day Awards ceremony on February 13th, David withdrew to Haddon Hall, where the entire band was now living, to plan his next publicity offensive. The question of the new band's name was resolved during a telephone call to Kenneth Pitt. Bowie remarked to his manager that "the whole thing is just one big hype," to which Pitt responded, "Then why not call it The Hype?" In the event, pace Kenneth Pitt and nearly every subsequent piece of writing on the subject, the group was simply called "Hype" without the definite article, as evidenced by every surviving interview, poster and ticket. "I deliberately chose the name in favour of something that sounded perhaps heavy," David told Melody Maker the following month, "because now no-one can say they're being conned." It was his first significant embrace of the provocative artificiality that would inform his archetypal "plastic rock'n'roller" Ziggy Stardust.

Although the band's name arrived too late to be featured on the billing, Hype made its concert debut on February 22nd at an event called Implosion at London's Roundhouse, where they played alongside Caravan, The Groundhogs and Bachdenkel, bands who epitomised what Bowie later referred to as the "incredibly denim-y stage" of rock music that he and his peers would soon overthrow so spectacularly. It was an epoch-making moment for, after years of personal experimentation in costume and make-up, Bowie now coaxed his entire band to dress up with flamboyant theatricality. The group arrived on the Roundhouse stage in outrageous costumes made by Angela Barnett and Liz Hartley, Tony Visconti's girlfriend. The outfits were apparently inspired by a night David and Angie had spent with the photographer Ray Stevenson, who had revealed a passion for comic-strip superheroes. Sure enough, each member of Hype assumed the persona of a gaudy cartoon character. Bowie himself became Rainbowman (in multi-coloured lurex tights, thigh boots and the silver "Space Oddity" jacket previously seen in Love You Till Tuesday), Visconti was Hypeman (in a Superman-style outfit with a giant "H" on his chest), while Ronson borrowed the sharp double-breasted suit often sported by David in recent months to become Gangsterman, and Cambridge, in a frilly shirt and outsized ten-gallon hat, was Cowboyman. A more incongruous mismatch with the other acts would be hard to imagine, and although the concert has been famously dubbed "the birth of glam rock", its reception on the night left a lot to be desired. "We died a death," Bowie admitted later.

All the same, Hype's Roundhouse concert deserves its place in history. The time was not yet right and some of the band were unconvinced, but for Bowie the die was cast. "I just stopped after that performance, because I knew it was right," he told the NME some years later. "I knew it was what I wanted to do and I knew it was what people would want eventually." In the meantime he put on a brave face, telling Melody Maker in March 1970 that "We've had these costumes made by various girlfriends which make us look like Dr Strange or the Incredible Hulk. I was a bit apprehensive about wearing them at the Roundhouse gig because I didn't know how the audience would react...but they seemed to accept it, which was nice."

Although Kenneth Pitt notes that David's and Angela's demand for a minimum fee of £150 per Hype show met with total failure, a handful of gigs followed during February and March, mainly at London Arts Lab venues already familiar to David. At Hull University on March 6th (a gig arranged through The Rats' local connections) the band was joined on stage by Benny Marshall on harmonica. The following night's London gig was panned by Disc & Music Echo: "David Bowie, in ten-league boots and groovy gear, presented his new backing group line-up Hype. He needs an expert on sound balance...The show was a disaster. The volume on Mick Ronson's lead guitar was so high that not only did he block out David's singing but also completely over-powered John Cambridge's drums." Not every Hype show was wall-to-wall rock: there would also be an interlude during which the band stepped down while David played a short acoustic set, culminating in "Space Oddity", and some reports have suggested that he even revived his psychedelic 1966 out-take "Bunny Thing". Between Hype engagements, David played a few acoustic solo dates including a Mencap charity gig at the Albert Hall. "I want to retain Hype and myself as two separate working units whereby we can retain our own identities," he told Melody Maker.

On March 11th Hype played a second Roundhouse gig, this time sharing the bill with a little-known outfit called Genesis. For this performance the band upped the ante by augmenting their already outlandish costumes, David now adding a billowing stain cape to his ensemble. Once again the audience reception was muted: among the denim-clad crowd only Marc Bolan entered into the spirit of things, arriving dressed as a Roman legionary complete with a plastic breastplate from Woolworth's. For Tony Visconti the evening ended in humiliation: his clothes were stolen from the dressing room and he was forced to return home in his Hypeman costume.

David Bowie and Hype - Roundhouse London February 22nd 1970
David Bowie and Hype - Roundhouse London February 22nd 1970 - Review

In 1998 some film footage of "Memory Of A Free Festival", "The Supermen" and "Waiting For The Man" from his second Roundhouse concert surfaced from a private collection, offering one of the very few moving picture records of David on stage from the pre-Ziggy 1970s. Excerpts have since appeared in documentaries including VH1's Legends and A&E's Sound & Vision.

At 11.00am on March 20th, the day after a performance at the Three Tuns in Beckenham, David and Angela were married at Bromley Register Office in a low-key ceremony attended by a handful of Haddon Hall friends, including John Cambridge and Liz Hartley. Tony Visconti was unable to attend, being busy at a studio session with The Strawbs. An unexpected arrival was David's mother Peggy, who had got wind of the occasion the night before and alerted a couple of local papers, whose photographers were on hand to preserve the day for posterity. "Looks like Hello! magazine were at this one too!" joked David in 1993 when Q magazine showed him a strip of shots from the Kentish Times. "Second biggest mistake of my life marrying that woman."

David's first marriage has generated a lot of overheated prose over the years. Claims and counter-claims continue about whether it was merely an excuse to resolve Angela's UK visitor status, a chance for David to get his hands on a green card, or a business contract whereby each agreed to promote the other's career in turn. The significance of Angela's role in David's rise to fame has been ludicrously over-played in some quarters, but although her creative input is often exaggerated, her practical contribution as a fixer and all-round motivating force is beyond question. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1993, Bowie made a rare comment on the subject: "The reason that we got married was for her to get a work permit to work in England, which really wasn't the basis for a good marriage. And it was very short, remember. I mean, by '74 we rarely saw each other. After that she would drop in or drop out for a weekend or so, but we were virtually living our separate lives. There was no real togetherness." The story did not end happily, and the aftermath has made for some poisonous literature - some of it by Angela herself.

On March 25th Hype recorded another BBC radio session, and five days later the band played the last gig in its original line-up, marking John Cambridge's final Bowie concert. Following the completion of studio work on the single version of "Memory Of A Free Festival" the following month, he returned to Hull, supplanted at Ronson's suggestion by Mick Woodmansey.

On April 12th, six days before sessions began for The Man Who Sold The World, Bowie played two half-hour solo spots alongside the Keef Hartley Band at Harrogate Theatre in Yorkshire. The engagement had come about following negotiations between Kenneth Pitt and the theatre's artistic director, Brian Howard, who was a fan of the Space Oddity album and wanted David to provide a musical and dramatic narration for the theatre's forthcoming adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's The Fair Maid Of Perth which was to combine, in Howard's words, "drama, music, folk and ballet as well as mobile sets and projections." David was initially keen on the idea but, like most of Pitt's 1970 projects, the plans were to run aground.

While the album sessions proceeded David played a few solo gigs, notably at the Ivor Novello Awards at London's Talk Of The Town on May 10th. "Space Oddity" had won an award, and David performed the song to a large orchestral arrangement supervised by Paul Buckmaster and conducted by Les Reed in a live satellite broadcast to the US and the Continent. It was his first major American exposure, relayed to audiences at New York's Carnegie Hall and other locations throughout the US. Although not televised in Britain, the show was broadcast live on Radio 1, and the video footage of this excellent performance has survived.

Although the original Hype line-up had ceased to exist at the end of March, the new band, with Woodmansey on drums, performed as Hype in Scarborough on May 21st, the day before the album sessions came to an end. For this date, they were also joined by David's Haddon Hall neighbour Mark Pritchett, a guitarist who would make several significant contributions to Bowie's work over the next few years. Pritchett played again at the band's next gig, the May Ball at Jesus College, Cambridge on June 16th, where Hype shared the bill with Deep Purple, Black Widow and The Move. This engagement was the last for which Hype received a credit: the band would continue to support David at a further scattering of summer gigs, but the billing was for David Bowie alone. In Bromley on July 4th, David shared the bill with a roster of performers including Mark Pritchett's own band, Rungk, whose members would contribute to the Arnold Corns project the following year.

Amid the smattering of live engagements in the summer of 1970 came two solo television appearances: in June David performed his current single "Memory Of A Free Festival" on Granada Television's Six-O-One, and on August 15th a further studio performance of the same number was screened on the Dutch television show Eddy, Ready, Go!

Despite the disintegration of the original Hype, the band forged ahead without David in the wake of the Man Who Sold The World sessions.

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 and Hype - Roundhouse London February 22nd 1970
David Bowie/Mick Ronson/Tony Visconti - Hype