THE 1973 ZIGGY STARDUST TOUR (aka THE ALADDIN SANE TOUR)

February 14th - July 3rd 1973

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Saxophone, Harmonica

  • Mick Ronson: Guitar, Backing Vocals

  • Trevor Bolder: Bass

  • Mick Woodmansey: Drums

  • Mike Garson: Piano, Mellotron, Organ

  • Ken Fordham: Alto, Tenor and Baritone Saxophone

  • John Hutchinson: Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals

  • Brian Wilshaw: Tenor Saxophone, Flute

  • Geoffrey MacCormack: Backing Vocals, Percussion

Repertoire included:

Hang On To Yourself | Ziggy Stardust | Changes | Soul Love | John, I'm Only Dancing | Moonage Daydream | Five Years | Space Oddity | My Death | Watch That Man | Drive-In Saturday | Aladdin Sane | Panic In Detroit | Cracked Actor | The Width Of A Circle | Time | The Prettiest Star | Let's Spend The Night Together | The Jean Genie | Suffragette City | Rock'n'Roll Suicide | The Supermen | Starman | Round And Round | Quicksand | Life On Mars? | Memory Of A Free Festival | Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud | All The Young Dudes | Oh! You Pretty Things | White Light/White Heat | Love Me Do | Queen Bitch | Waiting For The Man

On January 17th 1973 David recorded an appearance with The Spiders on Granada TV's Russell Harty Plus, performing "My Death" and "Drive-In Saturday". Sharply dressed in a new Freddie Burretti outfit ("a parody of a suit and tie," he said) and a single enormous earring, David gave an entertaining interview, evidently delighting Harty with his saucy insinuations on subjects still considered taboo by television. On January 24th  the Aladdin Sane sessions ended, and later the same day he was stepping aboard the SS Canberra in Southampton for another Atlantic crossing.

Unsurprisingly RCA had baulked at the cost of the 1972 junket, and Tony Defries had received a rap over the knuckles about expense accounts and hotel bills. As an economy measure the new US tour would play multiple dates in just seven cities, beginning with two nights in New York followed by a week's residency in Philadelphia. After America the show was due to travel to Japan, Britain and Europe, and then back to the States in the autumn, by which time it was hoped Bowie's American audience would be enormous. As history knows, the back-breaking 1973 leg of the Ziggy tour - generally referred to as the Aladdin Sane tour for obvious reasons - would in fact end under rather different circumstances.

David and Angela arrived in New York on January 30th 1973. As the finishing touches were put to Aladdin Sane at RCA Studios, it was revealed that Bowie's live band had been enlarged to include the album's two saxophonists, Ken Fordham and Brian Wilshaw, together with Geoffrey MacCormack on extra percussion and backing vocals. Another new arrival was David's old colleague from Feathers and The Buzz, John Hutchinson, recruited to provide rhythm guitar so that Bowie might concentrate on his increasingly acrobatic performances and costume changes.

Unsurprisingly the completion of Aladdin Sane heralded major changes to the set-list, which now incorporated every song from the new album bar "Lady Grinning Soul". Other songs were rearranged for a fuller band sound, including "Space Oddity" which was now lifted from the acoustic set and transformed into a major production number. Another new arrival, albeit for the first couple of gigs only, was "Soul Love", boasting a sax solo from David himself.

David Bowie on Russell Harty Plus - January 17th 1973
David Bowie and Kansai Yamamoto 1973

Also newly refined was Bowie's behaviour on stage. Perhaps responding to the meatier sound of his enlarged band and the rawer edge of the Aladdin Sane material, David's stage physicality became more assertively sexual, largely dropping the shy, fey quality he had projected to audiences the previous year. Whether this was the conscious adoption of a new "Aladdin Sane" character is in some doubt; to all intents and purposes he was still playing Ziggy Stardust, the name by which he had begun to introduce himself on stage. With the subtle change in demeanour came a new set of eye-opening costumes by the Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto. "I like to keep my group well dressed, not like some other people I could mention," David told the press. "I'm out to bloody well entertain, not just get up on stage and knock out a few songs...I'm the last person to pretend I'm a radio. I'd rather go out and be a colour television set."

Embracing the conventions of kabuki theatre, in which changes of mask and costume denote changes of mood and personality, Bowie now began integrating his costumes into the "text" of the shows, conferring on the gaudy apparel an implied significance it had hitherto lacked. The portrayal of the schizoid character of Aladdin Sane was externalised by mime and masks (a point later made explicit on the Diamond Dogs tour). In finest pantomime tradition Bowie now averaged between five and seven costume changes per show, and his new outfits included a quilted black PVC all-in-one with vast, rigid flares, which was torn away to reveal an embroidered white judo suit. In addition there were sharply stylised, ever-changing experiments in hair and make-up, largely at the behest of Pierre Laroche, who created the famous sleeve image for Aladdin Sane at around the same time. In early 1973 Bowie's shaggy mid-period Ziggy hairstyle was streamlined into a glossy leonine mane and dyed a darker red, and he began sporting silver lipstick, thick streaks of eyeliner and a gaudy white disc in the centre of his forehead.

David Bowie in Kansai Yamomoto designed costume 1973 Aladdin Sane Tour
David Bowie with Kansai Yamamoto in 1973
David Bowie in Kansai Yamomoto designed costume 1973 Aladdin Sane Tour

On February 14th the New York glitterati turned out for the opening concert at Radio City Music Hall. Andy Warhol, Bette Midler, Allen Ginsberg and Salvador Dali were in the audience to see The Spiders From Mars rise from beneath the stage on hydraulic rostra as they played the opening riff of "Hang On To Yourself", before David made an even more outrageous entrance, descending to the stage in a silver gyroscope: the effect had been added at the last minute when David had seen the same piece of equipment used at Radio City by The Rockettes the previous night. The show was a long one, 21 songs in all, and was rapturously received as Bowie and the audience goaded one another to ever-greater heights of theatrical frenzy. Mid-way through the final encore of "Rock'n'Roll Suicide", the drama reached its peak when a man scrambled from the front row, grabbed Bowie and planted a kiss on his cheek, to which David responded by crumpling senseless to the floor. Members of the band initially assumed that David was simply going with the moment and ending the show on a note of high melodrama, but when he had to be carried offstage it became obvious that he had genuinely fainted. "It was pure nerves that caused that," Bowie recalled many years later. "I was absolutely terrified. Also I'd had some make-up done by Pierre Laroche...he did some brilliant things, but he used glitter on me for the first time, and it ran into my eyes. I did the whole show almost blind."

At both of the New York concerts, "My Death" was followed by a short intermission while a mind-expanding 2001-style film of rushing stars and galaxies was projected onto the backdrop, accompanied by science-fiction sound effects. The second night's audience included Todd Rundgren, Johnny Winter and Truman Capote, while another epiphany in New York was David's first encounter with a young black dancer called Ava Cherry, later to become both backing singer and girlfriend.

Providing support for the third night and throughout the remainder of the US leg was Fumble, a British band David had seen on The Old Grey Whistle Test and whom he had used as support on some of his UK gigs in January. Like the New York concerts, the seven shows at Philadelphia's Tower Theatre were sell-outs. In Nashville and Memphis the homophobic element re-emerged - Bowie even received anonymous threats - but the Press-Scimitar reported that the "rapt" Memphis audience "exhibited a strange and somewhat puzzling attraction by Bowie", while the Nashville Tennessean gruffly admitted that "Bowie really is not a bad rock musician, if one can consider him such." While in Nashville, David and some of the Spiders visited a nightclub at which Woodmansey joined the house band to play drums on a few numbers.

After the final concert at the Hollywood Palladium, Bowie boarded the SS Oronsay for the Pacific crossing to Japan. Arriving at Yokohama on April 5th, David was installed in Tokyo's Imperial Hotel. There he received a visit from Kansai Yamamoto, who had completed a further collection of stage costumes. Although the new designs included some tight-fitting jumpsuits of the kind hitherto favoured by Ziggy, Yamamoto also provided more flamboyant creations, including a flowing white robe decorated with Japanese characters reading "David Bowie", a silver leotard hung with a floor-length fringe of solid gold beads, a candy-striped spandex bodystocking, and a multi-coloured kimono that could be ripped away nightly to reveal only a red jockstrap (or, as David insisted on calling it, a Sumo wrestlers loincloth). "They were everything that I wanted them to be and more," David later wrote in Moonage Daydream. "Heavily inspired in equal parts by kabuki and Samurai, they were outrageous, provocative, and unbelievably hot to wear under the stage lights." During the Japanese tour The Spiders joined David in going native, Trevor Bolder tying his long hair in  a Samurai-style topknot to the delight of the crowds. Young Zowie, meanwhile, was making his debut appearance on tour; suitably decked out in a kimono, he attended his first ever Bowie concert in Tokyo.

David Bowie wearing Kansai Yamomoto designed costumes 1973
David Bowie wearing Kansai Yamomoto designed costumes 1973
David Bowie wearing Kansai Yamomoto designed costumes 1973

David's singles had been doing well in Japan, and the scenes at the nine sell-out concerts were little short of frenzied. Lines of policemen monitored the activity of the front rows, routinely hurling stage-divers back into line. "It was accepted in Japan that people would dive onto the stage and they would get thrown off," recalled Hutch. Bowie later explained that "In Japan we were faced with an audience that we presumed didn't understand a word of what we were saying. Therefore I was more physically active than on any other tour I've ever done. Literally, I activated the whole thing with my hands and my body. I needn't have sung half the time." The Japan Times raved that Bowie was "the most exciting thing to have happened since the fragmentation of The Beatles. Theatrically he is perhaps the most interesting performer ever in the pop music genre."

The Japanese tour presented a stimulating change for David after the rock'n'roll excess of his American jaunts; he visited moss gardens and kabuki and Noh theatre performances, learning new make-up techniques from Bando Tamasaburo, the country's foremost kabuki actor. He had become fascinated by the life of Yukio Mishima, the homosexual novelist who had developed an obsession with the imperialist tradition of his Samurai family and committed ritual seppuku in 1070. These and other aspects of Japanese culture were to exert a powerful influence on Bowie's writing and lifestyle.

After visiting Nagoya, Hiroshima, Kobe and Osaka, on April 20th the Japanese tour ended where it had begun, in Tokyo. At the final gig an adoring crowd of fans stormed the stage, causing a bank of seating to collapse, fortunately without injury. While the entourage flew back to London, David embarked on the longest and most impractical yet of his non-flying escapades: after travelling 600 miles by boat to Nakhodka, near Vladivostok, he boarded the 6000-mile Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow. He was accompanied on the week-long train journey by Geoffrey MacCormack, Leee Black Childers and an American journalist called Bob Musel, who would later recall Bowie entertaining other passengers with an impromptu acoustic concert in his train compartment. Something similar had already happened aboard the ship to Nakhodka, when David responded to the crew's display of traditional Russian music and dance by fetching his guitar and playing "Space Oddity" and "Amsterdam" to a rapturous reception. He would later intimate that the culture-shock of travelling through checkpoints and witnessing the state systems of the Eastern bloc would have an impact on the paranoid themes of surveillance and totalitarianism that permeated Diamond Dogs.

Having made his rendezvous with Angela in Paris and weathered the disappointment of Cherry Vanilla's failure to arrange a promised Parisian dinner date with Jacques Brel, David arrived back in London on May 4th to find himself at the height of his popularity: Aladdin Sane was the number 1 album and "Drive-In Saturday" was peaking at number 3 in the singles chart. Several hundred fans and paparazzi congregated at Victoria Station to meet the boat train, only to be informed by loudspeaker that Mr Bowie would be arriving at Charing Cross instead. The scenes of mayhem that followed on the Underground were to be repeated throughout the forthcoming 50-date UK tour, most of which had already sold out. In order to meet demand Defries would persuade the band to play two gigs per day at several of the pre-booked venues: at the height of the tour in late June the band would play 22 concerts in 16 days.

On the eve of the UK tour David made the first step in patching up his differences with his former producer Tony Visconti, whom he hadn't seen since the completion of The Man Who Sold The World three years earlier. Visconti and his wife Mary Hopkin were among those attending David's homecoming party at Haddon Hall on May 5th, and the producer was relieved to discover that "underneath all the make-up and stuff, it was really my old buddy David." Two days later the couple joined David and Angie at Covent Garden's Cambridge Theatre to see Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's comedy revue Behind The Fridge. Kenneth Pitt was similarly delighted to receive a surprise visit from David at his Manchester Street flat.

During rehearsals in early May there were several changes to the set. "John, I'm Only Dancing" was dropped, as was "Starman" after its brief return on the Japanese leg. In their place came a revamped "White Light/White Heat" and a pair of beautifully constructed medleys: the first comprised excerpts from "Quicksand", "Life On Mars?" and "Memory Of A Free Festival", while the second condensed "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud", "All The Young Dudes" and "Oh! You Pretty Things".

Although there was still no stage scenery as such, the UK tour saw the addition of a pair of large banners on the backcloth, each depicting a red zig-zag similar to Aladdin Sane's trademark lightning bolt. At the request of road manager Will Palin, these props had been painted by a struggling young musician called Chris Difford, who would later go on to achieve fame as a founder member and leading light of Squeeze (famously taking lead vocal on the band's 1979 hit "Cool For Cats"). Intermittently lit by flashing strobes, the zig-zag logo bore a passing resemblance to the Nazis' SS symbol, a fact largely unnoticed at the time but which, in retrospect, foreshadowed the more ominous stage settings of subsequent tours. "The flash on the original Ziggy set was taken from the 'high voltage' sign that was stuck on any box containing dangerous amounts of electricity," Bowie explained many years later. "I was not a little peeved when Kiss purloined it. Purloining, after all, was my job."

David Bowie: Aladdin Sane Tour 1973
David Bowie/Mick Ronson: Aladdin Sane Tour 1973

Despite the auspicious omens, the UK tour got off to a disastrous start. Defries had allowed grandiosity to overtake common sense by booking the 18,000-seat Earls Court Arena for the opening night on May 12th: the venue was twice the size of any David had previously played, but nonetheless the tickets had sold out within three hours. Earls Court would later become a customary venue for major concert tours, but in 1973 it had never played host to a rock concert of any kind. All did not go well. The acoustic was atrocious, the sound system totally inadequate, the seating insufficiently raked, and the stage at floor level, meaning that few of the capacity audience could either see or hear what was going on. Before long there was a stampede near the front and altercations broke out among the crowd. By "Space Oddity", halfway through the concert, there was chaos, and the band left the stage while order was restored. During the intro to the final "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" both sound and lighting failed, resulting in an inaudible Hutch falling off his rostrum to the amusement of the sax players. Kenneth Pitt judged the evening "a disaster". David was horrified and insisted that Defries cancel the tour's planned climax at Earls Court, replacing it with two nights in the more appropriate setting of Hammersmith Odeon.

Despite a round of gleeful hatchet headlines ("Bowie Fiasco"; Aladdin Distress"; "Drive-Out Saturday"), from the very next gig in Aberdeen four days later the remainder of the UK tour was a massive success. The Sun drooled that in Glasgow a couple had made love in the stalls to the strains of "the new god of pop'n'rock, back on the road with the freakiest show in Britain today." The Daily Express warned its readers about the dire new threat to the nation's morals: "26-year-old Bowie behaves more like a Soho stripper than a top pop star. He bumps, he grinds, he waggles his hips...His favourite [Spider] straddles the star on stage, who then simulates love with his strident guitar...David is a self-confessed bisexual. "I'm not embarrassed about it. Are you?" he asks. The answer, inevitably, is "Yes"." Bowie's fans thought differently, and at concert halls across the country there were riotous scenes of a kind seldom seen since the days of Beatlemania. Three limousines in succession were trashed by the nightly press of the crowd. The Brighton Dome banned Bowie from ever returning after an overexcited audience ripped up the venue's seats. A notable exception was Norwich, where the Theatre Royal audience was so polite and reserved that David decided to jump off the stage mid-number and promenade up the aisle, still singing - a manoeuvre that would have caused havoc in most venues.

In Brighton and Bournemouth on May 23rd and 25th, BBC reporter Bernard Falk caught up with the tour and filed an 11-minute report for Nationwide, capturing backstage glimpses of The Spiders and frantic scenes of hysteria on the streets outside. Falk's barely concealed contempt for the "skinny lad with a pasty complexion" simmered throughout the item, and over some alarming shots of Bowie's getaway limo being mobbed by fans, Falk concluded: "When he dresses up and plasters his face, the kids of today see it as his way of flaunting [sic] convention, and they respect him for it. It's worth wondering, though, what the beat age will spawn next, when someone like David Bowie isn't even freakish enough to shock us any more."

Alas, Bernard Falk would never disclose his opinion of what the beat age did spawn next, but among the many youngsters who flocked to see the Aladdin Sane tour was a 15-year-old Marc Almond, who saw a gig at the Liverpool Empire on June 10th. "My friends and I took the train from Southport to Liverpool, all Bowie-fied with make-up," Marc explained - but it was a day of mixed fortunes. "We got beaten up on the train. I was hit over the head with a bottle. I had blood and glitter and make-up running down my face, but I was okay - so hyped up with the prospect of the show. In "Rock'n'Roll Suicide", I was squeezed against the stage, reaching up my hand, and when he sang "Gimme your hands", he took mine. Blood, glitter, make-up, and Bowie taking my hand. It was a glam-rock epiphany."​

​On June 13th, as the tour briefly returned to London for a night at the Kilburn Gaumont before heading for south-west England, David spent the day with Mick Rock in a Ladbroke Grove  studio filming the promo clip for "Life On Mars?", which was released as a single a few days later and went top ten just as the tour came to an end. Shot only three weeks before the historic Hammersmith concert, the "Life On Mars?" video seems to capture a brief moment of serenity amid the chaos of Ziggymania. John Lundsten, the sound engineer who had recorded David's Glastonbury performance two years earlier, was hired to oversee the audio playback during the video shoot, and recalled "a pleasant atmosphere" with the star "rather quiet and very professional."

The tour ended with two dates at Hammersmith Odeon on July 2nd and 3rd. The final night, a star-studded affair attended by Mick Jagger, Lou Reed and Ringo Starr, was opened by a one-off support set from Mike Garson, who played a seven-minute instrumental medley of Bowie numbers on the piano. The concert itself was captured by the American filmmaker D A Pennebaker, best known for his Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back and his coverage of 1967's Monterey Pop festival. Pennebaker had been hired by RCA to shoot just half an hour of footage for an experimental new format called Selectavision: "This was a just-invented device for putting a video onto a record," the director explained to Uncut in 2003. "I never worked out exactly what it was, but it was years ahead of its time, which is maybe why it never survived. They wanted me to get a half-hour of his performance. But scouting the first show, I realised rapidly that we had to shoot the whole thing. There was a film to be made here." In his customarily grainy vérité style, Pennebaker filmed not only the concert itself, but caught fly-on-the-wall footage in David's dressing room and on the streets outside. After an edited screening on US television in 1974 and years of contractual wrangling, the film was finally released in 1983 as Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, with a remixed DVD following in 2003.

Both band and audience were on an incandescent high which remains palpable even in Pennebaker's murky film. "There was a great last night tone," recalled Mick Ronson many years later, "there was a lot of energy there." Cut from both the film and live album was the guest appearance of Ronson's idol Jeff Beck, who joined the band to assist on encores of "The Jean Genie" and "Round And Round". As Beck left the stage, Bowie stepped forward to speak. Having thanked the band and road crew, he paused before continuing, his announcement interrupted by repeated cheers: "Of all the shows on this tour this - this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it - not only is it the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do. Thank you." Oblivious to the incredulous screams of "Noooo!" which all but drowned out his last two words, Bowie signalled to Hutch to begin the intro to "Rock'n'Roll Suicide", and proceeded to be Ziggy Stardust for the last time.

The reaction was monumental. "TEARS AS BOWIE BOWS OUT", declared the Evening Standard. "BOWIE QUITS", announced the NME on July 7th, quoting from a MainMan press release issued the day after the concert which stated that David "was leaving the concert stage for ever...The massive arenas of 80 US and Canadian cities will not now, or perhaps ever again, hold within their walls the magic essence of a live Aladdin Sane". The European sojourn and the proposed American tour, whose 38 confirmed shows were due to begin in Toronto on September 1st, had suddenly evaporated. "I don't want to do live concerts again for a long, long time," Bowie said on July 4th. "Not for two or three years at least." The fans were not alone in their surprise: famously, most of the band had known nothing about Bowie's decision either. "I couldn't hear it too well but he said something about retiring," Hutch later recalled. "Everybody in the band was looking at each other and saying, 'What?' Trevor and Woody seemed to take it worse because they felt double-crossed, they hadn't been told."

It was, of course, the only way to go. By catching the audience off its guard, Bowie had successfully fulfilled the self-immolation of Ziggy Stardust's apocalyptic narrative. That the Hammersmith speech remains probably the most discussed and dissected moment in Bowie's career is proof enough that it was a brilliant stroke of theatre. In the history of rock performance it is rare, if not unique, for one particular concert to exert this much mystique over an artist's oeuvre: that night in July 1973 has become one of Bowie's abiding works of art.

The romantic interpretation of Bowie/Ziggy's "retirement" remains the most attractive: that the artist, mentally besieged by the monster he had created, was driven to destroy him on stage before he himself was consumed, strangled by his own mask like the character in David's 1969 mime routine. There's no shortage of fuel for this colourful thesis. Christopher Sandford's biography quotes fans who claim they met David in a deserted alley off Hammersmith Broadway only forty minutes before that final concert, finding him "on a razor's edge" and on the point of suffering "a Stephen Fry-like breakdown", desperately reluctant to perform at all. "Ziggy definitely affected him," said Mick Ronson many years later. "To do anything and to do it well, you have to become completely involved. He had to become what Ziggy was; he had to believe in him. Yes, Ziggy affected his personality. But he affected Ziggy's personality. They lived off each other."

"I liked the ambiguity of not being able to separate the personas," Bowie himself said later. "It's the ominous enigma of the split personality, and which side is which..." Ever since the 1972 US tour, those close to David had noticed that his immersion in the rock'n'roll lifestyle was making it harder for Ziggy to revert to plain old David Jones when he left the concert stage. "It was quite easy to become obsessed night and day with the character," he later admitted. "Everybody was convincing me that I was a messiah, especially on that first American tour. I got hopelessly lost in the fantasy." On another occasion, he said, "My whole personality was affected...I thought I might as well take Ziggy to interviews as well. Why leave him on stage? Looking back it was completely absurd. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity...I think I put myself very dangerously near the line."

Without doubt there is truth in all of this, but it should never be forgotten that David Bowie knew how to spin a good line. The man captured in Bernard Falk's news report and, briefly, in the backstage footage of Pennebaker's Hammersmith film, is not a demented rock god of the kind David himself would later send up in Jazzin' For Blue Jean, but a seasoned pro dragging on his cigarette as he prepares to meet his public. It is a lucid and level-headed David who explains to Falk that "I believe in my part all the way down the line...but I do play it for all it's worth, because that's the way I do my stage thing. That's part of what Bowie's supposedly all about. I'm an actor."

There are other, altogether more prosaic reasons which made Ziggy Stardust's final act of self-destruction remarkably convenient. What few outsiders realised at the time was that there were grave doubts over the viability of the projected third US tour. The original 1972 American jaunt had lost RCA something in excess of $300,000, and although MainMan had promised to pull in its horns, the Bowie roadshow continued to live far beyond its means in 1973. David's singles had yet to strike gold in America, and sales of his albums were no more than comfortable (by June Ziggy Stardust, the most successful, had only shifted 320,000 copies in a country where true success required seven-figure sales). The spring of 1973 had seen the rise of an American RCA executive called Mel Ilberman who proved more resistant than some of his colleagues to the blandishments of Tony Defries, and after a series of heated negotiations he pulled the plug on the third American tour, suggesting a smaller affair which Defries rejected. According to MainMan employee Jaime Andrews, the decision to "retire" Ziggy was made quite rationally as a face-saving measure: "It was a way to get press, and regroup and figure out what we were going to do."

Another compelling reason for the death of Ziggy was David's creative restlessness: at his best he was always reluctant to stand still. "I had an awful lot of fun doing [Ziggy]," he explained soon afterwards,"...but my performance on stage reached a peak. I felt I couldn't go on stage in the same context again...if I'm tired with what I'm doing it wouldn't be long before the audience realised." And he was tired not only intellectually, but physically; by July the Ziggy Stardust tour had been running for eighteen months. "A good halfway through, nine or ten months into it, I knew it was over already," David told Michael Parkinson in 2002. "I just wanted to move somewhere else. There was a new kind of music I wanted to write, a different kind of theatricality I wanted to bring into it and all that. The last few months, I was really treading water. I couldn't wait to finish."

And in any case, by the time of Bowie's return to Britain in May, the charts were saturated with the vulgarised fallout of the groundwork he had laid down with Bolan and Roxy Music a year before. As early as December 1972, in the very week that "The Jean Genie" entered the chart, The Strawbs had peaked at number 12 with "Lay Down", a single whose B-side (or "Backside" as it was entitled) was credited to "Ciggy Barlust and The Whales From Venus" which, if not exactly side-splitting, was an early indication that Bowie was already established enough to merit parody. In the week of Ziggy's retirement, the number 1 single was Slade's "Skweeze Me Pleeze Me", while that summer's other regular chartbusters included Wizzard, Mud, Suzi Quatro, Sweet and Gary Glitter, whose kitsch classic "I'm The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)" began its month-long residency at the top three weeks later. All these acts made hugely enjoyable records and never failed to raise a smile on Top Of The Pops, but in the process of colonising glam rock, they had simultaneously emasculated it. Bowie later recalled that "it actually became a sense of embarrassment, iconically. I mean, in my feather boas and dresses, I certainly didn't wanna be associated with the likes of Gary Glitter, who was obviously a charlatan...we were very aware of it at the time and we were very miffed that people who had obviously never seen Metropolis and had never heard of Christopher Isherwood were actually becoming glam rockers." For an artist who intended to keep one step ahead it was quite patently time to move on.

There can also be little doubt that drugs were beginning to play a part in Bowie's protean mentality. Although he was still some months away from the descent into serious addiction that would blight him during the remainder of the decade, by the summer of 1973 his outlook had already been affected by exposure to cocaine. Thirty years later he would recall that the making of the Ziggy Stardust album had been "drug-free apart from the occasional pill: amphetamines, speed...when we first started doing Ziggy we were really excited and drugs weren't necessary. The first eight months were real fun and then it soured for me. I went to America and got introduced to real drugs and it all went pear-shaped."

Finally there was the question of Bowie's deteriorating relationship with his band, born partly out of artistic frustrations and partly from MainMan's internecine politics. "I guess, at the time, [it] was a bit nasty," David admitted many years later,"...they wanted to remain doing what we were doing and I didn't. I was going somewhere else, and they didn't want to go. They were quite happy to play Jeff Beck covers." Personal differences had also begun to rear their heads during the second American tour. Mike Garson, then a committed Scientologist, had struck up a close friendship with Woody Woodmansey, who converted to the faith in 1973. Although Garson was to outlast all of the original Spiders, David admitted many years later that his pianist's proselytising zeal "did cause us one or two problems. I was thinking of having him back in the band [in 1995] and the thing that really clinched it was hearing that he was no longer a Scientologist." Garson, who renounced Scientology in the early 1980s, later confessed that "I was probably too fanatical. I probably owe some people apologies from that viewpoint because I was a little pushy...I wanted to share what I knew and help people. But I'm not proud of that."

On the eve of the second US tour in February 1973, Woodmansey's friendship with the man they nicknamed "Garson the Parson" finally brought about the revelation of the enormous wage inequality among the band. It came as a shock to all concerned, and on arriving in New York Ronson, Bolder and Woodmansey confronted Tony Defries and demanded more money. Defries consented, but the damage was done. There were now other tensions within The Spiders. Bolder and Woodmansey were apparently offended by the addition of the extra musicians for the 1973 concerts, feeling that what had previously been presented as a coherent rock outfit was now being reduced to a solo star's backing group. Two years later Mick Ronson admitted that experiences in America "affected the band so badly. On whatever level you want to talk about, I'm talking about feeling within the band, about money, and the position of people in the band. It was a bad feeling." In a classic divide-and-conquer tactic, Defries had already promised Ronson a solo contract when, a fortnight in advance of Hammersmith, he forewarned him of Bowie's retirement. Ronson consented not to tell Bolder and Woodmansey, whom Angela Bowie believed had sealed their own fate from the moment of the pay revolt.

In the end, of course, MainMan's announcement that Bowie had quit the stage "for ever" proved to be wide of the mark; so too did David's declaration that he would not tour "for two or three years". Three months later, as a sop to American audiences deprived of the autumn tour, he would perform The 1980 Floor Show for NBC Television. By June 1974 he was on the road in America with the Diamond Dogs tour. The Hammersmith concert, it transpired, was merely Ziggy's last show.

David Bowie & Lou Reed's alleged kiss from 1973 - The Last Supper
Lou Reed, Mick Jagger & David Bowie - The Last Supper 1973 by Mick Rock

The day after the final concert, MainMan hosted an extravagant wrap party at the Café Royal in Regent Street. The party, which has become known as "the Last Supper", was a star-studded event attended by every celebrity MainMan's telephonists could muster: Lou Reed, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Jeff Beck, Barbra Streisand, Ringo Starr, Paul and Linda McCartney, Cat Stevens, Lulu, Keith Moon, Elliott Gould, Tony Curtis, Britt Ekland, Ryan O'Neal, Sonny Bono, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, Hywel Bennett and, magnificently, The Goodies. The musical entertainment was supplied by Dr John. It was at this party that Mick Rock snapped the famous photograph that purports to show David kissing Lou Reed - but which, on even the most rudimentary inspection, clearly shows nothing of the sort. "I'm not actually kissing him," David confirmed in 1993. "If you study it, I'm talking into his ear and he's talking into mine. I'm quite a way over. But it was near enough to a kiss for the press and they all printed it...No, I think Lou Reed is the last person in the world I'd want to kiss."

Also present at the party were Mick Ronson and Trevor Bolder, but Woody Woodmansey, disgusted by the previous night's unexpected climax, was nowhere to be seen. Although Bolder and Ronson would return on David's next album Pin Ups, Woodmansey would not. The Spiders never played together again.

In following the highs and lows of the eighteen-month tour that swept Bowie to stardom, a recurring feature has been the snowballing catalogue of celebrity doorsteppers attending the various openings and closings. But perhaps the most significant attendees were to be found not in the hospitality suite but in the audience, for there were unknown faces in the teenage crowds who would one day aspire to their own successes. We have already heard the testimonies of Neil Tennant and Marc Almond; among the other youngsters who attended the Ziggy Stardust concerts were Holly Johnson (who saw the same Liverpool gig as Almond, although the two were then strangers), George O'Dowd (who was among the fans who camped outside Haddon Hall in 1973 - he would later recall the day when "Angie opened the window and said, "Why don't you all fuck off?" - we were thrilled!"), Ian McCulloch, Pete Burns, Pete Shelley, Stephen Morrissey, Ian Curtis and Kate Bush. The tour regarded by many as Bowie's finest hour was also a potent breeding ground for the music of the future.

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

The Last Supper 1973 - Ringo Starr, Lulu, David Bowie & Cat Stevens