THE LOWER THIRD

MAY 17th 1965 - JANUARY 29th 1966

Musicians:

  • Davy Jones/David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Saxophone

  • Denis "Tea-Cup" Taylor: Lead Guitar

  • Graham Rivens: Bass

  • Les Mighall: Drums

  • Phil Lancaster: Drums

Repertoire included:

You've Got A Habit Of Leaving | Baby Loves That Way | The London Boys | Can't Help Thinking About Me | Chim Chim Cheree | Mars, The Bringer Of War | Born Of The Night | Out Of Sight | Baby That's A Promise | I Wish You Would | I Don't Mind

By May 1965 the La Gioconda coffee bar in Denmark Street was David's regular haunt, as it was for so many young hopefuls on the fringes of London's music business. As recently as 2011 a piece of silent home cine footage was discovered which, quite by chance, caught an unknown David in the spring of 1965 smiling to camera as he passed on his way to La Gioconda - the coffee bar where he would meet his next band.

Originally a five-piece from Margate who had formed in 1963 as Oliver Twist and The Lower Third, the band had effectively split when three of its members decamped to London. In need of recruits, they promptly auditioned David at La Discotheque in Soho. With David on sax and fellow auditionee Steve Marriott on vocals, the band ran through Little Richard's "Rip It Up". The result was adjudged a success, and while Marriott went off to form - almost immediately - The Small Faces, the other four joined forces as Davie Jones and The Lower Third. Although hardly epic in length, this would be David's most significant stint with a band so far. During the same period he played the occasional gig with other bands, including The Small Faces, The T-Bones and Sonny Boy Williamson.

"I guess it wanted to be a rhythm and blues band," David recalled in 1983. "We did a lot of stuff by John Lee Hooker, and we tried to adapt his stuff to the big beat - never terribly successfully. But that was the thing - everybody was picking a blues artist as their own...ours was Hooker." Also exerting a blues influence on the band were The Yardbirds, whose 1964 single "I Wish You Would" was included in The Lower Third's repertoire: eight years later David would return to the number on Pin Ups.

Success was not immediate: the unsuccessful demo "Born Of The Night" impressed nobody. On May 20th at R G Jones Studios, David and the band wrote and recorded two self-penned jingles for US radio, one for Youthquake Clothing and the other for an unidentified product called Puritan. Former Manish Boy Johnny Flux was now a DJ for pirate station Radio City, and he called in a favour by persuading David to record some further jingles for the Johnny Flux Show. It wasn't the most glorious of beginnings for a new outfit, and before The Lower Third had enjoyed any real success, drummer Les Mighall returned to Margate. He was replaced by Phil Lancaster, who had briefly played with the Dave Clark Five.

Despite the failure of "I Pity The Fool", David's producer Shel Talmy successfully negotiated a Parlophone deal for The Lower Third and continued to supervise their session work. At around the time that the band recorded its first single "You've Got A Habit Of Leaving", David quietly dumped Leslie Conn in favour of his first full-time manager: Ralph Horton was a La Gioconda regular who worked as a booker at a Denmark Street agency. Previously a roadie for The Moody Blues but now assisting in the management of acts including Screaming Lord Sutch, Horton came on board after an audition at the Roebuck pub on Tottenham Court Road in early July. His first act as manager was to supervise a makeover of the long-haired teenagers; kitted out with hipster trousers and floral ties from Carnaby Street, they were frog-marched to Charles of Queensway for regulation Mod haircuts. Horton even encouraged the use of hair lacquer, which upset some of the band but not David, who was already besotted by the dandified Mod image and its new cheerleaders, The Who​.

David Bowie with The Lower Third 1965
David Bowie with The Lower Third 1965

Horton secured a series of summer engagements for The Lower Third, including a clutch of Saturday gigs at the Winter Gardens in Ventnor and a residency at the Bournemouth Pavilion, where on August 20th (the same day that "You've Got A Habit Of Leaving" was released) David played his one and only gig in support of The Who. Other acts supported by The Lower Third in the summer of 1965 included The Pretty Things and Johnny Kidd & The Pirates. A series of Saturday afternoon shows at the Marquee followed in the autumn as part of "The Inecto Show", sponsored by Inecto Shampoo and taped for broadcast by pirate Radio London. It seems that The Lower Third's contribution was restricted to warm-up spots that were never actually broadcast.

"We were too loud on stage," David recollected. "We used feedback and sounds and didn't play any melodies. We just pulverised the sound, which was loosely based on Tamla-Motown. We had an ardent following of about a hundred Mods, but when we played out of London, we were booed right off the stage. We weren't very good." At David's instigation the band started behaving like The Who on stage - Denis Taylor thrashed his guitar and David smashed his microphone against the drumkit, breaking a cymbal on one occasion. "We were known as the second loudest group in London," Taylor said years later. "The Who were the first. A publisher...remarked that we sounded like a Lancaster Bomber flying through the studio." It's odd, then, to note David's apparent preference for well-behaved audiences: "We're not a 'scream' group," he declared in a Parlophone press release in August 1965. "We like our audiences to be quiet while we're performing a number, and then to give us a healthy response when we finish."

Ralph Horton did not prove to be The Lower Third's greatest asset, lacking both the tactics and the financial skills necessary for successful management. Nevertheless it was Horton who took the band from Shel Talmy to Tony Hatch, a producer whose style was arguably more suited to David's songs. And it was Horton who, under no illusions about his own limited cachet in the industry, opened a significant door in David's career when he elected to contact a more powerful manager.

On September 15th 1965 Horton telephoned Kenneth Pitt, manager of Manfred Mann and rising star Crispian St Peters - not to mention Bob Dylan during his English tours - to request assistance in furthering the prospects of The Lower Third. Pitt was busy with other clients and declined, but among the advice he offered was that the vocalist might consider changing his name to avoid confusion with the Davy Jones who was making waves as a versatile actor-singer and was about to find global fame with The Monkees. Horton passed on Pitt's advice, and on September 17th, The Lower Third were duly informed by their singer that he was now called David Bowie.

Denis Taylor thought the name ludicrous, remarking that it would "never catch on". Horton's flatmate Kenny Bell's first reaction was apparently to tell David that the new name was "fucking stupid". David would subsequently say that he chose the name because a Bowie knife is double-edged and "cuts both ways" - in fact a suggestion given to him much later by William Burroughs - and he also remarked that "I wanted a truism about cutting through the lies and all that." Incidentally, David always, but always, pronounced the name to rhyme with "Joey". It doesn't rhyme with "Howie", and nor is the correct pronunciation "Boo-ie" (this being the version favoured by many Americans including, almost certainly, the original Jim Bowie).

Shortly afterwards David Bowie and The Lower Third secured their deal with Pye Records and made their first recordings with Tony Hatch. On November 2nd they taped an audition at the BBC, whose selection panel noted that they had "quite a different sound" but "a singer devoid of personality". Later the same month Horton negotiated a miserable sponsorship contract with business entrepreneur Raymond Cook, who was assured 10 per cent of Bowie's earnings in exchange for limited financial investment. Kenneth Pitt later reproduced the text of this contract in his memoir The Pitt Report, rightly describing it as "an amazingly inept, do-it-yourself document".

New Year's Eve 1965 saw the group sharing the bill with Arthur Brown at the Golf Drouot Club in Paris, with further Parisian gigs following on January 1st and 2nd. The release of "Can't Help Thinking About Me" was imminent, but the preferential treatment given to David during the publicity push for the single was instrumental in driving a wedge between him and the rest of the band. Although a couple  more live dates followed, the writing was on the wall for David Bowie and The Lower Third. Matters came to a head at the Bromel Club where, on January 29th, the band refused to play after being told by Horton that no wages were available for them that night. "David cried, but it made no difference," said Graham Rivens, "We all had had enough."

"We realised that Dave wasn't backing us up," Phil Lancaster later recalled. "Looking back, it was absolutely right that we should split up...David was the bloke with the songwriting ability and the individuality and the performing skills. It was absolute destiny that he was going to go off on his own." The Lower Third took their small place in the history books and Ralph Horton, already seriously in debt to Raymond Cook, was left with a potential solo artist on his hands.

David Bowie with The Lower Third 1965
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 publicity tour for his first record "Can't Help Thinking About Me"