JANUARY 29th - SEPTEMBER 7th 1972
David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar
Mick Ronson: Guitar
Trevor Bolder: Bass
Mick Woodmansey: Drums
Nicky Graham: Keyboards (February 10th - July 15th)
Matthew Fisher: Keyboards (August 19th - 20th)
Robin Lumley: Keyboards (August 27th - September 7th)
Hang On To Yourself | Ziggy Stardust | The Supermen | Queen Bitch | Song For Bob Dylan | Changes | Starman | Five Years | Space Oddity | Andy Warhol | Amsterdam | I Feel Free | Moonage Daydream | White Light/White Heat | You Got To Have A Job (If You Don't Work - You Don't Eat) | Hot Pants | Suffragette City | Rock'n'Roll Suicide | Waiting For The Man | Life On Mars? | Sweet Jane | I Can't Explain | John, I'm Only Dancing | This Boy | The Width Of A Circle | Round And Round | Lady Stardust | My Death | Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
On January 19th 1972, three days before the "I'm gay" interview appeared in Melody Maker, journalist George Tremlett interviewed Bowie at the Royal Ballroom in Tottenham, where rehearsals were underway for the forthcoming tour. Tremlett was told that the staging would be "Quite outrageous, but very theatrical...it's going to be costumed and choreographed, quite different to anything anyone else has tried to do before...This is going to be something quite new."
Of course, the Ziggy Stardust stage show did not materialise out of thin air. Ever since Little Richard's heyday, rock singers had worn mascara and flamboyant costumes, and to followers of Marc Bolan the glitter and spandex were nothing new. As recently as November 1971 Alice Cooper had wowed audiences at London's Rainbow Theatre with an outlandish show involving a live boa constrictor, a straitjacket and, finally, execution by electric chair. But Bowie was unimpressed by Cooper's theatrics, complaining to Michael Watts in the Melody Maker interview that "I think he's trying to be outrageous. You can see him, poor dear, with his red eyes sticking out and his temples straining. He tries so hard...I find him very demeaning. It's very premeditated, but quite fitting with our era. He's probably more successful than I am at present, but I've invented a new category of artist, with my chiffon and taff. They call it pantomime rock in the States." What was new about Bowie's offering was that he proposed not just to exhibit, but to inhabit the fantasy, to become Ziggy Stardust and play out his own rise and fall through the performance of the music itself.
Trevor Bolder later explained to the Gillmans that having completed work on the Ziggy Stardust album earlier in January, "we thought, this is the end of it, that's just the name of the album." But not long afterwards, "David started dragging us downstairs" to the basement flat of Haddon Hall, where a group of seamstresses overseen by Freddie Burretti began to work the musicians into "a band with costumes". As Bowie later put it, "I wanted the music to look like it sounded." With his encouragement the band grew their hair long and began to experiment in make-up. "I used to love getting into the eye-shadow and mascara stuff, loved it," Mick Ronson recalled, but the others were less enthusiastic. "To get the band into that stuff I had to tell them that the girls would really love it," Bowie said later. "Thank God it paid off...They never had so many women in their lives and so they got tartier and tartier."
The band's original costumes were based on those sported by the Droogs in Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange, which opened in London on January 13th 1972 and was immediately seen by David and his fellow Spiders. In addition to the deco-print two-piece he wore on the Ziggy Stardust sleeve photo, the early concerts saw David donning white satin trousers with a flock-patterned jacket ("My first and only stage costume change for those first few weeks," he later recalled), soon to be joined by the quilted rainbow jumpsuit later showcased on Top Of The Pops. Bowie had even considered wearing a bowler hat in the style of Malcolm McDowell's Alex in A Clockwork Orange, but in the end he settled for subverting the brutality of the film's Droog uniforms. "I was determined that the music we were doing was the music for the Clockwork Orange generation," he said in 1993, "and I wanted to take the hardness and violence of those Clockwork Orange outfits - the trousers tucked in big boots and the codpiece things - and soften them up by using the most ridiculous fabrics. It was a Dada thing - this extreme ultra-violence in Liberty fabrics." A Clockwork Orange was Kubrick's first picture since 2001: A Space Odyssey, and its impact on Bowie's work would be just as significant: David elected to open the Ziggy concerts with Walter Carlos's synthesized arrangement of Ode To Joy from Beethoven's ninth symphony, which accompanied the key scene of Alex's brainwashing. "Both of these films provoked one major theme: there was no linear line in the lives that we lead," David observed 30 years later. "We were not evolving, merely surviving. Moreover, the clothes were fab."
Bowie explained that The Spiders "played the part perfectly - they were a number one spacey punk-rock band, they were absolute archetypes, everyone was right out of a cartoon book." However, as the archive footage and photographs demonstrate, none of The Spiders ever quite succeeded in emulating their leader's androgynous chic. "Good old Trev," Bowie reminisced of his bassist in 1993, "he had a similar haircut but he insisted he kept his sideburns."
While David groomed the band, Tony Defries was grooming David for the trappings of stardom. A Hull acquaitance of Ronson's, a towering black Yorkshireman called Stuey George, was hired as Bowie's personal minder and bodyguard, and the pair were booked into top West End hotels for the occasional weekend in order to accustom themselves to the etiquette of being treated as VIPs. Publicists, secretaries and a full-time photographer, London Film School graduate Mick Rock (who would first encounter Bowie at the Birmingham Town Hall gig on March 17th), were added at RCA's expense to Defries's increasingly Colonel Parker-like empire.
During the January tour rehearsals at the Tottenham Ballroom and the Theatre Royal in Stratford East, the band was initially joined by rhythm guitarist Laurie Heath, a founder member of The New Seekers who had recently founded the splinter group Milkwood, a trio represented by Gem Productions. Heath's involvement went as far as a tour costume being created, before it was decided that his services would not be required after all. "He was a good-looking lad and a good singer," Trevor Bolder later recalled. "I think the worry was he may have detracted from David, so he went."
Although not generally considered the first night of the tour itself, Bowie's new show was premiered at Aylesbury's Borough Assembly hall on Saturday, January 29th 1972. The publicity billed David as "The Most Beautiful Person In The World": there was no reference to The Spiders, merely a pseudo-hippy message reading, "Homo Superiors...Bells...Feet...Worlds...Hello". Among the audience at the gig was Roger Taylor, drummer with the still unknown Queen, who had attended David's 1971 Aylesbury show and was already a fan: this time, he dragged Freddie Mercury along. "We were blown away," Taylor recalled. "It was so fantastic, and like nothing else that was happening, and so far ahead of its time."
On February 7th The Spiders recorded their famous appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, performing "Oh! You Pretty Things", "Queen Bitch" and "Five Years". Only the latter two songs were shown in the following night's broadcast, but full versions and out-takes from this excellent set have been widely aired ever since, eventually appearing on 2002's Best Of Bowie DVD. "I was very scared on that programme," Bowie remarked the following month, "cause they're all so serious about music!"
The Ziggy Stardust tour proper began on February 10th at the Toby Jug in Tolworth. "Oh, that's perfect!" Bowie laughed when reminded of the fact by Q's David Cavanagh in 1996. "Ziggy at the Toby. It was probably a pub. Things moved quite fast in those days, but Ziggy was a case of small beginnings. I remember when we had no more than twenty or thirty fans at the most. They'd be down the front and the rest of the audience would be indifferent. And it feels so special, because you and the audience kid yourselves that you're in on this big secret." The Toby Jug would be Bowie's last ever pub gig, and according to his former Buzz bandmates Dek Fearnley and John Eager, who were in the audience, it was a "very good, tight show". Joining the band for the first time at the Toby Jug was keyboardist Nicky Graham, a former member of the rock band Tucky Buzzard who had supported a couple of David's 1971 dates. Graham, who was working by day for Tony Defries and was responsible for booking many of the Ziggy Stardust tour dates, would continue to play keyboards with The Spiders until July.
The earliest Ziggy Stardust concerts were based squarely on the new album, usually opening with "Hang On To Yourself", and David's imploring "gimme your hands" routine was already being exploited as the final melodramatic flourish. There were a few numbers from earlier albums, and initially the warmest reception was usually given to his three-year-old hit "Space Oddity". Alongside The Velvet Underground and Jacques Brel covers were a couple of oddities which would soon disappear from the repertoire: Cream's "I Feel Free" and the James Brown medley "You Got To Have A Job/Hot Pants". The show lacked the theatrical excesses of the later Ziggy period, conforming instead to a tried-and-tested formula of a hard-rock electric opening, followed by a trio of stripped-down numbers (usually "Space Oddity", "Andy Warhol" and "Amsterdam"), for which the rhythm section would sit back as Bowie and Ronson perched on stools downstage, armed only with their acoustic guitars. Then it would be back to the full electric assault, culminating in "Suffragette City" and "Rock'n'Roll Suicide".
As February progressed, Bowie concentrated on sharpening the act on the basis of each night's experience. An early failure came at Imperial College when he attempted to step out across the audience's shoulders in the style of Iggy Pop - the crowd was too sparse and he fell to the floor - but during March the momentum grew. At one concert David was hoisted aloft by fans and carried around the auditorium in a lap of honour, a spontaneous act which so entranced Tony Defries that it was stage-managed for future gigs. Photos and posters were handed out free after the concerts, Defries reckoning that the surest way to cement Bowie in the minds of the nation's youth was to encourage them to stick him on their bedroom walls. RCA's marketing manager Geoff Hannington recalled watching the shows with "absolute amazement".
Having dabbled with various dyes over the previous few days, David unveiled Ziggy's definitive deep red hairstyle for the first time in Newcastle on March 24th. After this gig there was a three-week break in touring, during which David wrote a new song, "All The Young Dudes", and offered it to Mott The Hoople. On April 9th he attended a Mott The Hoople concert in Guildford, joining the band on stage during the encores.
With the release of "Starman" and the resumption of the Ziggy tour on April 17th, the campaign was stepped up and the set list revamped. Defries invited a posse of journalists to the May 6th concert at Kingston Polytechnic, and a recording of the same gig was reputedly made for possible release as a live album. The only evidence of this that has ever come to light is a muffled audience bootleg, from which derives the version of "I Feel Free" included on RarestOneBowie.
After the Kingston gig the stakes were raised, as greater press attention led to the booking of larger venues. On May 14th David entered Olympic Studios to record "All The Young Dudes" with Mott The Hoople, and with The Spiders he taped no fewer than three BBC radio sessions later the same month. By now the Ziggy shows had begun to whip their audiences into a frenzy. In Worthing on May 11th Bowie climbed onto Mick Ronson's shoulders as he played and, still singing, was carried piggy-back into the crowd. In Newcastle the local paper described how "the audience welcomed every number with wild enthusiasm" and how Bowie, a "supreme showman", received a "genuine spontaneous standing ovation" at the end. Future star Neil Tennant was in the Newcastle audience and described the show many years later as the best gig of his life: "The venue was half-empty. He was electrifying. He dedicated a song to me and my friends, saying, 'This song is for the strange people in the audience'."
On June 6th, as the band played St George's Hall in Bradford, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was released. Three days later Bowie, Ronson and other members of the MainMan entourage made a flying promotional visit to New York, where they saw Elvis Presley perform at Madison Square Garden. "I came over for a long weekend," Bowie recalled many years later. "I remember coming straight from the airport and walking into Madison Square Garden very late. I was wearing all my clobber from the Ziggy period and I had great seats near the front. The whole place just turned to look at me and I felt like a right cunt. I had brilliant red hair, some huge padded space suit and those red boots with big black soles. I wished I'd gone for something quiet, because I must have registered with him. He was well into his set."
Back in Britain word of mouth was spreading fast, and with the release of Ziggy Stardust the concert bookings had rocketed. On June 21st The Spiders were seen performing "Starman" on Granada TV's Lift-Off With Ayshea. In Croydon four days later, a thousand fans were turned away.
It was during this stage of the tour that another piece of the Ziggy mythology fell into place. At Oxford Town Hall on June 17th, photographer Mick Rock was on hand to capture forever the moment when David first knelt before Mick Ronson during his "Suffragette City" solo and simulated fellatio on his guitar. Photographed again and again at subsequent concerts, the consummation of Bowie's provocative stage relationship with Ronson became one of the abiding images of rock, an outrage to rival Hendrix burning his guitar or Iggy Pop diving headlong into the crowd. According to Stuey George, it was a premeditated stunt calculated to cause "a stir" after Ronson had begun emulating Hendrix by playing his guitar with his teeth on stage. "David suggested taking it a stage further...What you have to remember is that with David everything was choreographed." The original fellatio photograph was distributed to the press, and one of the most enduring images of Bowie was born. Once again Ziggy Stardust was undermining the assumed "masculinity" of rock performance, this time by subverting the implicitly heterosexual connotations of the guitar solo.
The stunt almost backfired when Mick Ronson learned that paint had been thrown over his parents' front door and daubed on the new car he had bought them, and that his sister was braving accusations in Hull that he was "a queer". According to some reports Ronson was only dissuaded from quitting the band by some fast talking from Bowie and Defries.
The Dunstable gig was filmed for posterity by Mick Rock, and a selection of clips later formed the video for the 1994 release of the live "Ziggy Stardust" single from Santa Monica '72. This four-minute montage offers a valuable glimpse of The Spiders' early stage show, capturing David's remarkable elasticity, and catching Woody Woodmansey before his hair was cut short and dyed blond.
The turning-point came in early July, when The Spiders' famous Top Of The Pops performance of "Starman" was followed three days later by a special "Save the Whale" gig on behalf of Friends Of The Earth at London's Royal Festival Hall. Support came from Marmalade and the JSD Band (Mott The Hoople had turned down the slot: "I knew what the bugger was up to," said Ian Hunter later, suggesting that Bowie had intended to give the band twenty minutes "with a lousy sound system", the better to reflect his own set), but there was no doubt about who the audience had come to see. Compere Kenny Everett introduced Bowie as "the second greatest thing next to God," and the press weren't far behind in their praise. "When a shooting star is heading for the peak, there is usually one concert at which it is possible to declare, 'That's it - he's made it'," wrote Ray Coleman in Melody Maker. "Bowie is going to be an old-fashioned, charismatic idol, for his show is full of glitter, panache and pace. Dressed outrageously in the tightest multicoloured gear imaginable, Bowie is a flashback in many ways to the pop star theatrics of about ten years ago, carrying on a detached love affair with his audience, wooing them, yet never surrendering that vital aloofness that makes him slightly untouchable...obviously revelling in stardom, strutting from mike to mike, slaying us all with a deadly mixture of fragility and desperate intensity." Record Mirror declared that "David Bowie will soon become the greatest entertainer that Britain has ever known...His talent seems unlimited and he looks certain to become the most important person in pop music on both sides of the Atlantic." The Guardian found him "a remarkable performer", and The Times hailed his music as "T S Eliot with a rock and roll beat."
The Festival Hall concert was notable for other reasons. After a standard set, the band was joined for the encores by Lou Reed, who had arrived from New York the previous day to begin work with Bowie on his new album Transformer. It was Reed's first appearance on the British stage, and although somewhat the worse for wear ("He was absolutely out of his head," an anonymous insider told the Gillmans, "I don't know if he was stoned or pissed or what"), he duetted with David on The Velvet Underground numbers "White Light/White Heat", "Waiting For The Man" and "Sweet Jane". It was also at the Festival Hall gig that David first came to the attention of the Japanese fashion photographer Masayoshi Sukita, who had recently arrived in the UK and was so struck by David's performance that he contacted Tony Defries to request a meeting. Over the coming years Sukita would be responsible for some of the most striking images of Bowie, including many famous Ziggy-era poses and, some years later, the sleeve photograph for "Heroes".
A week later on July 16th, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop (both fresh from solo performances at the King's Cross Cinema over the previous two days) were present at a Bowie press conference at the Dorchester Hotel, arranged for a group of American journalists who had been flown over by Defries to attend Bowie's Aylesbury gig the previous night. Following the press conference Defries began refusing interviews and access to David. It was the beginning of the next stage in his campaign to build up an aura of untouchable mystique around his star: the summer of 1972 also saw the hyping of Bowie's much-discussed dread of being shot on stage, and the exaggeration of his fear of flying (in reality a genuine but conquerable anxiety that was exacerbated by an electrical storm during a flight at the end of July) into a full-blown phobia necessitating heavily publicised and vastly inconvenient journeys by the Trans-Siberian Express and the QEII.
Defries's grasp on Bowie's affairs tightened at around the same time. In June 1972 he split from Laurence Myers, his partner at Gem Productions, who surrendered Gem's copyright control of Bowie's master recordings in return for $500,000 of Bowie's future earnings. Ignorant of this arrangement and still trusting Defries implicitly, David agreed to sign a new contract which allowed his manager a shocking 50 per cent of his future earnings. The contract was with a company Defries had purchased the previous year and which, on June 30th 1972, he registered under a new title: MainMan. It is a name now synonymous with the excess and exploitation towards which Bowie was irrevocably headed. "The problem is," Defries frankly told the Gillmans, "I don't think David could read or understood his own contracts."
After the Aylesbury gig on July 15th there was a month's break in Bowie's gigging schedule. Two days later he departed for a fortnight's holiday in Cyprus with Angie, Bolder and Woodmansey, while Ronson made a flying visit to Canada to record with the American band Pure Prairie League. It was during the flight home from Cyprus on July 30th that an electrical storm struck the plane and, according to Trevor Bolder, "terrified" David and "freaked out" Angie. On August 2nd David attended Mott The Hoople's recording of "All The Young Dudes" for Top Of The Pops at BBC Television Centre. Recording for the Mott album had been completed before the Cyprus trip, and on August 11th Bowie and Ronson began producing Lou Reed's Transformer at Trident.
The UK Ziggy tour was re-launched on August 19th and 20th with two high-profile performances at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park. Determined to raise his work to a suitably climatic new level, Bowie had summoned his old mime tutor Lindsay Kemp from Edinburgh to stage and choreograph the new shows. Under Kemp's direction, Bowie and The Spiders underwent a week's rehearsal at the Rainbow simultaneously with the Transformer sessions. Kemp devised a series of avant-garde routines with his four dancers - Annie Stainer, Ian Oliver, Barbara Ella and Carling Patton - whom David dubbed The Astronettes, a name he would later recycle. The resulting gigs, billed as The Ziggy Stardust Show, were unveiled as a decadent multimedia spectacle, by far the most theatrical concerts Bowie had yet undertaken and arguably the most spectacular of the entire Ziggy period. Ladders and catwalks framed the stage, giving David the opportunity to perform songs from different levels - a significant step towards the radical rock theatre he would attempt on later tours. The inspiration for this, he revealed, came from performances he had seen by the Living Theatre in London. The stage itself was covered with sawdust, an old Lindsay Kemp technique which, as David later explained, would allow dragged feet to "produce a trail indicating movement caught, so to speak, in the spotlight."
In another innovative move, the Rainbow shows were illuminated by slide projections against the backdrop: prior to Bowie's entrance, the screens displayed a montage of new images shot by Mick Rock at Trident during the Transformer sessions, juxtaposed with stills of rock icons like Elvis Presley and Little Richard. This, David explains in Moonage Daydream, was "to give a semblance of continuity to the Ziggy theme, as though he was already one of them. At other times, it was Warhol objects juxtaposed against their civilian counterparts. The Campbell's soup can, a packet of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Andy's electric chair against a chair from Habitat, Marilyn and a girl from Orpington. And so on and so forth."
For the opening "Lady Stardust" (added to the repertoire for the first time), a giant projection of Marc Bolan's face filled the backdrop while the dancers waltzed through dry-ice in identical Bowie masks. During "Starman", Kemp dangled from the rafters dressed as an angel, while David added lines from the song's ancestor "Over The Rainbow". The newly-revived "The Width Of A Circle" saw Bowie embarking on an elaborate mime sequence devised by Kemp which stayed in the show for the remainder of the Ziggy tour. Other new additions included "Life On Mars?", "I Can't Explain", "Round And Round", the new single "John, I'm Only Dancing", and "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" (a full-length rendition, unlike the medley version heard in later Ziggy concerts). "Amsterdam" was replaced by another Jacques Brel cover, "My Death", for the acoustic interlude. It was also at around this time that The Beatles' "This Boy" was added to the repertoire as an occasional treat. The Rainbow shows saw the arrival of a replacement keyboard player: former Procol Harum keyboardist Matthew Fisher, famous for his organ solo on "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", was enlisted after Tony Defries had sacked Nicky Graham, apparently following a disagreement with Angela.
There were new costumes too, including a selection of bomber-jackets chosen by Angela from London boutiques, some spider-web leotards for the dancers which would reappear in the following year's The 1980 Floor Show, and, notably, Bowie's first Kansai Yamamoto costume: a tight-fitting red one-piece, later described by David as "the impossibly silly 'bunny' costume", which would remain a regular feature of Ziggy's live act thereafter. By introducing both Japanese costume and a mime element to Bowie's act, the Rainbow shows were instrumental in pushing him in the direction of kabuki theatre, a tradition he had so far plundered only for hairstyles and make-up. As 1972 progressed Bowie began using Japanese culture as another signifier for what was "alien" in his species of rock music. Kabuki literally means "song, dance, art", and its exotic make-up and physical expressionism, not to mention the fact that both male and female roles are played by men, gave it an obvious resonance for Bowie. The adoption of full-scale kabuki costumes the following year would alter his stage act forever.
A glimpse of the style of the Rainbow concerts survives in the form of Mick Rock's "John, I'm Only Dancing" video, shot at the venue on August 25th and incorporating rehearsal footage of Kemp's dancers captured a few days earlier. Footage from the first Rainbow gig was later edited to accompany a live recording of "Starman" made on the same night.
Support at the Rainbow shows came from the latest glam sensation Roxy Music, whose debut single "Virginia Plain" entered the chart the same week. Roxy had supported the tour in Croydon two months earlier, marking David's first encounter with his future collaborator Brian Eno. "The first time I met him I thought he looked more effeminate than I did," Bowie later recalled. "Really quite a shock."
Among those who attended the Rainbow concerts were Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Andy Warhol and Elton John (who left before the end, announcing that Bowie had "blown it"). Record Mirror declared the show a "stunning production spectacle" with a "breathtaking finale", while the NME's Charles Shaar Murray, soon to become one of David's foremost cheerleaders, found it "perhaps the most consciously theatrical rock show ever staged" and a "thoroughly convincing demonstration of his ascendancy over any other soloist in rock today". Lou Reed was overcome either by the show or by something else, and had to be carried out by Warhol and Kemp as he wept, "I have seen my music played and it was just beautiful!"
"Ironically enough, this would be the first and last time I would ever stage the Ziggy show on such a scale," Bowie later recalled. "We simply couldn't afford it." But it hardly mattered, because the essence of Ziggy, like the essence of kabuki, was not the scenery but the actor himself. "Although he was always called 'theatrical', Ziggy had very little stage show," Mick Rock pointed out in 2003. "Unlike Alice Cooper, who had this elaborate Grand Guignol set, Ziggy was the stage show - his costumes, his mime, his illusions, his dramatics. He did it all himself; he used himself. It was an amazing sleight of hand."
Such was the success of the Rainbow shows that a further ten UK gigs were booked for late August and early September, mainly at venues run by the Top Rank organisation. For these dates, keyboardist Robin Lumley was drafted in at short notice to replace Matthew Fisher who, according to Lumley, had "done a bunk...for some unknown reason". On August 30th the band returned to Finsbury Park for a third and final staging of the full Rainbow Theatre extravaganza, marking David's final collaboration with Lindsay Kemp. By way of contrast, the remaining dates were toned-down affairs (the temporary loss of the costumes in transit even led to the band appearing in jeans and T-shirts at Manchester's Hardrock Theatre), but by now David Bowie had conquered Britain. A sign of his snowballing celebrity came in Sunderland, where six fans arrived in wheelchairs, aping disablement until Bowie's entrance caused them to leap to their feet as if healed by their new messiah. In Manchester on September 3rd Defries dropped a new bombshell for the delighted entourage: RCA had consented to back an American tour, which would begin later the same month.