TURQUOISE/FEATHERS/DAVID BOWIE & HUTCH

SEPTEMBER 14th 1968 - MARCH 21st 1969

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Mime

  • Hermione Farthingale: Vocals, Mime

  • Tony Hill: Guitar, Vocals (September - November)

  • John Hutchinson: Guitar, Vocals (November - March)

Repertoire included:

When I'm Five | Lady Midnight | One Hundred Years From Today | Amsterdam | Next | Ching-A-Ling | Life Is A Circus | Space Oddity | Sell Me A Coat | Strawberry Fields Forever | The Prince's Panties | Janine | Love Song | Lover To The Dawn

In August 1968 David and Hermione Farthingale moved into a rented room in Clareville Grove, South Kensington, where they were to stay until their separation in early 1969. This was the bedsit, and these were the days, later vividly commemorated in "An Occasional Dream". "I lived with a songwriter who didn't know what he was doing at that point," Hermione said. "He was still very embryonic...he'd been a mini pop star, but that had faded away, and he was just sort of working out where to go next."

David's new venture synthesised his dabblings in Buddhism, mime and a new ingredient introduced to his creative palette by both Hermione and Tony Visconti: the acoustic American folk sound popularised by the hippy movement. Together with Tony Hill, formerly the guitarist with Misunderstood, they formed a "multimedia" trio called Turquoise, whose song and mime repertoire embraced David's more whimsical compositions (including a new one, "Ching-A-Ling") and a selection of covers, including Bowie's first foray into the work of Jacques Brel. Another new song in the repertoire, "Life Is A Circus", was the work of Roger Bunn and John Mackie of Djinn, a band to whom David had been introduced by Tony Visconti. At around this time lead singer Bunn left the group, and David was invited to audition as his replacement, only to be rejected by the other band members.

David Bowie and Hermione Farthingale - Turquoise 1968

Turquoise's first gig was a 30-minute slot at London's Roundhouse on September 14th, an evening which also had the distinction of marking David's first brief encounter with his future wife Angela, who was in the audience with their mutual friend Calvin Mark Lee: the pair wouldn't get to know each other properly until the following year.

David returned to Hamburg to record his second appearance on 4-3-2-1- Musik Fur Junge Leute on September 20th, and by early October plans were afoot to make the film eventually realised as Love You Till Tuesday. Turquoise recorded "Ching-A-Ling" on October 24th, while on November 10th, following his week's filming on The Virgin Soldiers, David was once again in Germany. This time the venue was Munich for an appearance on Fur Jeden Etwas Musik, where he performed a mime routine and sang a song - which one is uncertain, although it seems likely that it might have been "When I Live My Dream".

After only a handful of dates Tony Hill left Turquoise to join High Tide (whose line-up included another future collaborator in violinist Simon House, who would tour with David a decade later). As of November 17th Tony Hill was replaced by a former colleague from The Buzz, John "Hutch" Hutchinson, who had recently returned from a year in Canada and, fresh from a summer season at Butlin's in Filey, had come to see the inaugural Turquoise gig at the Roundhouse. With the arrival of Hutch the group was renamed Feathers, and in addition to the songs, David now performed his mime "The Mask", while the trio took it in turns to read poems between numbers. Feathers were not a great success, netting a total of three performances in November and December.

"What we did with Feathers," Hermione Farthingale recalled, "were quite dark folk songs, like "Life Is A Circus" and "Love Song", and then David sang some Jacques Brel songs that he was very taken with at the time, like "Amsterdam", which is about hookers - you know, it's all gutsy stuff. And there was some sort of voice-over, I can't remember what it was, but David did a sort of dance movement thing to that." This was possibly a piece called "The Seagull" which, according to Hutch, involved David and Hermione dancing together to a tape of spoken narration and ethereal seaside sound effects. "It was a mixed-media, experimental kind of thing that we did in very small places to maybe thirteen people," explained Hermione. "We were just three mates trying out some things." Regarding her own musical ability, Hermione modestly added: "I wasn't a singer. I never pretended to be for a second. But I played the guitar and sang at home like everybody else did then. And because I was with David, and he was living with me, and we played and sang things, he wanted me to sing with him." In 1993, David himself said of Hermione: "She played a little bit of bedsitting-room guitar, that kind of folk guitar that every girl that looked beautiful could play."

David Bowie, Hermione Farthingale, Tony Hill and John Hutchinson: Feathers 1968

Although Hermione would later appear in the Love You Till Tuesday film, Feathers were effectively defunct after their Brighton show on December 7th. Hermione won a role as a dancer in the film Song Of Norway which began shooting the same month, and the trio's gigging days were done. Over Christmas David played two solo dates at the Magician's Workshop in Falmouth, Cornwall, at the invitation of an acquaintance called Gerry Gill. He spent Christmas at Gill's house near Redruth, playing his two twenty-minute spots on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, but was paid only expenses.

On January 22nd 1969 David recorded his fabled Lyons Maid ice-cream commercial, and four days later shooting began on Love You Till Tuesday. By this time two major and not unrelated developments had occurred: David's relationship with Hermione was coming to an end, and he had written a new song called "Space Oddity".

On completion of the film Hermione left the group for good, bound once more for Norway and further filming, and David and Hutch continued as a duo. In the short term, however, David embarked on six solo dates, performing his mime pieces Jetsun And The Eagle and The Mask as first support on a Tyrannosaurus Rex tour beginning in Birmingham on February 15th. Tony Visconti would later opine that this was a gesture of back-handed generosity on Bolan's part: "David was open to friendship but Marc was quite cruel about David's as yet unproven musical career," Visconti told David Buckley. "I think it was with great sadistic delight that Marc hired David to open for Tyrannosaurus Rex, not as a musical act, but as a mime."

"I had no idea, from seeing him on the tour, that he had any musical aspirations at all," recalled Bolan's other support act, the sitar player Vytas Serelis. "I do remember thinking what an old woman he was, because he used to take hours to get his make-up on. He'd go on in a draggy costume with tights and everything, and do this fairly conventional Marcel Marceau-type act." John Peel, who compered the tour, recorded in Disc & Music Echo that "David Bowie performs two of his mime things. It has been good to see the appreciation for what he does." Bowie would later credit Peel with persuading him to drop his mime act and concentrate on music.

When David and John Hutchinson reconvened in early March as "David Bowie & Hutch", the mime and poetry were dropped and the pair concentrated instead on a more sophisticated folk sound based on their twin acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies. At the same time, now his Virgin Soldiers haircut had grown back sufficiently, David restyled himself with the straggly bubble-perm he continued to wear into 1970 ("not my greatest hairstyle," he ruefully observed twenty years later). With the arrival of the new look, many observed a new manner, as David began cultivating the fey, softly-spoken and effeminate persona which, with a few refinements, would remain his public image well into the 1970s.

All these developments came to a head on March 11th when David and Hutch played a Guildford Festival gig, not in Guildford itself but at the University of Surrey's London premises on Battersea Park Road. Kenneth Pitt described the performance as "a revelation", as a newly relaxed and confident Bowie carried the audience through the set with a stream of witty remarks and easy charm. Hutch later recalled that "The Battersea date was the first time I began to understand what David was doing. He never worked like that before and had never used such chat." To the Gillmans he added, "It was a sort of gay patter, with me as a quiet straight man...I didn't know what to do except play guitar and sing, but it seemed to work." However, the financial rewards were insufficient for Hutch, and by early May he had left David's side to return to his family in Scarborough and resume his former job as a draughtsman. "We could have become another Simon and Garfunkel," he later said. "That was another chance I missed."

Before Hutch's departure, he and David recorded a tape of acoustic demos which would prove instrumental in securing a new recording contract. By late June David was back in the studio, beginning work on his second album.

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/Hermione Farthingale/John Hutchinson - Feathers: 1968/1969
David Bowie/Hermione Farthingale/Feathers 1968-1969