28th June 1983
Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
I generally regard FG (see Cimarons) as my First Love, but there are occasions when I sometimes wonder if it had not in fact been David Bowie. Because, for a two year period in the early seventies, I thought he was quite the most wonderful thing on the planet.
I had flirted with Marc Bolan earlier, but once the corkscrew-haired one began (mixed metaphor alert!) treading water and taking the piss after Telegram Sam, I began looking around for another recipient of my affections.
And the world changed, or at least mine did, on July 6th 1972 with David Bowie’s appearance on Top of the Pops. I sat transfixed as this this other-worldly being performed his latest single Starman: with his languidly suggestive draping of an arm around guitarist Mick Ronson, the unimaginably cool way he had of swinging his blue acoustic guitar around his back, and the undeniable fact he pointed directly at me, and only me, during the line:
“I had to phone someone so I picked on You.”
The song itself was equally disorientating, relating the tale of some alien encounter I could not quite understand. I did know enough though to realise that chorus hook octave jump from low F to middle F was filched straight from Somewhere Over The Rainbow – but even that fact seemed somehow apposite.
The 49p required to buy the single was such a distant and almost unattainable sum that, by the time I had finally scraped together the cash, Starman had dropped out of the charts, and the follow-up John I’m Only Dancing became my first David Bowie purchase. Although musically a simpler song, it also boasted a bafflingly ambiguous lyric; one which it took me about ten years to finally work out what it was all about. In my defence, those were more innocent times.
I had my 13th birthday around this time so, to my Mum’s bemusement, I asked for money so I could buy one of those big LP things – my first ever: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. A wonderfully original collection, which sounds a fresh today as it did when I first placed my primitive stylus on it around 40 years ago.
For the next two years or so, everything in my life revolved around David Bowie and, of the first eight albums I ever bought, six were Bowie ones. For the record (pun intended), should anyone be interested, the other two were Brain Salad Surgery and There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. Talk about eclectic.
My Mum must have been more than a touch disconcerted by the fact my hitherto bare bedroom walls were now covered with pictures of this distinctly androgynous looking creature. I even went through a spell of combing my then long hair behind my ears, as on the Aladdin Sane cover. That mine was jet back rather than red bothered me not a jot.
Things began to cool between us, as I sat crushed listening to the David Live album. What the fuck was going on?? Why had he chosen to record such crappy versions of these wonderful compositions? I, of course, knew nothing of soul music around this time. All I knew was these were not the same songs which had served as the backdrop to my life for the previous 24 months. Additionally, I was beginning to explore the Seventies Prog Dinosaurs at this point: Genesis, Pink Floyd and, particularly, Yes. I still kept a warm spot in my bed for Bowie (so to speak), but he now had to shuffle up a bit to allow others in.
The rest of the Seventies were patchy times for us Bowie fans: Young Americans (the two hit singles apart) and Lodger were poor fare indeed, as were passages of the Berlin albums, but both Station to Station and Scary Monsters took their places alongside the aforementioned Ziggy Stardust as utterly indispensible for anyone with even a modicum of good taste.
By 1983, the man had disentangled himself from the financially haemorrhagic clutches of the MainMan Organisation and had signed with EMI, who were looking for a quick return on their investment. Keen to oblige, Bowie had linked up with Producer Nile Rogers and presented his new bosses with a smooth, polished, customer friendly product: the Let’s Dance album.
But actually, it wasn’t really all that good. There was but one truly memorable new song on it; Modern Love. China Girl and Criminal World were both excellent, but were covers of older recordings. The title track, a huge hit around the world, seemed lyrically to have been cobbled together from a collection of disparate ideas – none of which remotely seemed to relate to the content of the, admittedly memorable, associated video.
As for the rest of the album, the re-recording of Cat People was a real klunker, and both Shake It and Without You would have been discarded as too weak to appear as b-sides five to ten years earlier. Notwithstanding, Joe Public loved it, and the thing sold in squillions, with this extensive Serious Moonlight Tour undertaken to promote the release.
New Zealand band Icehouse and The Thomson Twins provided the support acts, but I missed both due to Wife putting her foot down, and refusing to countenance the dubious delights of sitting for 3-4 hours in the cold and rain. Probably wise, as the weather really was quite appalling for much of the day. What on earth were the promoters thinking of, organising an open air concert in Scotland in June!
Bowie’s set began with a rushed run through of Star, before along came Heroes; the latter prefaced by few lines from the nursery rhyme Lavender Blue. A rather anodyne version of the song, I thought, Bowies voice devoid of much of the pathos of the original, and Robert Fripp’s unique guitar sound replaced for the most part by saxophone.
Things picked up considerably with Golden Years, Fashion and Lets Dance; this last named really coming alive as it never did on vinyl. And thereafter hit just followed hit, as Bowie and his band battled (generally successfully) with the cold, the wind and the general all round acoustic unsuitability of a rugby stadium as a rock’n’roll venue. Highlights were Cracked Actor (with Bowie serenading poor Yorick in the palm of his hand), a truncated Station to Station and, everyone’s fave, Rebel Rebel.
It’s probably heresy to suggest it, but I felt the show was perhaps a good half hour too long; the final 30 minutes seeming to drag after the blistering 90 which preceded it. Following an entrancing performance of Space Oddity, the main body of the show fizzled to a close with rather lacklustre renditions of TVC15 and Fame.
The first encore was Stay – never really a huge favourite of mine – the chugging guitar intro always promising but never truly delivering, as the tune meanders along to its unsatisfactory conclusion. Just as Bowie reached the line
“I guess there’s always some change in the weather”
the heavens opened once more, and his ironic glance skyward received a huge cheer.
We then endured the castrated version of Jean Genie, which Bowie had originally devised for the David Live era set. If he was so ashamed of Mick Ronson’s original Blockbuster riff (from The Sweet hit, not the TV show), then far better to drop the song altogether than to inflict this nonsense upon us, I felt.
Hoping to miss the rush, Wife and I left during Modern Love – quite apt, I think as it is probably the last truly wonderful song the man has written. But I can forgive him that for, as The Walkers Brothers astutely attested, First Love Never Dies.
What in the World
Life on Mars?
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
White Light/White Heat
Station to Station
Ashes to Ashes
The Jean Genie