Tuesday, 12 January 2016

David Live

Lucky me - I was born at the right time. I got to see David Bowie perform live. I got to see David Bowie perform live an awful lot, actually.

Pretty much all my young man's money went towards it. Europe and beyond was my playground from my late teens onwards. Newcastle, New York, Newport or Berlin Neueweld... if David Bowie was booked to play, I'd get myself there and get myself in. Somehow.

I made a lot of friends along the way, many of whom remain close to this day. We got to know each other somewhat intimately through sleeping on floors, in airport lounges, railway stations, shop doorways and the like. Once I slept with three other people in the frozen back of a mini-van. My friend John slept in a Victoria Station luggage locker, his feet sticking out the open end so he wouldn't get locked in by mistake...

We hitched, we drove, we stowed away on ferries - we did whatever it took to get to the gig. Ticket buying, trading and upgrading became akin to a full-time job on the bigger tours. And as for those rare private shows, secret gigs and closed-shop TV performances? We got into most of those too, by fair means and foul, and by employing bravado and ingenuity that would, I think, astound.

How many Bowie gigs did I chalk up over the years? I stopped counting a tour or two ago for the sake of my sanity. It's well into three figures though. And, to misquote Gigi: "Ah yes. I remember them well."

I'm genuinely sad that nobody will ever get to enjoy the sights and sounds of a Bowie gig again. I used to feel jealous of those slightly older, slightly more switched-on types who saw the Ziggy, Aladdin, Diamond Dogs, Soul and Thin White Duke shows. Alright, so I still am. But I am also truly happy and blessed with the lot that I got - and I only wish there could be more.

David Bowie was a performer like no other. He really was. To bone up on the history of the man, as laboriously documented in a mountain of books as well as in cuttings and titbits garnered through my own reasonably fastidious research, is to discover just what an intensely focused young man he was.

He worked hard, ridiculously hard, to hone his gallery of talents. It's fair, I think, to say that unlike some lucky bastards David Robert Jones was not born talented as such. He had to earn his stripes. He taught himself to read music from a self-help book. I have no idea how he learned to play guitar... probably the same way. Then he found a piano, learned the hard and long way how to play it, and had the balls to bash out a classic piano-driven album ('Hunky Dory') almost straight away.

Balls were in abundance, too, at the creation of Ziggy Stardust. It takes some front to step onto the streets of Finsbury Park, Epsom or Newcastle dressed in a rainbow suit, wrestling boots and more lippy than is befitting of a lady. In conservative old 1972.

It was such an immensely creative time for David. He was inventing and reinventing himself, diligently chiseling away at the character he wanted to present to the world in the basement rehearsal space of what is now a corner chemist's shop in Greenwich. But I digress...

To see David Bowie live is, or was, to see all these incredible disciplines set out in order. What a performer! I remember the gig following my 19th birthday (I was given the bumps outside the concert hall the previous night), seeing the man perform 'Fame' from my envious position right up front against the Birmingham NEC stage. David was miming, pretending to sign autographs and hand them out. As he shuffled along the stage, eventually meeting me square-on, eye-to-eye, his make believe pen scribbled on make believe paper and the make believe autograph was proffered to me in mime fashion. I did the decent thing: I reached out and took it, folded it in half and stuck it in my pocket. Where it magically disappeared.

It was a daft but captivating moment. One of many, for me. Mighty is the craic of seeing David perform a secret rehearsal gig with Tin Machine, as nominal support act to a local band in a Dublin pub, in front of no more than 100 people. I was upfront, my chest clashing with his micstand. It was punk as fuck.

 Transfixing it was, too, to watch David belt out 'Something In The Air' in New York, his giant voice expelling so much air it turned to a visible cone of steam in front of him.

I could, and undoubtedly will, go on (and on). But not today. Today, I'm just happy to reflect on some of the fun I had earning those caps for Bowie fandom. The last time I saw him play was his last UK gig at the Isle of Wight festival. Funny, the Isle of Wight is where he made his very first public performance, too. At Scout camp, aged 11. And it's where I live now.

David last toured in 2004, which means in practical terms that nobody in their mid-twenties or younger would have stood much chance to see him, even once. So I mean it when I say I am truly grateful for the times I did get to share with this brilliant man and his often brilliant bands.

You might be wondering what David made of us lot? He was asked about this in interview once. I can't find it right now, but the quote went a lot like this:

"I recognise a lot of the people who come to my shows. I consider them friends. We're like old friends."

Rest in peace, old friend.


  1. We did all look like homeless people after sleeping all night outside venues. I always enjoyed the sudden rush of energy when David first got on stage. The sheer joy of the music kept us going for days. What a great artist to be addicted to. 2004 Isle of Wight was my last DB gig as well. Thanks Andy.

  2. Splendid words. I am sad that I only got to see him twice, but at the same time, so glad that I managed even that.