Millions of words have been written about David Bowie in the last 24 hours. I have to confess to being shockingly unversed in his music, in fact I only possess one Bowie record and that is split into sections on a mixtape, unsurprisingly. However, the subject of this blog features prominently on it and it's a memory of halcyon times for me.
In early 2001, I made the acqauintance of a guy studying at Falmouth Art College called David Stent. He was friends with another art student who cut my mother's hair, called Sharon. Sharon brought us together because he was looking for someone to act in some of the short films he was making for his portfolio. We hung out a lot together during 2000-01, going to the cinema mostly and talking a lot about music and movies. I loved his record collection which turned me on to a number of bands I'd never previously paid much mind to - late 60s Beach Boys, Hendrix, Spiritualized and others. It was a time in which I could swing by his place on a Sunday morning, drink coffee and consider the world with someone of a like-cultural mind while the lightly warm, April morning sun shone through the window over my shoulder and Electric Ladyland unfurled its mysteries on the turntable.
One day he lent me a CD he'd borrowed from the Art College library - Bowie at the Beeb - 1968 - 1972. I hardly recognised anything on the first CD, though I'd heard of Kooks. The second CD was full of more stuff that I was familiar with, but I was still struck by how little of Bowie I had heard.
The liner notes revealed that a number of the tracks came from programmes hosted by Peel. As the battering drums and hot Hammond organ kicked off In the Heat of the Morning, backed by a full BBC Pops orchestra, it was clear that we were in another era entirely for Bowie, for Peel (whose show, Top Gear, was what the track had been recorded for), for Radio 1, pop music the whole shebang. But I enjoyed enough of Bowie's - Anthony Newley persona, in its dying days by 1968 to record that and London Bye Ta-Ta, one of the corniest but catchy tracks on the album.
I picked my way carefully through most of the first half. If you say Bowie's name to me now, I'm likely to sing back the "Doo-de-doo-un-doo-un-dun" refrain from Let Me Sleep Beside You. EXTRA! EXTRA! BBC do decent thing and provide link to the version I'm talking about. after a short interview with Brian Matthew circa 1969.
Two live sessions featured on the first CD and Peel hosted them both, his Perfumed Garden hippy chrysalis starting to strain by early 1970. Most of the first concert washed over me with its bread and barley sentiments, but Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed rocked like a bastard, while Cygnet Committee, even within the confines of the BBC Paris studios grew into something suitably monolithic by its conclusion.
By the second concert that Peel hosted in mid 1971, the seeds of Ziggy Stardust were being sown, though Peel seemed more enthused by Bowie and his band's blistering cover of Chuck Berry's Almost Grown. The change in Peel's approach towards rock 'n' roll excess was highlighted by him leaving a pause of just enough length to draw disbelieving guffaws out of the audience after telling that Kooks was written to celebrate the birth of "a baby boy called Zowie, spelled Z-o-w-i-e to rhyme with Bowie of course. And er... well that's nice I think, it's really quite good."
The second CD cuts to the meat of the action and if I was choosy on the first side, I gorged myself on the second as diamond after diamond came out from Ziggy and the Spiders from Mars: Hang on to Yourself, Starman, Changes, the sensational Suffragette City and my favourite Bowie track of the era, Queen Bitch. It was impossible by the end not to "get" it with regards to why Bowie was so venerated. Curiously though, I can see why fans would not have necessarily gone with him when he went in his subsequent directions. After the pop brilliance of the period captured in Bowie at the Beeb, you need to be in a particular, John Peelesque mood to want to listen to the second side of Low, the beauty is that it's all there waiting for us, when we're ready to catch up with him.
"Like the ragged soldier catching butterflies"
"Oh...that's very good!"
"In her brown coat and bibbly bobbly hat"
"Wham! Bam! Thank you, Mam!"
Videos courtesy of Enrique Guevara, VfortheShadow and Stardustdays.