Thursday, August 27, 2009


I've been listening to a lot of David Bowie this last week. The reasons for this are two-fold:

1. I realised that I'd left a hell of a lot of Bowie songs off my iTunes, so I spent one night last week rectifying that. Suffice to say I now have (almost) his complete oeuvre on my iPhone, including the albums that die-hard Bowie fans, and even the great man himself, I believe, only speak of in hushed tones - Never Let Me Down and Tonight. I am enjoying them both GREATLY.

Look - apart from two episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and a little wobble where I listened to six tracks by other artists, my iTunes 'recently played' list proves that I've only listened to David Bowie over the last few days.

2. I was flicking around on the iTunes music store last Wednesday when I discovered that a David Bowie VH1 Storytellers live concert recorded in 1999 had been released at the beginning of July. I was on the verge of downloading it via the wiffys straight to my iPhone when I discovered that the physical version of the album came with a DVD of the concert, so I headed down to HMV in Hammersmith where I purchased it from an assistant who appeared to be suffering from some sort of disorder because they wouldn't look me in the eye or talk to me. Hmmm.

A quality version of Drive-in Saturday. I defy you not to laugh during the first 45 seconds where he reveals how Moot the Hoople turned this song down and in revenge he got very drunk and shaved his eyebrows off. Yes, you read that correctly.

So did I tell you I'm a really big David Bowie fan (not literally, mind)? I wasn't always, though. I used to hate his music back when I was a kid, although I had a begrudging, albeit well-hidden, respect for Modern Love. It was only sometime around the late 90s that I finally 'got' his stuff. Shortly after I got my first CD player I went on a bit of a mad spending spree buying loads of CDs, not only because they were something of a novelty, but also because - and this is going to sound very pretentious - I wanted to expand my musical horizons. And so, one day, I ended up buying The Singles Collection, one of the many David Bowie greatest hits compilations available, and one which I chose because it was dirt cheap in Kingston's now defunct Tower Records store.

It all goes a bit fuzzy after that, but the gist of it is that I suddenly developed into the Bowie uber-nerd, buying every studio album (multiple times, in those instances when special editions were released) and live album I could get my hands on in the space of just a few months. I read biographies and interviews, watched documentaries, concert films, Labyrinth, and The Man Who Fell to Earth. And in 2002, I finally got to see him play live.

It was around late september 2002 when Bowie was out and about promoting his Heathen album that it was announced he was going to play one show at the Hammersmith Apollo. Upon hearing this I went nuts (just one of many occasions over the years when my incredibly tolerant work colleagues probably began thinking about buying up some tranq darts) because not only is the Apollo one of my favourite gig venues and conveniently located close to work, it's also the place where Bowie spectacularly killed off Ziggy Stardust in 1973.

I had to go.

Getting tickets, however, was another matter. They weren't going on sale via traditional means, and so I tried entering competitions online and on the radio in an effort to get my hands on some, failing at every attempt. However, on the Friday before the gig (which was on a Wednesday), just as I was about to abandon all hope, it was announced that tickets would go on sale the very next day at 9 am - and the only way to get them was to buy them in person from the Hammersmith Apollo box office.

I was determined to get them, and so I resolved to queue over night outside the Apollo. I had never queued over night for anything before, and never have since, but I wanted these tickets more than anything. A load of us had arranged to go for a drink after work that Friday evening, and although I attended I made my excuses and left early. I was home by about quarter to eight that evening, and in bed by nine. I'd set my alarm for a little after midnight and, amusingly, as I was still living at Sparky Ma and Pa's at the time, I remember Big Bro and I passing like ships in the night as he was going to bed and I was heading out the door.

I drove to Hammersmith, and was at the Apollo around 1 am, where I tagged on to the end of the queue. At some point someone walked along the line and gave me a number - around 275, I think - that meant I could've wandered off and come back later, but I didn't want to risk losing my place. I'd taken a random Star Trek novel that I'd grabbed from the office with me, and some work, but I ended up not really touching either; instead, I got chatting to some of the people around me. Despite the fact that I was wearing a jacket and a waterproof, it was cold, and a lovely, slightly hippy-ish couple in the queue directly behind me lent me a blanket and a pillow while they retreated to the warmth of their camper van. I struck up a conversation with the guy in front of me, who worked in the Ealing branch of HMV and looked remarkably like Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips if memory serves me correctly; he'd kind of accidently managed to buy tickets for a forthcoming Bowie gig in New York, but wasn't quite sure if he'd actually be able to afford the flights and accommodation. We talked until the first rays of sunlight peeked over the Hammersmith flyover, and as the queue finally started edging forward he mentioned that I should go see his band play at a pub in a couple of weeks. By that time we were at the doors of the Apollo and before I knew it we'd been directed to different ticket booths; I never got his name, or the name of the pub where he was playing.

What I did get, though, was two tickets to see David Bowie at the Hammersmith Apollo. Securing them safely in a zipped pocket, I walked back to my car in a bit of a daze, and was home just before 11 am that morning.

The next few days passed so slowly it was untrue, but eventually Wednesday, 2nd October arrived, and Yazzle Dazzle and I fronted up to the Apollo. Out of interest, we stopped a tout and asked how much he'd give us for our tickets; not that we would ever have given any thought to actually selling them, but let's just say we would've been properly quids in if we'd done it.

The gig was amazing; an incredibly relaxed and vibrant-looking Bowie played for almost three hours. The crowd loved it; we had seats in the circle, but everyone was on their feet throughout, including Roger Taylor from Queen, who was dressed in a tuxedo with a white scarf draped across his shoulders (funny, though, I don't recall seeing him sitting outside the Hammersmith Apollo at 2 am the previous Saturday morning). To this day that gig ranks as one of the best concerts I've ever seen.

Although these were the days before I had a camera phone, at least one person was good enough to get a snippet of the incredible Hammersmith Apollo gig.

Around this time I was also writing a lot of scripts for ideas I'd had for comic books, and I kid you not, I even started writing one about Ziggy Stardust. It struck me that there was a very strong narrative to a lot of Bowie's songs, and I thought it would be interesting to try and tie some of them together. I wrote 108 pages of script for what I envisaged would end up as something like a 300 page-long graphic novel. Comics pal Grum even did some character design sketches. I don't know quite what I thought would happen with it - would I ever be able to send the script to David Bowie himself? Probably not, but as a writing exercise it was a very valuable experience; it remains the second longest piece of fiction I've ever written after my novel. To this day I still think the plot is sound, and although five years have passed since I last looked at it, I often think that I'd like to go back and finish it one day.

The first page of my Ziggy Stardust comics script.

In November 2003 I got the chance to see Bowie play live again as part of his A Reality Tour. This time he was playing at Wembley Arena, a venue not known for being particularly warm and intimate. On this occasion, though, that vast arena was transformed. I have never been to such a large concert where the entire crowd - and I mean literally *everyone* - is on their feet singing along from the very first song. That song was Life on Mars, and I distinctly remember us giving a visibly humbled Bowie several full minutes of applause before he got a chance to move on to the next song.

Not actually from the Wembley show, but you get the gist of it.

Like the Hammersmith gig, the Reality Tour show remains one of the best concerts I've ever been to. I remember coming out of the arena that night and giving serious thought to trying to get tickets for the second Wembley show the very next day - something I regret not doing now. Bowie had to abandon the tour due to ill-health the following summer, and hasn't toured since. After producing such an incredible musical legacy over the years I guess he's perfectly entitled not to head out on the road again, but for purely selfish reasons I'd love to see him play just once more (if only for Big Bro's sake - he's never seen Bowie play live, and after seeing the Reality Tour DVD deeply regretted not taking me up on my offer of getting him a ticket). Until that time, should it ever happen, I'll just have to make do with listening to all those songs I just put on my iTunes - even the ones off Never Let Me Down.


Tara said...

I'm so glad that it paid off to wait in line for the tickets! I have not done that yet, but there's always a first time.

CyberPete said...

I'm not really into Bowie but I would have done the same if it were a Kylie show. Although that would involve loads of hair pulling, cunty bitches and snapping.

A very dangerous combination.

Tim said...

Tara - So was I! It was only when I had the tickets in my hand that I finally relaxed - I was certain they'd sell out just as I got to the ticket office!

Cyberpete - Sounds like fun!

Inexplicable DeVice said...

So: You like Bowie, then?

I'm not averse to him myselves. I do quite enjoy Jump They Say.

Oh, and I particularly like this line in your script: The next few pages (until I say otherwise!)...

Tim said...

Are you implying that fate is drawing us together because I like Bowie and you like Bowie (or rather one of his songs)?

Actually, Jump They Say is the first song of his I liked!

As for the line in the script, you've got to show these artists who's boss!

CyberPete said...

There are two songs by Bowie that I do like. One of them is the one where there are these sawed off limbs in the video. It's disgusting but the song is good. It's from sometime in th mid to late 90s I think.

The other is Dancing in the street...

Tim said...

Pete, I think you like The Heart's Filthy Lesson, and if you do I salute you sir! That's one of my all-time favourite Bowie songs!

This one:

And Dancing in the Streets is freakin' awesome.

CyberPete said...

That's the one!

Still a vile video but the song is smashing!

Tim said...

You've surprised me!

CyberPete said...

And that's not easy, I know.

You know, I like Rachel Stevens and Girls Aloud too.

Tim said...

I like Rachel Stevens too. Especially when she's not singing!

CyberPete said...


I suppose you like her best now then?

I wish she made another album.

Tim said...

Yes, apart from the fact she insisted on getting married.

CyberPete said...

She's married !?!

The shame.

To who?