Ziggy takes flight
On January 29, 1972, after many weeks of intense rehearsal in Underhill Studios – Greenwich, the Royal Ballroom in Tottenham High Road and other locations, David Bowie and his new band were ready to begin their first UK tour, supporting the recently released Hunky Dory album and previewing new songs from the forthcoming Ziggy Stardust album.
The venue for the first concert was the Friars Club at the Borough Assembly Hall in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire north of London, a 72 mile drive from Bowie’s home at Haddon Hall in Beckenham, South London.
The Friars was chosen because David had played there several times throughout his career and had a strong local following so Defries knew that it was close enough to London to attract some city fans willing to make the journey up to Aylesbury to join the locals. The diehard music fans at the core of Friars success had built a reputation for booking excellent UK bands who would go on to enjoy great success including Fleetwood Mac, Mott the Hoople, Pink Floyd and Genesis as well as hosting hot new talent from the US including the Velvet Underground and MC5.
On the 25th September 1971, after returning from a trip to New York to sign his new deal with RCA, David and Mick played a concert at Friars featuring several songs from the forthcoming Hunky Dory album. At the end of the show David told the audience ‘When I come back I’m going to be completely different”. Invigorated by his second US trip David had already begun to make plans to evolve into Ziggy and was writing exciting new songs like Ziggy Stardust, Starman and Five Years.
Although they were expecting something new no-one in the Aylesbury crowd 4 months later was prepared for what they saw or heard that night. The tightly rehearsed band began the set with Wendy Carlos’s stirring electronic version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as featured in Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘A Clockwork Orange’. This introduction piece complemented the outfits the band were wearing, highlighting the enormous impact the film had on David’s morphing into Ziggy.
According to reviews of the gig written in the local press the first two songs the band played were – Hang on to Yourself and Ziggy Stardust – a very powerful way to introduce the exciting new sound waiting for fans when the album was released in June that year.
Among the London contingent of the crowd who had travelled up for the show were Roger Taylor and Freddie Mercury from Queen, who had driven to the gig in Roger’s Mini. Both of them raved about the concert and several years later Freddie recalled how influential that night had been and the impact Bowie’s performance had on him.
On the night of January 29, fans paid the princely sum of 60p in advance of 65p at the door. The support band were Grand Canyon, and this was one of the last times that David had a support act as Defries introduced his plan to ensure Bowie was the only band on the bill highlighting his exclusivity while controlling all the artistic and technical aspects of the show without any interference from external complications associated with support acts.
Although David was used to wearing stage makeup and theatrical costumes from his earlier experiences with mime and musicals this show was a first-time experience for the other three members of the band. As Woody Woodmansey recalls they were working class rock ’n roll musos from Hull who only ever wore jeans and t-shirts, so they were hesitant about wearing their new costumes and particularly resistant to wearing any makeup. But Angie and David proved very persuasive and so the slap was applied liberally. After experiencing the reaction from the crowd and the fan base that built over the next few weeks The Spiders soon embraced all aspects of the costumes and the makeup.
When that first UK tour started the shows were just billed as David Bowie, there was no mention of the band but as the weeks went on and the band saw how well the new tracks from Ziggy were being received they decided to inhabit the Spider personas and Woody took matters into his own hands when he bought some black Airfix paint and wrote ‘The Spiders’ on his bass drum. So Woody, Trevor and Ronno (along with their occasional piano player Nicky Graham) became ‘The Spiders from Mars’.
Later that year on July 15, as part of a promotional campaign for the Ziggy Stardust album and in preparation for a US Tour, Defries took Bowie and the Spiders back to Friars for a special showcase concert where the audience included a large contingent of US and international music journalists specially flown into the UK to experience and report on this exciting new rock ’n roll phenomenon that began life on stage in Aylesbury on January 29, 1972.
Among the many examples of why ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars’ has remained one of the most important albums ever recorded by David are extraordinary songs and the pictures they paint that captivated his audience then and continue to captivate it today. Five Years is such a song….
“Pushing through the market square
So many mothers sighing
News had just come over
We had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet
Then I knew he was not lying….
I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlor
Drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine
Don’t think you knew you were in this song……
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk
We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got…….”
These lyrics from Five Years reflect his response to the growing environmental concerns from the publication of Rachel Carson’s 1960s book ‘Silent Spring’, the first celebration of Earth Day in the US 1970, the establishment of Greenpeace in the UK, the first major offshore oil spill in California and many scientific articles and discussions about the dystopian effect of human activities. Fifty years later these lyrics still serve as a prophetic warning that global warming and climate change present a major threat to the survival of humanity and life on planet earth.
Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman: William Burroughs Interviews David Bowie….Rolling stone by Craig Copetas
Burroughs: Could you explain this Ziggy Stardust image of yours? From what I can see it has to do with the world being on the eve of destruction within five years.
Bowie: The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock & roll band and the kids no longer want rock & roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ’cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news.
Burroughs: Where did this Ziggy idea come from, and this five-year idea? Of course, exhaustion of natural resources will not develop the end of the world. It will result in the collapse of civilization. And it will cut down the population by about three-quarters.
Bowie: Exactly. This does not cause the end of the world for Ziggy. The end comes when the infinites arrive. They really are a black hole, but I’ve made them people because it would be very hard to explain a black hole onstage.