by Michael Watts / Melody Maker
1st July 1972
IT WAS raining the night Jim met Phil. They were total strangers to each other, but Phil had asked Jim for a cigarette, and well… one thing led to another. They’ve become very good friends. Phil still recalls how Jim’s hands had trembled, though.
They’d gone along to see David Bowie in Dunstable. Great fans of Bowie they were, and Jim had almost to pinch himself when he first heard such a grand person was actually coming to that place. He hated it. Privately his mother confided that he found it difficult to make friends at work.
That Wednesday night he was there, though, clutching his copy of the new David Bowie album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, which he hoped David would autograph after the show. He was wearing his red scarf, flung nonchalantly over his shoulder, and his red platform boots.
His hair was long down the back but cropped fairly short on top so that it stuck up when he brushed his fingers through it. He hated that it was dark brown. He’d promised himself that when he eventually split to London he’d have it done bright blond. He was just turned 19.
Phil was one of the first to arrive at the Civic Hall. He’d stood in the queue for an hour and a half to get a ticket, so when he was inside he rushed quickly to the front and stood beneath the stage. He waited patiently while the Flamin’ Groovies went through their set. He was to say later, in fact, that they were quite super, but after all, he’d really gone to see Dave, hadn’t he?
He was so excited Phil can’t remember exactly what Bowie came out wearing, but towards the end of the performance it was certain that the outfit was white satin shirt and trousers, the legs tucked into glistening, thick-soled white boots. He looked like Vogue’s idea of what the well-dressed astronaut should be wearing. Dare it be said? A delicious space oddity.
A lesser hunk of glamour might have been upstage by guitarist Mick Ronson with his maroon sequined jacket, red lipstick and hair dyed peroxide as a fifties starlet, but though oohs and aaahs were directed his way, teenage hearts went fluttering out to David; for can anything dim the splendour of this ravishing creature whom all Britain is learning to love?
The newspapers were to report subsequently that this performance was one of the major turning points in David Bowie’s incredible success story. The man from United Artists Records, who knows what he likes, was quite sure of that. He said afterwards that DB was definitely the biggest thing around.
To those who had seen his act before this year the format was not new. That’s to say he started the set rockin’ like a bitch before cooling down somewhat with ‘Changes’, a song of mixed tempos, and then the darkling, apocalyptic message of ‘Five Years’, which owes something lyrically to Lou Reed (‘I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour drinking milk shakes cold and long.’) And then the acoustic passages with Mick Ronson (‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Andy Warhol’) culminating in a solo version of ‘Amsterdam’, a febrile account of rough trade, as delightfully coarse as navy blue serge.
‘Now some golden oldies for you.’ He announced the number as written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown. All his fans, of course, needed no telling. ‘I Feel Free’, ripping out of the stereo PA system, choreographed by the flickering strobe lighting, it’s not what you do, it’s the way you do it. My, how they clapped and whistled.
The band returned for an encore. It was ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’. But something rather strange was happening up there on stage. During the instrumental break Bowie began chasing Ronson around the stage, hustling him, trying to press his body close. The attendants at the exits looked twice to see if they could believe their eyes. The teenage chickies stared in bewilderment. The men knew but the little girls didn’t understand. Jeees – us! It had happened.
It should be recorded that the first act of fellatio on a musical instrument in the British Isles took place at Dunstable Civic Hall. How do you top that? You don’t. You get off stage.
After the show was over, scores of people were still milling around. Over the loudspeaker system Hunky Dory was playing. The autograph hunters were crowding round the dressing-room door, but he wasn’t seen to emerge. Moist-eyed boys still hung around. After a while, Jim and Paul left the place together.