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Caught in the Act

by Tim Westmacott - Melody Maker (19 August 1972)

On that evening, I arrived during the closing minutes of Roxy Music's support act. I had no idea what to expect (it was a work colleagues idea to attend the concert) but I was quite excited as there was an unusually expectant atmosphere building up in the auditorium.

A short while later this was cut by taped music from "Clockwork Orange" followed by an extract of the fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony played by Matthew Fisher on an off-stage organ. During this the orange-haired Bowie, in green patterned jump suit and long, silver boots walked slowly forward from the gloomy rear of the stage, strumming his 12-string guitar. The Spiders had already assumed their positions, and as the organ stopped Bowie's now audible strumming led the band into the opening number.

The stage set was fairly simple, yet innovative of the time, being constructed of scaffolding, framed by ladders at either side of the stage, and containing a screen off-center to the left on which obscure clips of black and white film were shown from time to time to complete various songs. The whole stage was covered in sawdust (stardust?) and had a group of three dancers (the Astronettes) dressed in fishnet body stockings in the background. What was used was used with the utmost effectiveness, but the production was actually put together on a shoe-string budget, an example of which was Bowie's hand movements to replace the as-yet unaffordable synthesiser in the lift-off sequence of Space Oddity.

Halfway through the show, Bowie left the stage while the Spiders played an instrumental number and a few moments later he re-appeared in a scant, red and yellow tunic, high up on a catwalk atop the scaffolding. When he climbed back down to the stage his study of mime became apparent during the sequence where he seemed to be feeling his way, with the palms of his hands, along an invisible wall. Appearing to find a narrow gap, he pushed his fingers through and gave the impression of terrific strain as he tried to push the two sections of the wall apart. Just when he seemed about to escape, the invisible wall snapped shut again with Ziggy still on the other side of it.

At this point I left my seat in the circle and went downstairs. I walked down the central aisle of the stalls until I was level with the front row, then couched to the right of another person taking photos. After taking nearly a dozen pictures, suddenly a burly coloured man ran towards me. Wildly gesturing with his arm that I should stop what I was doing and get back. Clutching my Pentax, I ran back to my seat. Only later did I find out that for reasons of managerial strategy only one photographer (from Melody Maker) had been given permission to take photographs.

Throughout the performance, Bowie held the audience spellbound with every enunciated word and choreographed movement. He allowed himself no un-staged actions (e.g. scratch an itch or take liquid refreshments), he didn’t even announce the songs. And for those he hadn't already won over, the 25 year old who had walked on as a singer, walked off as a star.

---This page last modified: 13 Dec 2018---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)