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Oxford Town Hall (June 1972)

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Gay Rock

by Peter Holmes - Gay News (July 1972)

The event: Saturday 8 July, Bowie played at London's Royal Festival Hall in a benefit for the Friends of the Earth's Save the Whale campaign fund. Two weeks before the concert you couldn't get a seat in the RFH for deviant practices or money. Your reporter got in early with a couple of quid and there he was, just a few yards out from the stage and enough amplification equipment to set up a small to medium sized radio station.

Cuddly Ken Everett is compeer. Introduces Marmalade and the JSD Band, who replace Mott. It seems podgy Scots boys with glasses are in this week. They get a reasonable reception. But we're waiting for the star. The crowd isn't noticeably campy, even though the aftershave lies slightly heavier on the air than at most concerts at the RFH. Then Ken ('I even went a bit gay'! Nova) in a fetching jumpsuit of blue denim with massive white buttons, showing how he got in and how he meant to get out, says he fought his way through the feather boas to the star's dressing room. 'He insists on introducing himself in about four minutes' time, so here is the second greatest thing, next to God...David Bowie,' says Ken. The speakers boom out the Moog martial version of the 'Ode to Joy' from A Clockwork Orange.

The capacity-plus crowd claps in time and in the dark as people sneak across the stage in the murk. It ends. A  spot picks out a thin, almost drawn jester. Red hair, white make up and a skintight, red and green, Persian-carpet-print suit. All this on top of red lace-up space boots. 'Hello I'm Ziggy Stardust and these are the Spiders from Mars.' More lights and we have Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey. A few seconds and we have the mindblowing electric music of Bowie from the amps matched by the words that make Burroughs look like a slouch. And on stage, Bowie rampant. Until now, Bowie's never been a star, but he's studied some of the best, like Garbo and Presley, and now he's on top and he knows what to do. Sometimes he plays guitar, sometimes just sings with his eerie thin voice, but sometimes that voice grows. Bowie is the understudy who's been waiting in the wings for years. Finally his big day comes, and he's got every step, every note, every voice-warble right. A star is born.

He's a showman all right. Even the pubescent girls who'd spent their Saturday-mornings-at- Woolies wages on a seat, or crowded into the gangways screamed. He says, 'Tonight we have a surprise for you.' And everyone knows what it is. Lou Reed. The New Musical Express and other pop papers carried the secret during the week in inch and a half caps. 'Tonight we're going to do a number by Cream -"Free".' Anticlimax swamps the hall. But the Bowie voice is haunting in the few lines of the words at the beginning of the number. Then he leaves it to The Spiders to get on with it. Then our David's back. Now he's in a white satin space suit that leaves only how he got into it to the imagination. Garbo on Mars. And, offhand, he says, 'If you've seen us before, you'll know we do some numbers by the Velvet Underground. And tonight we have, for the first time on any stage in England, Lou Reed.'

And the Velvet's former leading light bounds on in black to match Bowie's white. We get a set of Velvet numbers. David plays to Lou. Lou plays to Mick. Mick plays to David. While they're having fun on stage there's enough electricity generated in the RFH to keep the national grid pulsing high-voltage goodies all over the land. They end, and the front several hundred of the 300-plus crowd mobs the stage. Time for the expected encore. Ziggy and the Spiders reappear and do 'Suffragette City'. Orange handouts with their pictures on explode from the stage. In this hour and a bit, Bowie has passed from wild electric rock to simple ballads, such as 'Space Oddity, and a Jacques Brel poem, 'Amsterdam', and back to wild electric rock. His words span concepts from science fiction and the coming of a super-race to sexual liberation. And we all had a bloody good time.

David Bowie is probably the best rock musician in Britain now. One day he'll become as popular as he deserves to be. And that'll give gay rock a potent spokesman.

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

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)