The ZIGGY STARDUST Companion

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  Stardust In His Eyes:
An Interview with Steve Harvey
 

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"Playing Ziggy is fascinating because of the many layers of imitation.  First and foremost I imitate David Bowie who happens to be playing Ziggy - whoever or whatever Ziggy is supposed to be.  But as Ziggy, Bowie then imitates others from Lou Reed to Elvis to Judy Garland, often combining them simultaneously.   Ziggy is elusive not least because Bowie's description of him in the song is at variance to his physical incarnation on stage: Bowie's hair-do was hardly "screwed down like some cat from Japan" and there is no attempt to present Ziggy as a guitar hero.  It all adds to the constantly shifting perspectives on the character we get from the songs.  But for me it is the reptilian space-age charm and the sheer vividness of the invention that appeals.  I see the show more as a musical play rather than as another gig.  There is a script.  I'm not the most insane Bowie fan in the world, rather I'm an actor and Ziggy is an incredibly juicy role."  - Steve Harvey (from ICA programme)

by Marcus Reeves 1998 E-mail: marcus_reeves@hotmail.com

Steve Harvey’s spacious North London apartment is appropriately laden with art books, his own paintings, videos, records, numerous guitars and a couple of cats (from Japan?). On entering, you feel as if you are stepping into a mini-bohemia. He himself comes across as a nineties version of Mick Jagger in Performance, and he looks like a cross between old rubber-lips himself , the young Jim Morrisson and, of course, Dame Bowie of Brixton. His speaking voice gives away his roots; Stafford, (a far cry from Bowie’s Beckenham), but when he slips into character, the transformation is quite spooky. He talks widely about his musical and artistic influences and is clearly a man who knows what he’s talking about. After performing rivetting acoustic versions of My Death and Five Years in the style of Ziggy, he spoke freely about himself and his interest in Bowie’s music.

"My earliest memory of Bowie is Golden Years which I heard at the time it came out, when I was about eight. I remember the re-issue of Space Oddity in ‘75 and Sound and Vision, but then I got into progressive rock, particularly Pink Floyd, for about ten years, and by then Bowie had degenerated into disco! I saw him play Space Oddity on the Serious Moonlight Tour on T.V. and thought it was done really badly, but remembered what a good song it was. For the first time I listened to that album and it reminded me of Syd Barrett, very whimsical, and from then on I listened to the slightly later albums. I like the evolution from Space Oddity to Aladdin Sane and in the retirement gig set, you get songs from those five albums quite evenly spread."

Around the time of his initial interest in Bowie, Steve started writing his own music.

"In 1989 I started a band, which carried on for about three years. After that split up, I concentrated on painting. I kept on song-writing and recording, with no intention of promoting the music, or even playing it live, which was really good, because I could do exactly what I wanted.

I had a jam with a friend of mine who’s a brain surgeon and we just ended up playing endless guitar solos, so we thought ‘let’s learn some songs’, and he was just starting to get into David Bowie. I’d also got into Frank Zappa and a lot of classical music, but Andy’s interest in the early Bowie rekindled my own interest and we started playing Space Oddity and Ziggy Stardust. At that stage, I wasn’t imitating Bowie’s voice, I was singing in my own.

Andy really enjoyed it, (it made a change from brain surgery!) and we just kept learning more Bowie songs. Some of our friends said they wanted to hear us, so we made an evening of it. We got some vaguely 70's clothes on and I got hold of a Tina Turner wig and cut it back. I sang and played bass, with Andy on guitar, and we performed in my living room. They all said ‘that was bloody good, and you look and sound like him with all that make-up’ (I’d got rid of my eyebrows with stage make-up), so we got a band together and did a few gigs. Our agent told me about the auditions for A Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide and they chose me. Oddly enough, I was doing impersonations of Arthur Lee from the 60's band Love when I got the call for this gig. I’ve not played a Love song since, but I’d love to a tribute to them."

Like Jane and Iain, Steve has strong feelings about Modern Art;

"The so-called Avant-Garde seems to me to be a recycling of various trends that have already happened, the extreme example would be to cite Marcel Duchamps, but everything that I paint is done so from a present-day perspective using techniques which are quite traditional. He explained one of his recent works as a contrast between the myths portrayed by Rubens and the view of the world from outer space, our view, "A view which Rubens and Homer could never have had."

Steve’s paintings are very striking and distinctive, he does have a knack of convincingly appropriating the styles of others, but he feels indebted to one in particular;

"A big favourite of mine is Max Beckmann, because he can combine the abstract considerations of the best of early modern Art with a really strong, almost fantastical narrative, which Picasso would never be interested in. He’s been my model for a long time."

Steve sees his portrayal of Ziggy as utilising similar skills to those he uses in his painting, but he has a strong understanding of Bowie’s use of role-play in the Ziggy era and what Bowie did with the character;

"I’m impersonating Bowie as Ziggy, whoever the hell he’s supposed to be. In the show, Bowie as Ziggy is copying others, such as Lou Reed, or even Elvis, it’s a multi-layered character. Even the description of Ziggy in the song doesn’t match up to the way he then portrays him. Ziggy to me is a bloody bizarre space-age reptilian creature moving his arse about, looking sternly at the audience. I see the show as almost a musical play, we’re all playing parts. It gets a bit scary sometimes, people have said that when I’m doing it, it’s like I’m not in the room anymore, that it’s just Ziggy. Sometimes I think ‘where the hell am I?’, but then I’ve always been a mimic, you can see that in my paintings too, it’s the same skill."

MOONAGE DAYDREAM

Like many of Bowie’s fans, Steve too has dreamt of Bowie and one dream helped him decide to pursue his art rather than continue in his band;

"I was sleeping in the same bed as Bowie and Jim Morrison (in a non-sexual way), and they kicked me out of it. The bed was rock history. So I decided to paint instead."

Whether they kicked him out or not, there’s certainly a hot water bottle in a bed somewhere for Steve, whether it be in the history of Rock, or in the history of Art. His impersonation of Ziggy is amazing and highly convincing; in the words of Jane Pollard, on the 2nd and 3rd of July, "this guy will scare people!" Be there...

---This page last modified: 29 Jun 2002---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)