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At the Marquee

Mick Rock • Music Scene • 27 January 1974


Saturday afternoon at the Marquee provided the setting for David Bowie’s return to the stage, three months after announcing his retirement from concert touring. Backed by Mick Ronson and the Spiders, and supported by Marianne Faithfull, the Troggs, and a new group called Carmen, whose sound has been suitably dubbed "flamenco rock".

Bowie was on display. His voice was in excellent shape, unhampered by a recent prolonged bout of flu, his energy as obsessive as ever, the music tight and inventive, and his parade of attire more bizarre than even his own freaky standards has led everyone to expect.

All this was for the benefit of the American NBC TV program The Midnight Special. Bowie himself chose the venue, pursuing further his current obsession with the period of his own beginnings in the music business. Pin Ups, his latest album release, consists solely of re-workings of mid-sixties British rock n roll hits. Bowie has always had a special affection for the Marquee. He used to play there with his first band, David Jones and the Lower Third. "At that time no-one would book us. We were considered a freaky band, and got booed at every gig we did. The only place that would let us play regularly was the Marquee, and then only on Saturday afternoons for a free audience".

It was some years, and several changes, both in musical style and appearance, since Bowie last played there, but again it was a Saturday afternoon, and again it was free. "I wonder what that proves,” grinned Bowie. For his return the stage and backdrop were completely rebuilt, and the walls and ceiling painted black all over. It all looked much smarter than anyone could ever recall.

On stage the Spiders, Aynsley Dunbar, Trevor Bolder, Mike Garson and Mick Ronson, who has recently finished recording his own album, and who will front the Spiders on a UK tour in the New Year, began to set up. After a couple of instrumental run-throughs, Ronson, all clad in white to contrast with the rest of the Spiders’ black, nodded to the camera crew, struck the first note and nodded again to the side of the stage.

Out sprang three figures, two black, male and female, and one white, Geoff MacCormack, who played congas for Bowie on his last US and UK tours. They performed a brief dance routine, then positioned themselves in front of their microphones, to be later introduced as the Astronettes, his vocal back-up group.

Close behind them appeared Bowie himself. He waved at the audience and grinned broadly. "And what ‘ave you lot been up to?" he enquired.

When the hysteria died down, it took three takes to satisfy Bowie with the sound quality. The audience were far less discriminating, and applauded them all rapturously.

The space in the Marquee is too limited to permit the requisite number of cameras to film simultaneously, so each song had to be reshot from different angles several times. This entailed as many as five or six performances of the same song, including run-throughs. Assisted by the frenetic film crew scurrying about and the clambering on the stage during performance of the more adventurous members of the audience, the atmosphere generated by Bowie’s own unique craziness swiftly transformed the clubhouse into something closely resembling a circus ring – Dali style.

Throughout Bowie was very patient, very up. He filled in the intervals between takes rapping with the audience, teasing, laughing. After each song he would disappear immediately, reappearing dramatically on cue for the next one in a new costume.

Bowie was joined by Marianne Faithfull, in a nun’s cowl and black cape, for the last song, the old Sonny and Cher hit, I Got You Babe. He frolicked about in the true spirit of the song while Marianne watched him deadpan throughout. During one long break between takes she turned and left the stage, and paraded a pretty bare bottom, as the split in her cape flew open.


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Photographs and texts have been credited wherever possible

this page updated January 17, 2020