BOWIE GOLDEN YEARS

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Music hall humourist

Marc Bolan • Melody Maker • 12 March 1977

 

Bowie is a great singer … he can sing anything, almost. I remember him when he was in The Lower Third and he used to go to gigs in an ambulance. I used to think he was very professional. He was playing saxophone then and singing I suppose it was a blues band then and he was produced by Shel Talmy.

He did a record which I'm sure everybody has forgotten. It was Pop Art yer actual feedback. I can't remember what it was called.

After that he went to Decca around the time I was doing The Wizard. He was into … bombardiers then. Don't you remember The Little Bombardier?

He was very Cockney then. I used to go round to his place in Bromley and he always played Anthony Newley records. I haven't spoken to him about it, but I guess that was how he got into mime.

Newley did mime in Stop the World I Wanna Get Off. The funny thing is that The Laughing Gnome, which was one of Bowie's biggest singles here, came from that early period. It came at the height of his supercool image. And that's very Strawberry Fair… 'the donkey's eaten all the strawberries!' That was his biggest single, so it just shows you it doesn't pay to be cool, man!

Rock 'n' Roll Suicide hit the dust and the laughing gnomes took over. We were all looking for something to get into then. I wanted to be Bob Dylan, but I think David was looking into that music hall humour.

It was the wrong time to do it, but all his songs were story songs, like London Boys. They had a flavour, a very theatrical flavour, with very square kinda backings. But in those days there weren't any groovy backings being laid down. I think if he played back those records now he'd smile at them, because he was an unformed talent then. He was putting together the nucleus of what ho was eventually going to be.

When he had Space Oddity he was on tour with me in Tyrannosaurus Rex. He had a mime act and used to open up the show. He didn't sing at all but had a tape going and he'd act out a story about a Tibetan boy. It was quite good actually, and we did the Festival Hall with Roy Harper as well. I remember David playing me Space Oddity in his room and I loved it and said he needed a sound like the Bee Gees, who were very big then. The stylophones he used on that, I gave him.

Tony Visconti turned me onto stylophones. The record was a sleeper for months before it became a hit, and I played on Prettiest Star, you know which I thought was a great song, and it flopped completely. But I never got the feeling from David that he was ambitious. I remember he'd buy antiques if he had a hit, when he should have saved the money. David got his drive to be successful once, I'd done it with the T.Rex thing, At the beginning of the seventies it was the only way to go.

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this page updated January 17, 2020