David Bowie at the Hammersmith Odeon July 2nd 1973

Originally posted on June 6th, 2008 on Psychedelicgaragepunk.com

bowie-programme-1973-500

I read with some amusement recently that Steve Jones, the guitarist with the Sex Pistols, saw David Bowie at the Hammersmith Odeon, the night before he retired as Ziggy Stardust,on July 2nd, 1973. I was there, tho’ I don’t recall seeing Steve. But I do recall guitarist Mick Ronson (Ronno) playing a white Les Paul at the gig, one that looked remarkably similar to the one Steve Jones played in the Pistols. I wonder if this was one of Jonesy’s infamous heists? Perhaps if anyone knows they could leave a comment?

To give you some background about myself at the time, I was sixteen and had been gig-going since the previous year (see the  Emerson Lake and Palmer article). I’d heard “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” in September ‘72. A friend, David Gowlett, had bought it pretty much when it came out. I don’t know who’d advised him that Bowie was cool, tho’ I suppose by late in ‘72 he was a chart star with ‘Starman’.

Ziggy Sleeve

I recall David bringing Ziggy to my house, and all of my friends and I listening to the whole album from start to finish. On Ma and Pa’s trusty radiogram! I can remember it being an amazing, life changing listening experience. The guitars were seriously hard, and rocked more than any Brit Glam Rock that was around at the time, perhaps with the exception of the Sweet’s b-sides. Not that I was listening to British Glam at the time. In fact I thought it was totally uncool. “Brickies in Baco foil”! The Stooges entered my life round about then and I thought they rocked harder than anything I’d heard before. And the New York Dolls were about to enter my life too. By 1974, I was listening to the Dolls albums continuously, at least a couple of times a day.

I had an outrageous sound system at the time, a Linear valve amplifier – donated, I think, by Nick Fisher. The sort of amp us junior players would run our guitars or basses through, amateur-esque, but still damn loud! I ran a Wharfedale turntable through the amp. It was mono, obviously. The amp drove a pair of two by twelve cabinets. One was a Marshall, which I probably bought from my Sister Helen’s club book! (Hands up how many of you bought your first amp or combo from Kay’s? I can see uncle Stom’s hand up at the back there, and maybe Jem’s too?) The other amp was a Fender – the 2×12 that came with my brother-in-law Jed Wilson’s amp, an infamous Bandmaster. That beautiful cabinet was stolen when the Accidents supported Lilliput at the Rock Garden, in Covent Garden, on the 8th of October, 1980.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             I can’t imagine what hell my parents went through, having to listen to the Dolls day in and day out, through what I suppose was my first p.a.!!!

bowie ticket july '73 (600 x 578)

But back to the gig……                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Ronno’s guitars definitely hit the spot for me. But the whole vibe, the lyrics – some of which were fairly outrageous for the time – and Bowie’s voice really took me somewhere else. It was part futuristic, and in retrospect, pre-defining certain aspects of Punk. Surely Bowie’s ginger/red mullett hair do, often imitated but never equalled, spawned the spikey punk architype sported by Johnny Rotten?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I know there’s been a million different interpretations of the Ziggy story, but I just thought it was about an alien rock’n’roll star, whose biggest misfortune was to hit the Top of the Poppermost, just as Earth went into it’s final decline. Oh no! The cover of Ziggy looked as though Bowie had just popped down to planet Earth for a quick photo shoot and his rock’n’roll Flying Saucer was parked just around the corner and out of the shot.

SS.ziggystardust

There was a very important thread running through my life in those days, and that was Veronica Peyton. Veronica was my second girlfriend, and pretty much the hippest person on the planet at that time. At least I thought so. We met at school. It was 1972, the autumn term. Her parents were great, they’d drive us back to their fabulous country abode,and let us listen to our music quite loud, on an original early 60’s Dansette record player! I’d heard of Roxy Music through “Virginia Plain”, but never heard their album, which Veronica had. Someone I wasn’t familiar with at all, was Lou Reed. David Bowie had produced the fabulous “Transformer” album (with major and not fully credited help from Mick Ronson). Veronica turned me onto that too. And with a lot of help from David Gowlett, I was fully immersed in the Velvet Underground by the Spring of ‘73. It was the sound track to our school leaving exams. Oh dear!!!

Veronica also had Bowie’s recent (at the time) re-issues of”Space Oddity” and “Hunky Dory” – both of which I loved. But the one that really got me, cos it rocked so hard, was “The Man who sold the World”. Tony Visconti played the bass on it, and his playing really rocked, as of course, did Ronno’s guitar. It was pretty much the same guitar sound as “Ziggy”, but much more aggressive and proto metal. And the lyrics projected a lot of sexual ambiguity, fairly homosexual or bisexual. Thankfully “She shook me cold” alleviated my fears. It was really raunchy in a very heterosexual way.

iggy-stooges-422-l

The other big revelation which Veronica gave me, was “Raw Power” by Iggy and the Stooges, which was also produced by Bowie. Iggy was so hard, in your face – “wild” and “rebellious” don’t come close to describing this sound. This band sounded like crashing chunks of sheet metal, the most devastating noise I’d ever heard. It was the rawest rock’n’roll ever, I thought – I and probably still do. Aside from the Bowie thread, and the fact that Roxy were from a planet in Bowie’s universe, and that Lou Reed had been brought back to life by him, all of which Veronica understood, there was a look – which both Veronica and her sister Hilary had. It was part Victorian – frock coats and fox furs. And perhaps lacy shirts or tops. They were both hip to Biba (where the New York Dolls made their first UK appearance) and when money allowed, they would shop at Kensington market. Though Hil was an amazing seamstress, she would often use both sources as inspiration.
A dash of glam, diamonte and classy stack heeled boots. And black nail varnish. Lots of expensive looking rings, jet and chains. Straight legged red tab Levis, which I’d not seen before, except on the occasional better dressed skinhead. Like my good self, neither were adverse to plundering Oxfam charity shops, which seemed to be bristling with late Victorian and 1920s fashion in those days. And long, usually black hair (or in Hil’s case blonde), a pre Joey Ramone look, that sometimes obscured quite large parts of the face.

Kee-rist, that sounds like Russell Brand!!!

I remember seeing a few other friends of Veronica’s and Hilary’s, who all had a similar but less classy look. Perhaps they went to the same school in Brentwood? I can’t give you a label or an “ism” – it was their look. It was unique and very attractive. Certainly, again, it was a precursor to the punk look. So when Veronica told me that her and Hilary had tickets to see David Bowie, and would I like to go along with them, I was deleriously happy!

Pirate Ziggy

When we got to the Hammersmith Odeon for the David Bowie gig on July 2nd 1973, there were a lot of glam kids wandering about. But they looked like a bunch of David Cassidy fans! Tho’ there were a few Zig-a-likes, mostly girls. Unlicenced merchandise ran even more unchecked than it does nowadays. There were lots of cheap Bowie scarves, posters and mags. Of course, wish I’d bought a bunch of it now, it’d look great next to my official Ziggy program and ticket, and the signed (albeit in 2000) unpublished Ziggy pic. On the hoarding of the Odeon, it said “FROM 8P.M., WE’RE ALL WORKING TOGETHER WITH DAVID BOWIE” which intrigued me enormously. Like we’d be invited to some grand party, a huge team.

Our seats were in the circle, and cost £1.50, but we weren’t too high in the “Gods”, and had an excellent view of the stage.As far as I remember, prior to Mike Garson coming on and doing his solo medley on piano, I believe the music coming from the p.a. was excerpts from the Walter Carlos soundtrack to “A Clockwork Orange”. Perhaps the theme? Can anyone verify that?

clockwork_orange (415 x 600)

Clockwork Orange was released in 1971, but its influence was still evident – it certainly influenced Bowie’s style, as Ziggy. I went to a party at Bob Mardon’s house, at Christmas ‘72, and among the freaks and occasional hippy, several guys were dressed like droogs, complete with one eyelash, bowler hats, white boiler suits, and DM’s (Dr Martin’s) boots. I thought they looked totally cool, tho’ they drew some protestations from the “peace, maaan” types.

Mike Garson sounded like some lounge style piano player given a free hand with Bowie’s then recent back catalogue! After Garson had finished his piece, the march from Clockwork Orange blasted out (Ninth symphony, fourth movement, not second movement – archivers, use your ears!!!). It wasn’t the theme, as is often reported – this mistake could easily be rectified by a quick earful of “His Master’s Voice” or the soundtrack remaster. As the man in teddy boy gear finished the announcements, the band literally thrashed into “Hang onto yourself”.

The sound, I recall, was pretty dreadful initially – tho’ Mick Ronson’s guitar was loud and proud, and good enough for me! Ronno looked kind of “Little Lord Fauntleroy” round the edges – white or silver (I can’t remember) long socks going up to what looked like black  pantaloons. Shiny black “highwayman” type shoes, and a frilly white shirt. He had a little catwalk in front of him, that took him into the edge of the front of the crowd.

ronno2 (313 x 281)

I can recall once he’d stepped out on the catwalk he pretty much stopped playing guitar, and just let the crowd paw at his white Les Paul for a while rather than play it. I was horrified! He wasn’t playing, just hamming it up! And in the meantime, the crowd went wild……

I can remember the three lightning flashes in big white circles behind the band, and when I listen to the soundtrack to the Ziggy movie I recall the songs and, of course, the marvellous costumes Bowie was wearing. But I think it’s fairly pointless for me to repeat things you can find on other web sites.

Again, this must’ve been a school trip. As I wearily plodded back to the coach, what should be playing on the radio, but “Drive in Saturday”?! I have to be honest tho’, while I can look back on the gig and say I witnessed a major event in the history of Rock’n’Roll, I was terribly disappointed. With the exception of John Lennon, Bowie was probably my biggest hero at the time. And the whole event smacked of teeny bop, which I loathed, because it was so false and plastic. And, although the sound improved, it left a lot to be desired, compared to other gigs I’d been to that year. I was at the Rainbow theatre in Finsbury park, a few weeks later, for the Traffic “On the Road” tour, and the sound was phenomenal. I met a chap there that had been at both the last Bowie gigs, as a St. Johns ambulance brigade man – apparently a great ruse for getting into gigs for free. He said that aside from the fact that he’d been appalled, cos the floor of the Odeon had apparently been awash with pee downstairs (a standard feature at most teeny bop gigs he assured me, from the boppers wetting themselves!), he reckoned Bowie had “sold out”. “Sold out” was a term used when an “underground” band signed to a major label, and were no longer the exclusive property of a few hip minded individuals. I won’t say that was Bowie’s intention entirely, because I think his art has always come first. (Okay, I like “Let’s Dance”, don’t give me a hard time!) But obviously he wanted to be popular with the masses. However, I suppose I couldn’t equate Bowie with major popularity at the time. I wanted him to be the outsider, for us outsiders! No sell out! And the gig just seemed like the carnival that was the Osmonds, the Partridge family et all. So I bitched and moaned to Veronica and Hil majorly, so much so that by the time we got back to the coach I think they both hated me! Which was a shame, cos as a teenage boy I loved them both dearly and of course still do………

11 Responses to “David Bowie at the Hammersmith Odeon July 2nd 1973”

  1. paul sullivan // Jun 8, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Have you read Jon Inghams book about the pistols? He covers that pre punk period in some detail, Biba and Mainman and that whole glam thing which Hil would have been aware of I’m sure. The old Oxfam shop has a lot to answer for.

    paul sullivan // Jun 8, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    explains the chiffon blouse i suppose.

  2. Coffer // Jan 30, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks for reminding me about the St John’s ambulance man. What he had to say about hundreds of pairs of wet knickers being thrown at their idols by teeny boppers still amuses me – if only their children knew what tbey got up to when they were teenagers. Still, I’d rather that than being gobbed at by a room of punks.

    I loved that gig which, as I remember it, was Traffic’s farewell and the culmination of a wonderful weekend of Rock ‘n’ Roll – we’d seen the The Who at Charlton the day before (I also recall Robin Trower, Lou Reed and Lindisfarne playing).

    It showed the enormous friendliness and generosity of rock audiences, from the couple of Who fans who shared their cider and vodka with us to the other delights being shared by about three rows of seats in the Rainbow.

  3. Hi Tel
    I hope you had a nice birthday. I checked out your site it’s cool I think you should also promote your own original material, as I said on the dog tother day.
    I be in SX over the weekend of Oct 10th, hope to catch up then.
    Colin

  4. Here’s a link to an excellent Bowie site, bowiewonderworld, which has just posted my article:
    http://www.bowiewonderworld.com/cols/archivist.htm#terenceruffle

  5. I’m currently putting the finishing touches to a piece about the Legacy edition of Raw Power.
    I reminded myself that Bowie loved the Velvet Underground(and every one must’ve heard his tale of meeting Doug Yule, who he thought was Lou Reed!) and had recorded “I’m waiting for the Man” perhaps as early as 1967, which has always been a staple of his shows along with “White Light/White Heat” for his whole career.
    Ken Pitt went to New York in 1966, to meet with Warhol with a view to handling the Velvets in Europe. Andy gave him an acetate of the first Velvets album which Ken gave to David on his return to England.
    Rock’n’Roll was about to take an interesting diversion……and surely came full circle with “Transformer”.
    Does anybody know if the Yardbirds really did cover “I’m waiting for the Man”?

  6. I was born on Monday July 2nd 1973!

  7. Nothing to do with me……!

  8. Great article, enjoyed reading it – Wish I could have been there though! I ended up working security at Hammersmith in the early eighties.

  9. I saw Bowie at St Georges Hall in Bradford 1st June 1973. We were in the circle and I recall commenting that I could hear canned screeching being played in the build up to Bowie coming on stage to heighten the frenzy, which for this 17 year old dude was not appreciated! I remember the many Bowie costume changes, two burly guys would come on stage and pull a layer of Bowies outfit off, all velcroed, revealing another costume underneath, the lighting would change and you were straight into the next number! Bowie had an amazing stage presence. I don’t recall it sounding poor. Me and my mate Steve had a great night – Bowie in Bradford – really small venue ! I still have the programme.

  10. And sure enough, here ’tis……the Yardbirds play the Velvets! This is amazing!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBRmpNXQF4w

  11. I was at same Gig and also in the circle but just two seats back and directly over Mick Ronson. I also took my 16×50 binoculars and got to inspect his Gibson Les Paul and attire in graphic detail!

    I actually paid £5.00 for my ticket though… I had been to the earlier Earls Courts of a disaster concert and that was only £1.50… but could see nothing, hear nothing and had a pillar blocking my rear side upper ‘non-view’ to boot. Was soo soo annoyed. I too was in my 16th year…

    The day after concert I was back at school and in a rather spurious lesson named ‘Technology’ I made a Aladin ‘Flash’ in enammel… pic here…

    http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/d8/11/50/d811503bb7c0984c0db9fefd53e08825.jpg

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