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“I’m Not Fuckin’ Wearing That!” The Story of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.

“I’m Not Fuckin’ Wearing That!” The Story of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.

Above Photo: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars on ITV’s Lift Off With Ayesha in 1972.

I recently watched an excellent documentary on early David Bowie and his transformation into Ziggy Stardust, called “David Bowie & The Story Of Ziggy Stardust”.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars is still one of my favourite albums, especially from the period narrated in my ‘70s-‘80s Punk and New Wave Memoir, Bombed Out!, and listening to the album today unlocks many memories, good and bad, from that time.

Davie Jones and the King Bees.

Davie Jones and the King Bees in the 1960s.

The programme traced back Bowie’s musical career to his earliest R&B and Rock & Roll bands. Aged 20, he changed his name from ‘Jones’ to Bowie, and went through a long whimsical phase as he tried to find a musical fit (the Laughing Gnome anyone?), which period later became important as it laid down ‘the theatrical DNA of Ziggy Stardust’.

Davy Jones & The Lower Third.

Davy Jones & The Lower Third.

Bowie described this artistic phase as trying to be a ‘one-man revolution.’

Around this time Bowie met British mime, actor and dancer, Lindsay Kemp, who taught Bowie how to express himself better through control of his movements.

Bowie as a Mime artist.

Bowie as a Mime artist.

Within a few weeks Kemp and Bowie had created a Mime stage play which they took on tour around the UK, but Mime performances didn’t pay the bills, and neither did Bowie’s next incarnation, a Folk trio called Feathers.

Bowie then took to small film roles to finance his music, even appearing in an ice cream advert, before suddenly finding an identity to launch his career.

bombed out punk memoir peter alan lloyd 1970s 1980s punk new wave bands liverpool bands ziggy stardust and the spiders from mars album trevor boulder woody woodmansey mick ronson david bowie (15)

Another early manifestation of David Bowie

Space Oddity was released to coincide with the 1969 Lunar landings, and it went to Number 5 in the UK charts, but the album Bowie brought out to capitalize on this chart success flopped, and he went back to being a Folk singer in pubs. His relationship with the British record-buying public was confused and nobody really knew what he was about.

In the intervening three years between Space Oddity and Ziggy Stardust, Bowie worried that he’d forever remain a One Hit Wonder. He was depressed, musically confused and aware a serious change of direction was needed.

Bowie as a Folk singer.

Bowie as a Folk singer.

That direction largely came from his fiancée Angie Barnett, who supported him, encouraged him and designed his costumes.

Bowie then formed a band called Hype, who played a gig in the Roundhouse in Camden, in costumes designed by Angie. Although Hype flopped, Bowie had sartorially predated Marc Bolan’s Glam Rock look by over a year.

Folk Band Bowie.

Feathers: Folk Band Bowie.

More importantly, Hype had got Bowie working with Mick Ronson, a guitarist whose sound would also be crucial to Bowie’s Ziggy period. They collaborated on Bowie’s next album, The Man Who Sold The World, where Bowie’s unusual fashion sense was also evident on the front cover, where he wore a dress.

This cover came as a shock to many – 1970 rock bands and musicians wore blue jeans not dresses, and again the difficulty the record-buying public had in understanding Bowie’s image led to another commercial failure for the album.

Bowie in the Hype.

Bowie in the Hype.

He needed someone who could turn his musical talent into record sales, and he was broke by the time Tony DeFries came along. DeFries had a plan and, more importantly, the money and the confidence to finance Bowie.

DeFreis’s main objective was to make Bowie a Superstar, which meant being successful in America. Bowie went to the US in 1971 for a few months and returned to sign a deal with RCA Records, who later went on to fund the Ziggy Stardust project.

Bowie on the cover of The Man Who Sold The World.

Bowie on the cover of The Man Who Sold The World.

On this USA trip, Bowie was introduced to Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground and immediately felt at home among the sexually fluid identities in New York’s Counter-Culture.

When he got back to London, Bowie continued his Avant-garde lifestyle; he took musical and lyrical inspiration from some of the outrageous characters he’d met in New York and London, especially in Andy Warhol’s circle.

A young Mick Ronson.

A young Mick Ronson.

In a precursor to Ziggy Stardust, Bowie invented his own rock & roll star called ‘Arnold Corns’, for whom Bowie was going to write music, but the versions of the songs, many of which went onto be outstanding tracks on the Ziggy Stardust album, were poor early versions, and the Arnold Corns idea failed, but the idea of a fictional rock star stayed with Bowie who was convinced it would work.

Bowie recorded Hunky Dory in the summer of 1971, using Mick Ronson on guitar and Woody Woodmansey on drums, who introduced a bass player friend of theirs from Hull, called Trevor Boulder.

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars play the Old Grey Whistle Test.

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars play the Old Grey Whistle Test.

Bowie now had the Spiders From Mars in place. Hunky Dory was released late 1971 to widespread acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, but with little publicity, the album didn’t even chart.

There was only a two week break between the Hunky Dory album being released and the band starting work on the Ziggy Stardust album, because Bowie had the Ziggy Stardust track lyrics already written.

I’d never thought of it until I saw the documentary, but the track Queen Bitch on Hunky Dory is more than a nod at the Velvet Underground’s musical style. It also links that album to Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

The Ziggy Stardust album tells the story of a doomed alien who takes human form as a rock star, and the album’s creativity struck a fantasy nerve in a period of dire economic, political and social unrest in the UK in the early 1970s.

The album was recorded quickly, with the musicians barely understanding the song’s sequences as Bowie played the tracks on acoustic guitar and wanted the band to quickly turn them into songs. Bowie usually only wanted a maximum of three takes per song. And amazingly, his sound engineer said 95% of all Bowie’s vocal recordings were done in one take, from beginning to end.

Ziggy and The Spiders on Top of The Pops.

Ziggy and The Spiders on Top of The Pops.

Then Bowie needed a ‘look’ for his band. He took them to see A Clockwork Orange, from where he took a number of fashion ideas. A designer then made velvet space suits and platform boots for the band.

When the band saw the clothes that had been created for them to wear onstage, bluff Northerner Woody Woodmansey said “I’m not fuckin’ wearing that!” In fact the entire band was reluctant to don the Spiders’ costumes, and they took a lot of persuading.

Bowie then cut his long hair and dyed it red.

Ziggy On tour with The Spiders.

Ziggy On tour with The Spiders.

The first single from the album, Starman didn’t sell, until Bowie went on Top of the Pops with him and the band sporting their new, dramatic look. Bowie appeared androgynous and other-worldly, and Ziggy Stardust was born – in front of an audience of millions.

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