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Friday, August 11, 2006

Me and David Bowie

David Bowie for me began in 1973. Well actually it was 1972, but 73 rhymes better. I was a blank sheet aged 11, waiting to make my own discoveries of popstars, authors, fashion, life. Top of the Pops came on and it was the now eponymous show that featured David Bowie & the Spiders from Mars performing "Starman." (I've since read that Ian Mccullough from Echo and the Bunnymen discovered Bowie from this performance). I watched transfixed. Now here was the popstar for me. I didn't like the saccharin appeal of David Cassidy or Donny Osmond: here was a genuine British eccentric, so colourful, so controversial. I immediately scoured my mum's Freemans catalogue and ordered the LP (yes, vinyl) Ziggy Stardust, paying 10p a week. I was so thrilled with the album, which I played hundreds of times in my tiny bedroom on Sid, the old Alba record player, that I promptly put myself into debt by ordering Aladdin Sane, another 10p a week.

I wasn't allowed to see David's Ziggy retirement tour when he visited Torquay. A big injustice at the time, but I was only 12 or 13 and Torquay was a far way from Plymouth. But I read about it in NME and it became one of the things I've always held against mum ("you never let me see David Bowie" "you used to make me drink cold tea" "you never bought the basket I made at Sunday school," etc).

I finally did see David in 1983 on the Serious Moonlight Tour. I saw the ad in NME and immediately requested a ticket for London but received Milton Keynes instead. At the time the ticket was in my eager hand, I hadn't passed my driving test, but the thought of being able to drive to MK in my Datsun, a hand-me-down from my dad which cost me approx £1,600, spurred me on and I passed with three weeks to go before the gig. I booked accommodation at The Cock, Stony Stratford (not far from Milton Keynes Bowl), and, armed with an AA route map, set off for the great adventure, a Plymothian aged 22 with zero experience of motorway driving.

For some reason I hadn't brought an outfit to wear. I didn't like to wear jeans back then - I thought they made me look fat. So I found myself in a rather staid ladies' boutique in Stony Stratford looking for something to wear. I bought the most horrendous jade green pair of trousers with a jacket in a rigid unmoving fabric. I wore these with my red shoes (made me think of the video for Let's Dance with the aborigine girl in the red shoes) and a turquoise t-shirt. When I turned up for the gig, very early, I felt a bit out of place: everyone else seemed to be wearing jeans. Somehow I went the whole day, several hours, without speaking to anyone (chronically shy), or buying anything except for an official t-shirt. I didn't buy any drinks in case I needed the loo, and I wanted to keep my spot. It wasn't too near the front but it wasn't too nar the back either.

It was a sunny day and I enjoyed the support acts: Madonna, hardly famous then, prancing around singing "Like a Virgin." The Beat, who I'd seen before. Icehouse, whose appearance was preceded by a flying banner from an aircraft. I became a big Icehouse fan after this. And finally, David Bowie.

This was what I call his commercial time when he looked gorgeous, wore sharp suits and played music that sold in millions. He changed suits about three times, leaving Carlos Alomar to play virtuoso guitar solos. I was transfixed the whole time. I think we danced, swayed, clapped. "We" being the adoring audience of thousands. At the end, the huge moon-shaped shapes at the side of the stage opened and dozens of helium balloons were released. I was so thrilled to catch one, and so disappointed when it got taken from me at the gate. I couldn't believe they needed them for the next performance.

It took ages for me to find my car. In the excitement of arriving, I hadn't clocked which field I was in. Suddenly it all felt very flat because I had no-one to share the experience with. There were no mobile phones then and it was already half past eleven. So I crept back to Stony Stratford and my hotel room.

The next morning, the breakfast room was filled with people wearing the official t-shirts, smiling at each other in acknowledgment. I felt proud to be part of a tribe. I drove home light in heart, occasionally even doing more than 70 mph.

I've seen him three times now but the first time was the most special, even if it was also the loneliest.

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