Forty years ago this weekend I saw Ziggy Stardust play live for the first time. The cliche, of course, is that for many teenagers who saw his debut performance on Top of the Pops, their lives were changed forever. Normally this kind of hyperbole passes me by. But I have to consider that yes, this was probably true for me.
Were it not for Starman on the telly, I may have made different friends. Liked and disliked different things. Become less or more tolerant, less or more of a snob, less or more pleased with myself and ultimately less confident.
I never dyed my hair, experimented with forbidden things or changed my sexual proclivity (I was only twelve for God’s sake). There was no epiphany, my style never really strayed from North London teenage conservative, and I didn’t suddenly discover a talent – but the seeds were sown for Something I Was Interested In that made me a tiny bit different from my peers.
Summer 1972. I came home from walking the Dalmatian in Victoria Park (Finchley, not Hackney). It was Thursday night so fish fingers and beans in front of TOTP. My dad looking out for Pan’s People. And suddenly, there was that mesmerizing performance.
Next day, a dialogue with my big sister Lesley (16 years old):
She: ‘Do you want to see David Bowie in concert?’
She: ‘The bloke with the blue guitar last night.’
So off we trotted. A 2p bus fare on the 210 from Golders Green to Finsbury Park. In a queue for forty five minutes outside the Rainbow on a Saturday morning. Snapped up the cheapest tickets – 75p each.
And the following week there we were, part of something soon-to-be-legendary. I complained that the programme cost 20p, which was a terrible rip-off. It was only a thin small reproduction of the Ziggy cover with some text, after all. (If only I’d not put it in a scrapbook, which I then passed on to young brother-in-law, who then lost it when he went to Uni. By now I would have got a good return on my investment of a fifth of a pound.)
The support band was Roxy Music – jolly good too. Lindsey Kemp was doing the mime show. And our dad came to pick us up after. In fact, so impressed were we that we bought more tickets for the extra show ten days later. £1.50 this time. Ouch. Roxy replaced by the JSD Band.
And again at Christmas. This time with friends. My bestie was worried that her Dead Head brother would take the piss. He didn’t. She got kudos.
Come the following May it was Earls Court. Luckily my NBF’s mum wanted to see the gig too (a super cool parent) so we got ferried there and back. It was so huge, it took a second to focus on the stage. But I remember what I was wearing: a Laura Ashley maxi skirt, a white crossover top, and some yellow platform clogs.
The last time? Kilburn Gaumont State. We were THIS close to Mr. Bowie’s limo when it went past. Interestingly this gig is rarely documented. I suspect it just got a little overshadowed by Hammersmith.
Ah, Hammersmith. And why weren’t we at the legendary killing of Ziggy Stardust? Why did we not gasp at the announcement of the end? Why weren’t we holding back the tears during Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide?
The only answer is a practical one: maybe just seeing David Bowie five times by the time I was thirteen and a half was considered enough. Or maybe our Mum just didn’t want us to venture that far West.
But there you go. I was part of history – right up until the historical bit. Did it change my life? What do you think? I’m not an obsessive by any means, but I never missed an opportunity to see my first hero in concert from that day on.
And from that gigging mentality so spawned all the rest, the small gigs, the stadium venues, the discoveries, the legends, the poets, the punks and now the indoctrinating of our children. 40 years later.
Thank you sister, thank you David Jones.
Words: Susie Innes