It was with great sadness and shock that we heard about the death of David Bowie on Monday morning.
It turned out to be a very busy morning for all the wrong reasons. Four radio interviews and a BBC TV interview.
Bowie was the greatest Friars Aylesbury hero.
In September 1971 he debuted his ‘Hunky Dory’ album at Friars and in January 1972 he gave us the world debut of his iconic ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ album. The third Friars Aylesbury gig was in July 1972. Friars was so special to Bowie that he flew in 50 of the top US journalists to witness this gig. Friars Aylesbury was featured in the US Rolling Stone magazine, a magazine dedicated to Andy Warhol and many other US publications. That really put Friars and Aylesbury on the world map.
I had been aware of Bowie from his 1969 hit ‘Space Oddity’ but he didn’t take playing live seriously at that time. That changed when in the summer of 1971 he met American keyboard player Al Kooper at a party in London. Al had just played Friars and told him what a great gig it was. Bowie and his manager Tony Defries got in touch and a date was agreed at Friars for 25th September.
Bowie put together a band from musicians he knew and almost apologetically and nervously came out on to the Friars stage at the Borough Assembly Hall in Aylesbury’s Market Square and played one of the most significant musical sets of the 20th Century.
He had just recorded his album ‘Hunky Dory’ and gave it its world debut at Friars that night.
He ended the set with Chuck Berry’s ‘Around and Around’ and the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for The Man’.
After the show I was in the dressing room with him and the band.
He had enjoyed it so much that he said to the band ‘This was brilliant. Let’s form a band and go out and do it properly.” We didn’t know at that moment but we were witnessing the formation of The Spiders from Mars with Mick Ronson on guitar, Woody Woodmansey on drums and Trevor Bolder on bass. We knew we had witnessed something very special.
When ‘Hunky Dory’ finally came out it went to No 1 in the Aylesbury album chart but was nowhere in the national charts.
On January 29th 1972 Bowie played Friars for the second time. It was an immediate sellout. Everyone was looking forward to hearing Hunky Dory. Whilst Bowie played a few songs from Hunky Dory most of the set was a whole suite of new songs which would later be released as the iconic album ‘Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars’. The opening line of the opening song on the Ziggy album ‘Five Years’ referenced Aylesbury’s Market Square.
In June 1972 Friars put on Bowie at Dunstable Queensway Hall. By this time Bowie had fully developed the Ziggy character, but it was the final Friars Aylesbury Ziggy show on 15th July 1972 that we will remember.
Bowie played Friars one more time when 5 years later in 1977 he appeared back at Friars Aylesbury as keyboard player with Iggy Pop this time at the Friars Phase Three Civic Centre venue.
Bowie was playing stage left and it was the only time in Friars history where the audience was unsymmetrical.
There was a huge concentration of people in the venue on the side where Bowie was playing. Earlier that day I bumped in to him in the Market Square. He was wearing a white silk scarf and greeted me with “What’s a clean cut kid like you still doing in a small town like this?”.
Our most recent contact was in March 2014 when Bowie sent us a text wishing us well with the Friars Exhibition.
David Bowie is gone. We will miss him. He was the greatest Friars hero of all. He had a huge impact on Friars, Aylesbury, music, fashion, culture and life. There should be a permanent monument built in the Market Square in memory of him.