Although I can easily think of better circumstances for its recent unveiling, at long last a much bootlegged (audio only) and highly emotional performance by David Bowie of John Lennon’s “Imagine” on December 8th, 1983—the third anniversary of the Beatle’s murder—at the Hong Kong Coliseum has surfaced on YouTube.
Incredibly the number was caught by the cameras of Gerry Troyna, director of Ricochet, the (frankly unremarkable) cinéma vérité documentary of 1983’s “Serious Moonlight” tour as it was winding down in the Far East. Bowie is seem walking about Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong, shopping and getting his fortune read, but there are few actual musical numbers in the film, usually a result of producers being unable to pay for the sync rights of the songs. This would, I should think, explain who such an amazing piece of footage was cut from the film. It would have simply been too expensive to include.
In an interesting interview that was posted at The Voyeur, backup singer George Simms was asked about the performance:
During the last show of the tour in Hong Kong, Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ was played. How did that develop?
George Simms: If I remember well, we didn’t rehearse that song. The night David did the ‘Imagine’ song, none of us in the band had any idea how that song was going to come off. David told us before, at a certain point, he would cue the band to start the song instrumentally. We didn’t know what he was going to do in the beginning but he had it very carefully worked out with the lighting people. We were on stage and it was dark. David was sitting on the stage at one particular place and, all of a sudden, a single spotlight went on David and hit him exactly where he was sitting. David started to tell something about John Lennon. During this, it went dark a few times again, but then when the spots went on again David was sitting somewhere else on the stage. David cued the band and we started the song. It was the third anniversary of Lennon’s death; it was December 8. We all grew up listening to The Beatles and John Lennon. After we did “Imagine,” we all went off the stage and back into the holding area. Normally we’d be slap-happy, talking and laughing, but that night there was absolute silence because of all the emotion of doing a tribute to John Lennon—especially knowing that David was a friend of his and that David was speaking from his heart. We didn’t know how dramatic the lights’ impact was going to be. Nobody wanted to break the silence; it was like a sledgehammer into your chest. I’ll never forget that.
I don’t want to spoil this in any way, except to say that it begins with Bowie speaking of his friendship with Lennon—with whom he and Carlos Alomar co-wrote and recorded “Fame” together, of course in 1975—and of the final time he saw him, which was in a Hong Kong marketplace where Bowie asked Lennon to don a replica Beatle jacket, and took a photo.
Fun fact: Lennon and Bowie were first introduced by Elizabeth Taylor when both attended a party at her home in Los Angeles in 1974.
Thank you very kindly Spencer Kansa!