RCA records paid $25,000 to fly the “cream” of America’s rock press over to see the label’s up-and-coming star David Bowie perform at the Friars Club, Market Square, Aylesbury, England, in July 1972. The record company hoped the scribes from Rolling Stone, CREEM, New York Times, Andy Warhol’s Interview, and the New Yorker, would be sufficiently impressed to spread the word about Bowie back home. It certainly worked as Bowie, along with his Ziggy line-up of Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Woody Woodmansey (drums), delivered a blistering set, which has been a source of mythical tales and innumerable bootlegs ever since.
Also in the crowd that fateful night were Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor of Queen, who were just starting off on their career. Taylor later recalled the gig for MOJO magazine in 1999:
...Freddie and I saw the first Ziggy gig at Friar’s Aylesbury. We drove down in my Mini. We loved it. I’d seen him there about three weeks before in the long hair and the dress. Suddenly you saw this spiky head coming on stage. You thought, wha-a-at??? They looked like spacemen.
The band’s appearance was not just a shock to the audience as Bowie later explained:
Woody Woodmansey was saying, “I’m not bloody wearing that!” [Laughs] There were certainly comments, a lot of nerves. Not about the music - I think the guys knew that we rocked. But they were worried about the look. That’s what I remember: how uncomfortable they felt in their stage clothes. But when they realized what it did for the birds… The girls were going crazy for them, because they looked like nobody else. So within a couple of days it was, “I’m going to wear the red ones tonight.”
Bowie’s performance at the Friar’s Club was voted the greatest gig to be held at the venue.
While Glenn O’Brienn described the concert in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine:
The Aylesbury town hall is the size of an average pre-war high school gym…There were perhaps a thousand peers in the hall when we entered. At first I thought it was remarkable that RCA had spent at least $25,000 to bring a select group of writers to a concert at which there were no seats for them, save the floor… David Bowie did not come on unannounced. He was in fact preceded on stage by a handsome Negro and his attendants who attempted to work the audience to a fever pitch by tossing them balloons, pinwheels, and hundreds of Bowie posters. The audience needed little prodding, though, and anxiously awaited David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, while the giant amplifiers sounded a recording of old Ludwig Von’s Song of Joy from the Ninth Symphony. David appeared on stage with his band to what could fairly be called a thunderous ovation. And he deserved every handclap… His hair was a vibrant orange… And the band played on… And David proved himself to be a unique performer.
Bolder and Bowie on stage at Aylesbury, being filmed by Mick Rock.
The Aylesbury gigs was a key moment in Bowie’s career and photographer Mick Rock filmed it all on 16mm. This footage was apparently thought lost until 1995 when it “discovered” and transfered onto video by MainMan. It has not been made officially available although it currently circulates amongst collectors.
While the footage available on YouTube is raw, the camerawork sometimes iffy, and the sound, well, about what you’d expect from a concert, but as an historic document of early footage of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust it is a delight.
Track listing: “Hang On to Yourself,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Queen Bitch,” “Song for Bob Dylan,” “Starman,” “Five Years,” “Waiting for the the Man.”
The color footage is believed to be from the July 15th gig at the Friar’s Club while the b&w footage is from the June 21st gig. Audio taken from July 15th performance.
‘Ziggy Stardust,’ Aylesbury 1972.
‘Starman,’ Aylesbury 1972.