David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Mick Woodmansey and Tony Visconti performed this gig on the 5th of February 1970, at the Paris Cinema Studios in London. It was broadcast on BBC radio. Half of this gig has been released on the Bowie at the Beeb compilation. It’s been noted that the band were recruited just before the gig, and Bowie at the time – during the gig itself – hinted the performance could have been better, as have Mick Woodmansey and Tony Visconti, the first of whom both dismissed it as awful. Not true! – all these songs together bring a fascinating insight into Bowie in concert at this time, and are much better than the band members would have you believe. It is a great gig, that is a rare opportunity to hear the embryonic beginnings of the Spiders and the TMWSTW band, as well as Bowie touring the 1969 ‘David Bowie’ Phillips LP, which was later retitled ‘Space Oddity’.
The whole gig is worthy of release in its own right, either on a future rarities or further Beeb box set, or even better, on a further expanded ‘Space Oddity’ reissue. On listening through it, it does seem that some of the wrong tracks were left off the Bowie at the Beeb release. The band tracks, in particular, have a gloriously ragged feel – in a good way. While it’s documented that the two Mick’s did not have sufficient time to rehearse a lot prior to this gig, that’s not such a bad thing. The gig has got a relaxed feel for the slow numbers, and a rough and ready feel for the faster ones – it deserves better to be consigned to muddy sound from an old off the air (possibly tape recorder to the speaker) recording. There’s a wonderful grind to the playing as the band gel once they come in after a few numbers… a rough and ready feel to the band sound with Mick Ronson’s raw sounding guitar in particular, and Tony Visconti’s bass and Mick Woodmansey’s stuttering drums syncopating with him is almost jazzy at times – again, in a good way. The influence of the British blues boom there.
For clarity, the songs performed were as follows –
01 Amsterdam – released on Bowie at the Beeb
02 God Knows I’m Good – on Bowie at the Beeb
03 Buzz The Fuzz – on bootlegs / downloads only (at least at the time of writing)
04 Karma Man – bootlegs / downloads only
05 London Bye Ta Ta – bootlegs / downloads only
06 An Occasional Dream – bootlegs / downloads only
07 The Width Of A Circle – on Bowie at the Beeb
08 Janine – bootlegs / downloads only
09 Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud – bootlegs / downloads only
10 Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed – on Bowie at the Beeb
11 Fill Your Heart – bootlegs / downloads only
12 The Prettiest Star – bootlegs / downloads only
13 Cygnet Committee – on Bowie at the Beeb
14 Waiting for the Man – was not taped
15 Memory of a Free Festival – on Bowie at the Beeb
The gig starts off with Amsterdam, an average version of the song that Bowie performed live often in the early 70s. Next up is a middling run through of God Knows I’m Good, and then he covers Biff Roses’ Buzz the Fuzz. A more well balanced recording from the close to master tape used for Bowie at the Beeb could salvage this number a little … Bowie deadpans where Biff’s mannerisms, and near chipmunk singing, and mix of ragtime and strings had at least lent the late 60’s cops on drugs skit a little more in its favour.
Things pick up for Karma Man, an unreleased song at that time. The chorus melody here differs from the recorded version subsequently released on The World of David Bowie, and Bowie belts out the last words of the verses, then soars through the chorus and holds the last note of the song beautifully…this really deserves an official release in decent quality! London Bye Ta has a ska / reggae feel to it here…reggae was becoming popular in the late 60s, and an attendee at the Beckenham Festival in 1969 stated Bowie had actually performed a reggae version of Space Oddity that day.
An Occasional Dream is performed gorgeously here, and is a prime example of why this concert deserves a full and complete release. Beautiful lilting bass and gentle acoustic guitar picking introduce the song, and Woody’s light percussive drumming lend it a gentle, entrancing sound. It lacks the flute of the album version, and is delicately placed between the acoustic demo version heard on the Beckenham Oddity bootleg and Space Oddity 40th anniversary release (on the CD only) and the full LP recording. Truly bewitching. The Width of a Circle grinds gloriously, and can be heard in nice quality on the Bowie at the Beeb set. The one thing I think this latter track needs in any full release of this show is a little more bass / feel to the sound, to really appreciate the band’s grind more.
Bowie and Ronson and the boys play Janine with a real kick to it, and Mick Ronson’s soloing comes to the fore towards the end of the song – a fun romp indeed! Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud brings out the band’s grind again as “the mountain moves its eyes”…really nice proto-Spiders raw guitar and spluttering drumming punctuate the build up of the song, and again deserves, like so much of this concert, to be heard properly on an official release.
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed is another gloriously ragged performance, followed by a running romp through Fill Your Heart, another number by Biff Rose. This latter song is light rock and roll here compared to the more gentle presentation of it later on Hunky Dory. It rolls along very nicely indeed.
The last of the ‘bootleg only’ (for now) songs is The Prettiest Star. Performed with a light swing to it, and beautifully lilting lead guitar from Mick Ronson. It is a lovely performance, that like most of the officially unreleased numbers, deserves a full official airing. The last songs of the gig that can be heard at least are an abbreviated Memory of a Free Festival, with organ, preceded by Cygnet Committee – the only other performance of this aside from the album version captured, unless you count perhaps the Lover to the Dawn demo. Waiting for the Man, sadly, was not taped.
While some of the songs are less enticing, the concert altogether bring a fascinating insight into Bowie in concert at this time, and is much better than the band members would have you believe.
It would be wise to honour Bowie and his vision at that time a fuller hearing with this post Space Oddity concert, and the earlier demos given a full and quality presentation to be enjoyed by Bowie collectors and more casual and curious music fans alike.