The Bowie 1969 demos, what we do know…and what could be…

The Bowie 1969 demos that do circulate are a charming collection. Those that have been heard – on the ‘Beckenham Oddity’ bootleg LP at first, then subsequent re-pressings and online shares – were from an acoustic session with Hutch accompanying Bowie on lead acoustic guitar, and on vocals.

While Bowie went on to more popular / populist music, the session that circulates is a wonderful curio, a snapshot of where Bowie was, he and Hutch acoustic troubadours that he had hopes for with the pop-folky set, though his hopes were ultimately dashed, as John Hutchinson, understandably opted for more secure employment when gigs were not forthcoming. The demos, however, helped Bowie secure his contract with Phillips / Mercury, and deserve a far worthier fate than being confined to being heard on bootlegs and downloads in a wonky speed, with reproduction which, while not bad, could be better.

As well as the obvious Space Oddity, and Conversation Piece (such a big favourite of mine I have covered this in a separate post), the likes of Janine, An Occasional Dream, Ching a Ling, Letter to Hermione, and When I’m Five are picked, strummed, trilled and sung in a pretty and sensitive acoustic guitar arrangements that are captivating and can whisk the listener to another, seemingly more innocent time of folk music and arts labs, and some of Bowie’s less cryptic, and more open lyrics, often focussing on his lost love, Hermione.

Added to the above songs that got released on the later re-titled ‘Space Oddity’ album and the contemporaneous Love You Til Tuesday film soundtrack, Bowie and Hutch also tackle Love Song, penned by Lesley Duncan, who went to make the beautiful ‘Everything Changes’ single and album. Love Song was soon covered by Elton John – he was a big Bowie fan and later said he liked him from the early days, however it’s not known whether he’d been such a fan to have caught Bowie and Hutch playing the song at the arts lab or from any demos or performances by Lesley herself.

Life is a Circus and a song that was rewritten to form part of Cygnet Committee, Lover to the Dawn, were also demo-ed at that time. The former, Life is a Circus is a sad and beautiful song, originally by the folk group Djinn, which belies the ‘circus’ of its title. It is beguiling and entrancing, if sombre. Lover to the Dawn features the melody from the verses of Cygnet Committee, then branches off differently into a very pretty call and response duet between Bowie and Hutch. Lover to the Dawn has only circulated on bootleg and downloads sourced from a scratchy and worn acetate. The song can be heard through this wear and tear, however it deserves to be heard far more clearly.

An Occasional Dream has been heard from these sessions in a cleaned-up form on the Space Oddity 40th Anniversary CD 2. On the one hand the cleaning up has not removed all ‘warmth’ from the recording as can be the case with such processing, but the bass applied to has made it rather clunky sounding. How pleasant and thrilling it would be to have all these songs, and more, on an expanded 50th Anniversary vinyl set celebrating the Space Oddity album – so the public could hear the genesis of Bowie’s further flowering a songwriter.

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