Which David Bowie do you prefer ?
The Ziggy Stardust singing about a starman waiting in the sky :
He’d like to come and meet us/ But he thinks he’d blow our minds.
The 1974 plastic soul Bowie of Young Americans?
The alienated Berlin Bowie of Low and Heroes ?
The mainstream disco Bowie of Let’s Dance and the 1983 Serious Moonlight tour?
Or do you like this year’s model ? The bearded yuppie in the double- breasted suit who sings with his boisterous new group Tin Machine?
This week’s lightning mini-tour (London last Thursday, Newport today, Bradford tomorrow) winds up at Livingston Forum on Monday night and gives Scottish fans the chance to assess the old chameleon’s collaboration with the three jokey Americans Hunt Sales (drums), Tony Sales (bass) and Reeves Gabrels (guitar).
The Tin Machine concerts should be exciting because the band is fresh, loose and full of new energy.
Their album is lively, raunchy, and so refreshingly under-produced that it sounds more like a rehearsal than a studio recording. Mostly it’s just funky guitar noise but it’s great fun, and much better than his last two albums. If he keeps jamming with these guys, and kicking new ideas around, some great new songs will fall into place. They should do more albums together, and soon, before they get stale.
Six of the songs are co-written with the group, five are by Bowie alone, and there is a solid version of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero.
It makes a change for me to enthuse about David Bowie.
The first time I saw Bowie I was standing on a chair at the Central Poly , and Mott The Hoople singer Ian Hunter and his girlfriend were standing on a chair near to mine. There was a shortage of chairs.
Ziggy Stardust came onstage, looked out over 600 students and said, “Good evening , London” as if this little Friday night college gig was The Royal Albert Hall and he had stopped off between Paris and New York. I thought “You pretentious little twerp!” I hated the music, especially the version of Cream’s I Feel Free, with Mick Ronson taking a stupendously ugly solo which sounded like Clapton played backwards.
At that time I lived in town and, walking home with two friends who worked in the music business, we agreed that the phrase which best summed up the gig was “it left a nasty taste in the mouth.”
The Spiders From Mars were stylised, cold, otherworldly, and although it later gave the nation’s young hairdressers, graphic designers and trendy shop assistants something to talk about and imitate, but it wasn’t good rock and roll because it didn’t have the right feel. I didn’t mind theatrics and gimmickry, since I was a big fan of Alice Cooper, but they were a very good hard- rock band with roots in the real thing.
( I knew Alice quite well and he told me they’d survived in their early years by playing Who/Yardbirds songs and sneaking out of Holiday Inns at 5 a.m. without paying the bill.)
At the height of glam-rock, I saw Bowie at The Rainbow, with Roxy Music supporting, but they mixed his voice so loud that it was painful and I walked out during Changes. I had never liked puns, or men in make-up, so Aladdin Sane, with a lightning bolt across his face, was not for me, and since the Stones were my favourite group, the last thing I wanted to hear was some little actor from Bromley doing Let’s Spend the Night Together as a gay song.
By then Bowie had become an accomplished media manipulator and was having his photo taken in Tokyo, Moscow, everywhere, and of course the photographers loved a bisexual singer who was prepared to crawl around the stage in a loin cloth and bite the neck of Ronno’s guitar during a climactic solo.
Since the Rainbow I have not seen Bowie live, but have liked his records a lot more, although I prefer the singles to the albums.
Indeed, the K-Tel Greatest Hits package ( which includes all my favourites : Fame, Heroes, Sound And Vision) is one of the essential records of the last 2O years.
In 198O, I enjoyed Ashes to Ashes and knew that no-one else had such an uncanny sense of
career that they could act in the Elephant Man stage play at the same time as releasing an album called Scary Monsters and Supercreeps.
In New York he did a BBC interview with Tim Rice which was, to this day, the most fascinating TV interview I have ever seen by a musician.
He was confident,intelligent, and hugely entertaining and, at that moment in late 1980, he looked and sounded as if he was on top of the world.
David Bowie, buzzing on a tremendous Broadway triumph, was everything you always hope a superstar
will be, and he made me proud to be British. The only interviewee I have ever seen who was funnier, more charming,and more charismatic was David Hockney.
Basically,as you’ll have gathered by now, I like my Bowie in dancing shoes and not in stack-heeled boots and lipstick. Let’s Dance, Fashion and China Girl were great singles and the ten-piece disco band he had for the Serious Moonlight Tour was excellent. The bootleg cassette , tough funk with great guitar solos, featured a version of China Girl which was better than the single.
Tin Machine, of course, isn’t tough funk or paranoid electronics, but back-to-basics rock and roll. It’ raw and exciting, and although the musicians are American, the songs have been put together in the traditional way favoured by the Stones, the Faces et al. That is , it has been jammed, built up from
rhythms and riffs, and had the words then added by the singer.
In a recent interview bass player Tony Sales said “We put down what we were feeling that day. If you change it and water it down you lose the essence of the original feeling that was there”.
Bowie added “It was just impressionistically written. I just wrote the very first things that came into my mind, and what suited the feeling of the music. ”
Thus Crack City sounds like Wild Thing with Reeves Gabrels grinding out highly dramatic guitar lines –
Bowie has never sounded more like Jimi Hendrix – and Heavens In Here hits a 12-bar blues groove that sounds like The Yardbirds. The band encouraged Bowie to be uncompromising and not to “wimp out” by
editing, rewriting and overdubbing new lyrics : “We wanted to put our own individual personalities into what we were playing, and it was very important that the structure was as loose as possible so that everybody could improvise. Rock and roll is the best format – and its a music we all love. “