11. Jan, 2016

Farewell David Bowie: often copied, never equalled

An emotional day today, with the death of David Bowie. His music a part of my life since the 1960s. It’s not tremendously well known that I wrote the first (unauthorized) biography of British rock guitarist Jeff Beck, published in 2001 by Hal Leonard and awarded 4 stars by Q Magazine. In the book I recounted the story of how Jeff came to appear onstage with Bowie at his Ziggy Stardust farewell concert. It runs as follows.

. . . At around this time Beck made a surprise guest appearance at the famous ‘retirement’ night of David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars world tour, mounted at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973. Beck’s appearance was arranged by Bowie as a birthday treat for his guitarist, Mick Ronson, who idolized Beck’s playing and had always longed to play with him onstage.

Beck was sent a mysterious note from Bowie, enclosing tickets and asking him to be at the show. Called up for the encores, he joined the band on ‘Jean Genie’ and ‘Love Me Do’ (with Bowie supplying the harmonica part). A second encore, ‘Around and Around’, also featured Beck on his magic voice tube. [This was the ‘talking guitar’ effect often used later by Peter Frampton.]

The surprise appearance entailed even more of a surprise for Beck when he learned that the show had been filmed for cinema and TV. This was something he hadn’t expected, and frankly he didn’t feel he had performed too well . . . Given the option, he decided to exclude his appearances and they were duly edited out of the film and the official live album. Nevertheless, the first two numbers were shown on US television and the third one was broadcast in Europe!

Beck was left with a strange memento of the occasion when he was given a weird rag doll by Bowie and Ronson, which they said resembled him. An odd gift, but one that he kept ever afterwards. He also attended Bowie’s retirement party at the Café Royal the following night, where the guests included Mick and Bianca Jagger, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Keith Moon, Lulu, Cat Stevens, Lou Reed, Barbra Streisand, Britt Ekland, Tony Curtis, Elliot Gould, Ryan O’Neal, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, with music supplied by Dr John. Surely one of the most glittering rock events of the decade.