I Could Fall Asleep at Night
I had a ticket for the Ziggy tour which seemed to have been going for half of my lifetime, I’d only recently passed my mid-teens and patience was not an option. The only downside was that I didn’t know anybody else with a ticket so would not have anyone to share the experience with, still, never mind.
There were quite a few envious people who I knew at that time, we were all at an age where we’d started going to gigs, but this particular one was going to be the pinnacle. I’d read everything I could find about the tour and getting that ticket was just out of this world, plus I’d seen loads of photos, many of which I still have.
One strange thing did happen though. A mate of mine at the time, a fella we called Hog, although his mum was never too pleased when I used to call his house and ask for him as Hog, “we don’t have a Hog here, but we do have a Steven.” Every time that I realised that I was in trouble I’d say, “tell him Pete rang,” and hope that she’d never find out that it was me as I hated being made to sit on the naughty step.
Anyway, Hog loaned me his jean jacket so at least something that he owned would get to see David Bowie. Looking back at it now it makes me realise how strange we must have been, me as well as I agreed to wear it. I lost touch with him for some time but bumped into him at Earls Court on the stage tour but forgot to ask him if he still had the jacket. I forgot to put in a spoiler alert there as you now know that I went to see the Stage tour as well.
To be honest I don’t remember getting to the gig, but it must have been by train as I remember coming home by train. In my excitement I handed in my ticket and forgot to try and keep it, I think that they took everyone’s ticket as there was no stub to it, so that ticket is missing from my collection of tickets and is probably the one that I would most have wanted to keep. I have since seen a photo of one on the web so somebody either didn’t make the show, managed to bunk in and keep the ticket, or sweet talked the person on the door to letting them hold on to it. The last option is what I would have tried had I been on the ball but I was just thinking of seeing Bowie in the flesh.
One thing that struck me straight away was how old the audience was, most of the gigs that I’d been to previously was packed with people about my age, but this audience were a bit older than my tender 17 years. I was watching it with the grown ups.
The auditorium was housed in the Southampton Guildhall, as far as I could tell it was the ancient council offices and had sort of mahogany panels all around the walls. The floor was all on one level and the seats were temporary ones, the kind that you would put out in a school hall with gangways on either side. I wasn’t interested though, I had no idea where my seat was they’d taken my ticket. In fact, this is the first time that I’ve thought about it, but if they took everybody’s ticket then how did they know what seat they were in. Perhaps the seats weren’t numbered, probably not as it looked like some janitor, later to be rumbled by Scooby Doo, had put them out that afternoon.
I wasn’t interested in going to the bar, I’ll repeat that, I wasn’t interested in going to the bar, but wanted to find the best place for me to watch the performance. Not a lot of people sat down and I got a place in the gangway as near to the front, which wasn’t that near, that they’d let me go. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd went crazy when they put the house lights down.
There was just one spotlight which was shining onto a microphone at the front and centre of the stage and all of a sudden the Clockwork Orange March started blasting out from the speakers and the crowd went even crazier. They managed to play the whole track which seemed like half an hour, and from where I was standing the effect of the spotlight on the mic stand was perfect, everything else was dark behind it. I was straining my eyes to try and see anything on the stage and then I glimpsed a figure in the darkness who walked into the spotlight. Along with all of the other people in the audience I went wild.
It was a Teddy Boy, I kid you not. Hundreds of people were suddenly brought down to earth by the sight of this fella who responded to the whistles and cat calls by pulling a comb out of his pocket and running it through his highly greased Elvis quiff.
“Ladies and gentleman, straight from his world tour including Japan and the United States of America and now his home country, David Bowie and his band.”
Then he was gone, Walter Carlos played on and the audience were whipping themselves up into a sense of frenzy. The Clockwork Orange march continued and I saw shadows moving behind the spotlight as did everybody else and the cheering got louder, all of a sudden there was silence then bam bam bam, the opening bars of Hang Onto Yourself.
Amongst the chaotic scenes that were happening all around me in the audience I saw David Bowie leap into the spotlight one foot a metre in front of the other perfectly positioned to take control of the microphone. There was no hesitation, no steadying himself, it was timed to perfection and as he landed he began to sing. I was stunned, I’ve never been so startled in my life, I know that I wouldn’t have been standing still, but at that moment it seemed that there was just me and Bowie in that hall, no-one else existed.
My eyes didn’t leave him, I was transfixed, and during those first few minutes I was glued to Bowie who kept the same stance right the way through the song. I was about halfway down the hall and pushing against the security men with hundreds of other people behind me doing the same trying to get nearer to the stage. On our side of the hall it was just pushing but during the second number I could see a pitched battle between fans and stewards with seats flying all over the place.
As I remember it he was wearing a long sparkly kimono type coat and when Hang On To Yourself finished he stood there triumphant in front of the baying audience with a massive grin on his face and his hands on his hips. A bit like Henry the eighth in drag. Two people ran onto the stage, knelt beside him and suddenly yanked of the kimono. The audience went wild.
The songs continued and the crowd on the other side had stopped fighting but there was still a constant push on our side to try and get nearer to the sweet spot at the front. Then came the medley, The Wide Eyed Boy From Freecloud, All The Young Dudes and Oh You Pretty Things, I was in heaven.
At no time did the audience quieten down, everything was at a hundred miles an hour, the band were coming more into it, especially Mick Ronson, and by this time the world could have ended outside but I would have died happy. We were only halfway through.
Suddenly the lights went up and it was the intermission, I didn’t know that there was going to be an interval and was rather confused by it all, which is a state that I’m regularly in to be fair. I started talking to a security man, who was more a steward out of his depth and I should have felt sorry for him, but I’d found their weak spot. This poor bloke was traumatised and was probably a pen pusher in the sanitation department by day, but had the chance to earn an easy few bob in the evenings showing people to their seats. He told me that they’d had Slade there the previous week and all of those screaming kids were easy to control, but this was a different level. I didn’t want to get too emotionally involved with him as I knew what was coming after the interval.
As far as I remember the second half started with Width Of A Circle, and as the first notes sounded the audience went crazy again. My short lived friendship with the ticket collector was at an end and I lobbed him in amongst the seated audience as I charged through to the front. Now I’m not as silly as I look as I could easily have got right up against the stage but let some other poor mug push past me. He probably thought that he’d got one over on me. The thought must have been with him for about 30 seconds flat until he realised that there were 300 people behind pushing forward and there was nothing between him and the stage. Sentimentality was out of the window, I had a cushion and was able to get my hand up to try and touch David Bowie.
Fortune then shined on me. When I pull myself up to my full height I’m about three foot six so was struggling to see from such a close distance. With all the pushing screaming and chaos somehow either a monitor or a light was pulled off the stage and I felt it on the floor. I did try to call my old mate the steward and ask him to put it back on the stage but I couldn’t see him, so I did the next best thing and stood on it. As I rose above the crowd I felt that I was flying, just at the time when Bowie and Ronno were getting it on with a strobe in full effect.
I think that a girl by me fainted, but it was hard to tell, the crush of the audience held her up in any case. With my new found height my hand was nearer the stage and Bowie was going along the front as he sang touching the adoring fans and he came nearer and nearer to me. Just as he came into view with my arm extended like Twizzle on acid he quickly turned and skipped back towards Woody. Never mind, Ronno was coming down towards the audience who were grabbing at his strings, maybe I’ll get to play a C chord. That didn’t happen either, as much as I tried I never got to touch his guitar.
You’ve got to remember that I was playing with the big boys now and I was pushed and shoved but never lost my place standing on whatever it was that was holding me up. I held my own.
Watching the gig from the front of the stage was amazing, the crowd all around were in a frenzy, I didn’t look behind me but I expect it was the same all the way to the back.
Then came Rock And Roll Suicide and we knew that this was the end. Bowie had barely left the stage when the house lights came up, I don’t think that they could get them on quick enough. The crush started to ease and Pomp and Circumstance started to blast out of the speakers that had just been playing the best music that I’d ever heard.
When I got the chance I turned round and went to make my way out, what I saw absolutely stunned me. It was like a war zone the chairs had gone everywhere, there were people being helped out and others were in a daze from what we’d just witnessed. One fella was standing on the back of two seats singing “We love David Bowie” to the Wendy Carlos tune. It was the perfect ending to one of the most surreal experience that I’ve ever had.
I was told that Southampton Council banned concerts from the Guildhall for years after that night, but I’m sure that the bloke who shoved past me to get to the front still looks back on it with a twinkle in his eye, even though he probably ended up with a couple of broken ribs.
Since then I’ve literally seen thousands of bands and still go and see bands gigging all of the time, but I’ve never witnessed or experienced anything like that night. It was nearly 30 years until I went to the Southampton Guildhall again and saw Suede, which I think was rather appropriate.
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