Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Bowie - An Early History

I guess one could go back to St. Mary's Church Choir in Bromley, 1958, for David Jones' first concert performance, but more legitimately (some would argue), Jones's first real concert gigs were with The Konrads in 1962, The King Bees in January 1964, or The Manish Boys in March 1964. We'll start there. The Manish Boys were Davie Jones (vocals, sax), Johnny Flux (lead), John Watson (guitar, vocals), Bob Solly (organ), Paul Rodriguez (bass, trumpet), Wolfe Byrne (bari sax, harmonica) and Mike White (drums). Jones joined the band in '64 and for the next year, until March 1965, The Manish Boys (changing their name to Davy Jones and the Manish Boys in June) played a myriad of venues (in particular, a six-date tour opening for Gerry and the Pacemakers in December 1964. Also on the bill were The Kinks, Gene Pitney and Marianne Faithful.and cut their first and only record, "I Pity the Fool" b/w "Take My Tip" in March 1965.  In April 1965, Jones joined established band The Lower Third, while continuing to play with The Manish Boys. In August 1965, Davie Jones and The Lower Third supported The Who in Bournemouth.

On September 16, 1965, Jones officially and legally changed his name to David Bowie to avoid any conflict with Oliver star (as The Artful Dodger) and Monkee Davy Jones. In February 1966, Bowie held auditions for his new band, tentatively called The Buzz; its members included John Hutchinson on guitar, Derek Fearnley on bass, John Eager on drums and Derrick Boyle on drums. Bowie, with backing from The Buzz would start a sojourn at the Marquee club in June 1966. 

This article does not effectively portray the number of dates played by Bowie exerting what would remain an unstoppable work ethic. Amidst gigs with The Lower Third and The Buzz, Bowie soloed with The Bill Saville Orchestra, performed a number of mime acts with a troupe called Turquoise and played with The Strawbs, where he first met Rick Wakeman (Wakeman would go on to be instrumental on Hunky Dory, of course, playing the piano on "Life on Mars").

Bowie's first album originally released in June 1967 is a pretty cool little record. How’s that for skirting the issue that while many debuts remain an artist's greatest effort (think Rickie Lee Jones, The Killers, The Beastie Boys)? If you like quirky mid-60's British pop, then you really can't go wrong here. "Join the Gang" is a rip on "Swinging London" and a personal fave. "Rubber Band" is a fun nostalgia trip on big bands during the Great War. "Uncle Arthur" is a silly song about the ultimate mama's boy. "When I Live My Dream" is generally considered the best song on the disc; it definitely seems the most mature. Even "Sell Me Your Coat" sounds cheerful though the poor guy is freezing to death. David will always be one of rock's greatest songwriters and lyricists and David Bowie has its fair share of hilarious stories of maids, transvestites, models in adverts, megalomaniacs, childhood fantasists and psychotic gravediggers. Not essential listening for 60's psychedelic enthusiasts but more for Bowie completists. In 1967 a 20-year-old genius was obviously having a blast giving commentary on both Mod London and Twentieth-Century England in general.

It's quite easy, and seemingly the accepted wisdom, to disregard the album, even pretend it doesn’t exist, yet there is an obvious fondness for narratives and character sketches that will blossom in years to come and define Bowie's ever-shifting persona. Not exactly where one should start with Bowie, his debut album catches him with one foot in the past and one in the future. On the one hand, you have songs in an old-fashioned “easy listening” style with interesting, off-beat lyrics, and on the other you have tracks tied in with the trends of the day - whether the mild psych of "Join the Gang" or the orchestral-trippy "Silly Boy Blue" - with stilted, cliched lyrics.

David Bowie is s a pleasant enough listen; other favorites are probably the cross-dressing rock story "She's Got Medals" or the nostalgia-inducing "There Is a Happy Land" (though the latter's a guilty pleasure, considering how sappy it is), not to mention the gloomy poetry of "Please, Mr Gravedigger." It's just that Bowie's still trying to work out who he is and what he wants to do. His recording track record is similar to that of his extensive touring. 

Most of us will begin our journey with Bowie on Space Oddity, where the alien truly finds his voice but also reveals his chameleon-like nature, one that next would explore early heavy metal with The Man Who Sold the WorldYears after his debut release, when Bowie became Ziggy and ruled the world, he may have been a bit embarrassed by this record. However, fans of folky, campy rock will enjoy, if only once.