Over the last few days as tributes have been paid from fans and musicians following the death of David Bowie, here at ESP we thought we’d share this recollection from our photographer Mike Harris – aka Mike Da Hat.
Mike will be familiar to local fans of live music in Peterborough and Stamford through his photography and presence at live gigs, and as a musician himself, but in one of Mike’s first ever jobs as an 18 year-old he worked at the Friars Music Club in Aylesbury, the venue that played a key role in David Bowie’s live career.
In September 1971 Bowie debuted his album Hunky Dory there, and in January 1972 gave his first performances in the guise of Ziggy Stardust. Then on July 15 he invited 50 of the top American music journalists to witness his gig as part of the UK leg of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars tour. This was the show that helped turn Bowie in a superstar, and the significance of Friars, Aylesbury has been celebrated by both fans and Bowie himself who referenced the town’s market square on the opening track Five Years from his Spiders From Mars album.
Five years later on March 1, 1977, Bowie returned to the venue after producing Iggy Pop’s album The Idiot to play keyboards as part of Iggy Pop’s band. Mike Harris was there that night and takes up the story…
“I worked for Friars Aylesbury in those days on security. I was quite young and not very big to be security, but there I was backstage in 1977, supposedly to stop the crowd rushing the stage from the right. There was just me at the bottom of the stage steps standing in the dark, and I was watching Iggy Pop doing his opening numbers.
There was a huge crowd, and all eyes were on Iggy. Then the back stage door opened and this tall guy came out and stood next to me at the bottom of the steps. It was too dark to see who it was, but he said ‘Hi’ and ‘What do you think?’, meaning what did I think about Iggy Pop and we just chatted about the gig. I can’t remember the exact conversation as at the time it was just a chat for about 5 minutes about music. The last thing he said was – ‘There’s my cue, I’d better get on stage, see you!’ and he walked up the steps. He stopped at the top as the spotlight hit him and the crowd roared when they saw that it was David Bowie! At the time I had no idea it had been him I’d been talking to – I just thought it was another guy come to help me on security. I guess that the expression that springs to mind is – D’oh!
Mike continues – “As he got on stage I remember he waved to the crowd, went to the keyboards and sat down. All through the gig I sat on the steps watching from back stage. I’d like to say that for that gig I became some sort of superhero security figure, repelling and holding back the hoards of fans desperate to get to Bowie, but no one tired to storm the stage as they were all up the front. In reality I wasn’t likely to be able to stop anyone, but Friars is legendary and a very friendly venue so we never had any trouble.
“That night Iggy Pop was phenomenal, but Bowie never took the limelight from Iggy Pop, he just played his part as a band member never over playing his role and never trying to steal Iggy’s glory. Considering how famous Bowie was at the time I thought that was pretty cool of him. He wasn’t dressed up either, no make up, just a regular guy.
“After the gig a whole bunch of people came to the side of the stage and I had to stand to the side while they welcomed the band off stage, ushered them back stage through the doors and I didn’t get a chance to speak to Bowie again.”
The newspaper clipping from The Evening Standard 1977 of the concert that Mike has, was taken from the spot he was positioned at back stage.
On Saturday January 16, a memorial event to honour David Bowie will take place in Aylesbury under the arches at the bottom of the Market Square. Organised by Friars Aylesbury from midday to midnight it will give those who wish to, a chance to lay flowers, cards and to sign a Friars Aylesbury book of condolence. The event will have some Friars memorabilia and there will be a music and audio-visual projection.