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Dame David’s gift of Sound + Vision: Bowie at the Bowl

Don‘t you wonder sometimes?

A look back to the time when David Bowie played two shows to close to 120,000 sweltering Milton Keynes Bowlers on August 4 & 5, 1990, the UK’s hottest days of that year. Cue an overworked St. John Ambulance treating many for dehydration, sunburn and heat exhaustion.

The Dame was by far my favourite artist at the time, so when the news was announced early in the year that he was coming to my hometown in the ‘green belt’ Buckinghamshire countryside an hour north of London, I was more than a little thrilled.

Seven years and a month earlier, the blond and blow-waved Serious Moonlighting DB of ’83 had played a record-breaking three nights at what is now the distinctly under-used National Bowl but, alas, I sat those out. Literally: in my folks’ back garden we could hear the whole shebang, though the teenage me was still transfixed by his Adam Ant records to care. Not with that hair…

Only recently did I discover a complete film exists of the Sound + Vision Sunday night show, which was also broadcast live on BBC Radio 1 following the Top 40 rundown. You’d never get that now, would you?

After 1990, Bowie actually held the record for the act who played the most nights at the Bowl… until Robbie Williams went one better in 2006. How Rudebox. And considering we lived so close to the open air amphitheatre, in retrospect I’m slightly embarrassed that the only other gig I paid to see there was the last night on British soil of Michael Jackson’s Bad tour a couple of years before this Sound + Vision spectacular.

Sister Stella and several friends of mine partied to Erasure the month after Bowie but I considered it far too much of a camp cliche to be seen supporting that rubber leotarded queen and a drum machine. Though me being me, I sat in my bedroom and listened to the whole thing on Radio 1 anyway and then spent forever regretting I didn’t go.

God, I’m a twit sometimes.

I met Dean Balaam, who ran a Bowie fanzine entitled Zi Duang Provence, for the first time the night before the first S+V show, a fruitful meeting that led to my first published music journalism, no less. Without Dean it’s possible you might not be even reading this.

Despite the capacity turn-out I remember being slightly disappointed the only person I spied from my school years down the road was Jeffrey Wingrove, whose charming sister Joanne sold me many Bowie recordings from the music department in Boots, and whom I once famously shared a telephone box with (Joanne, not Jeff, sadly).

On the Saturday I may have twisted melons with the MK posse: Amelia, Judi, Maria and my sister Stella. But it was a steaming and rowdy gig. Owing to the balmy crowd surges, we all managed to get split up, but I reunited with Jude at MK Central station after the gig and she told me slightly incredulously how two guys near her were “going absolutely mental” for DB.

Like me, she always had a distinctly uneasy relationship with fandom, and as if to hammer home the point, as she imparted this titbit, some narky teen all on his own spotted our ‘souvenir’ tees and bleated at the top of his voice, “I FUCKING HATE DAVID BOWIE!!”

Well, perhaps he did but I bet he’s a fan now, such has been the remarkable turnaround in Bowie’s reputation since those dark days.

Fandom is a funny thing, though. The same old Saturday night, I recall the bit in Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes where Dave really sent himself up, and play-acted the slightly modified line “How the others must see THIS faker” and pointed to his own chest, super theatrically. A gent near me responded by shouting back in some form of denial, “No way! No way!”

Of course, it begged the question how well did his audience actually ‘get’ him if that’s what they thought.

The second night I took my ma and pa. Dad was born the same year as Bowie, though it‘s fair to say both of them would have been far happier watching the Rolling Stones.

ITV Anglia also filmed the first three songs of the Sunday show, clips of which were used in their local news report. Dave Stewart was in attendance with his then Bananarama/Shakespeare’s Sister wife Siobhan Fahey, and revealed Eurythmics had unreleased covers of Bowie’s Sound And Vision and Fame in their vaults. The latter co-write with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar was eventually included on an expanded Touch album in 2005, and in 2012 I asked Dave on Twitter about the provenance of the unheard S+V.

Somewhat puzzlingly, in his response he asked me to send it to him.

Don’t you wonder sometimes?

I know the Adrian Belew band’s sparse arrangements didn’t work for some of the setlist, but, after the Glass Spider debacle, I always found a certain quiet dignity about this understated ‘greatest hits’ tour, even if The Thin White One had to grit his teeth every night to get through classics he’d come to personally loathe (howdy Space Oddity and Young Americans).

I’m not sure I was ever convinced by The Dame’s claim he only went out on the seven month trek at the request of Jeff Rougvie and Rykodisc though.

Finally, fact fans may already know that S+V is Bowie’s only world tour that hasn’t been released officially in some form. With Parlophone’s cynical flooding of every market from Bombay to Bangalore, could that change? Perhaps the MK show could be the way to go.

Anyway, have some lovely photos.

Steve Pafford

The Price is wrong

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