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

David Bowie played two shows to 120,000 sweltering Milton Keynes Bowlers on August 4 & 5, 1990, the UK’s hottest days of that year. Cue 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 the only other gig I paid to see there was Michael Jackson 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.


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.

On the Saturday I may have twisted melons with Amelia, Judi, Maria and Stella. The second show I took my ma and pa. Dad was born the same year as Bowie and turned 69 last December. 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 sister Joanne sold me many Bowie recordings from  music department in Boots, and whom I once famously shared a telephone box with (Joanne, not Jeff).

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 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 ‘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.

Fact fans may already know that S+V is Bowie’s only world tour that hasn’t been released officially in some form. Could that change? The MK show could be the way to go.

Steve Pafford

The Price is wrong

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