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Happy Birthday Bowie! The Record Collector interviews

Following on from a Neil Tennant on David Bowie interview feature I submitted to Record Collector magazine ten years ago, further extracts from archive interviews I conducted over the years with George Michael (2005), Echo & The Bunnymen‘s Ian McCulloch (2001), television presenter Dale Winton (2006), Adam Ant (2000) and Toyah Wilcox (1996) appeared in their January issue #332 to celebrate Bowie’s 60th birthday. Spencer Kansa also submitted three excerpts from his exclusive interviews with the late Dennis Hopper, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Far out.


‘I think David Bowie is the single most important rock star after Elvis. He was also the first celebrity I ever bumped into, unless you count Nerys Hughes from The Liver Birds when I was nine! I was on my way out of a recording studio. I made a right fool of myself with him too. I’ll never forget it.

‘But we’ve got on very well since, the few times I’ve met him. In fact when we did an AIDS day charity concert he asked me if I’d cover one of his songs for a Ziggy era tribute album he was putting together, and I chose Lady Grinning Soul, but in the end the project was scrapped. I was a little too young to get into the glam period in a big way though. I prefer albums like Lodger and Scary Monsters, but being a soul boy I always gravitate back to Young Americans, Station To Station and Let’s Dance.’


‘Ziggy Stardust was the first album I ever bought. Seeing him on Top Of The Pops doing Starman completely changed my life. It was genius, and so special. He alienated more people than he turned on, which was perfect for a loner like me. He taught me never to play to the sodding masses. I wanted to be him, look like him, sing like him, mince like him. I even shaved off my eyebrows once, but I forgot I was signing on the dole at the time so it didn’t go down too well. I looked terrible! The Bewlay Brothers remains my favourite song, it’s so mysterious. He should never explain that one, it doesn’t need explaining.’


‘I only met David briefly with Philip Glass when they did the Low Symphony in 1993. He’d never looked me up before then, although apparently he still reads my work. I know his work from Diamond Dogs onwards; he was influenced by Burroughs, but I don’t know if he was influenced by me at all. I hear he’s concentrating on art projects these days, but I’m sure he can still be a musician if he wants. Once a genius always a genius.’


‘The first records I ever played to an audience was Starman and Elton’s Rocket Man. It was an audition and I got the gig! I don’t think of Bowie as glam rock, he was more chic rock. He had far more style than everyone else put together. Being a soul man and ex DJ I love stuff like Young Americans, which is a really good radio record, and Sound & Vision. I’m not a mad fan of the rockier stuff, I like things like The Prettiest Star and Ashes To Ashes.

Let’s Dance really highlighted the art of reinvention and still sounds great, whereas, production-wise, some of the earlier albums don’t always stand up, though the whole of Ziggy Stardust is still mind-blowing. Ultimately, I think concept albums are all well and good, but in actual fact, if you analyse his career, Bowie’s been a brilliant singles artist. I’ve never seen one of his concerts though – I’m not a great fan of live gigs. Though I did see him on stage with Tina Turner once. Wow! The man of mystery and the ultimate diva – all that electric energy was unbelievable!’


‘In the summer of 1975, Dean Stockwell and I stayed with Bowie at his place in Bel Air. It was incredible; he video-taped everything, all these crazy acid trips! He has tapes of all that stuff. David’s so incredibly creative and inspiring. He’s an incredible artist.’


‘I really love the stuff he did with Iggy Pop, as a producer. But the Ziggy Stardust album is my ideal Saturday night record. It’s great to have it on at a party. The people that I’d invite round would know Bowie’s work and would be pleased to hear it, but you have to listen to the whole thing. It’s a complete piece of work from start to finish. I got to meet him at Live Aid, and it was great that someone you respect turned out to be so gracious and approachable. And I think the set that he did that day was one of the best things he ever did. He’s got a whole body of work I think of as classical pop that will always stand up.’


‘Bowie and I did a photo shoot and interview at his house in Chelsea in 1974. I remember it very well. He was living out near the zoo. He was very nice. And then I saw him later on in New York. He was playing the Elephant Man. Very good. No make-up, just the use of his body. I thought that was a really brilliant idea – not to try and make up.’


‘I went to see Ziggy Stardust and I screamed all the way through it, much to the annoyance of everyone in the balcony. I ran out after the encores and was standing alone when he came out the stage door, and I just stood there all on my own screaming! I can remember he tried to smile at me, but I was verging on irritating. He had these amazing platform shoes with palm trees on, and beautiful legs. He just looked staggering.

‘I did have an even closer encounter with him, in Milton Keynes in 1983. He came and sat next to me backstage, having a quick fag between songs, and I couldn’t talk. It just meant more than anything to me that I just felt his presence wash over me. It was better than sex!”

Steve Pafford

All interviews conducted by Steve Pafford except * by Spencer Kansa, from the forthcoming Joe Ambrose book, Chelsea Hotel, Manhattan, to be published by Headpress in February 2007.


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