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Friars trivia and odds and ends

 

The players: Trevor Bolder, Woody Woodmansey, David Bowie, and Mick Ronson (RCA promo 1972)

(incidentally we tried valiantly to track down the keyboard player for the live shows. We tracked down Brand X's Robin Lumley in Australia who was thought to have played this gig and he confirmed to us that he actually joined the band in August 1972. With that info, we believed the player may have been Procol Harum's Matthew Fisher whom we have not been able to talk to sadly. We also tried to track down members of The JSD Band to no avail)

Saturday July 15th 1972 stays in the memory of everyone who was there and beyond- it was no ordinary gig. This was the night Bowie took Aylesbury apart in front of an ecstatic crowd and a plane load of important American journalists, flown in to witness the phenomenon that was Ziggy Stardust. It wasn't fluke, Bowie had broken Ziggy on the world at Friars six months earlier and the world finally awoke to what was known for a long time - Bowie was a legend in the making. The story starts before that of course, Bowie offering Bucks musician and early Friars stalwart Les Payne a track 'Star' to help him in 1969 and in 1971, the first outing anywhere of the Hunky Dory album was at Aylesbury with legend stating that Al Kooper who played Friars in 1971 told Bowie that Friars was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience, something David found out for himself.

In June and July 2012 there have been BBC radio and TV documentaries of the 40th anniversary of the release of the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album featuring, amongst others, contributions from David Stopps and Kris Needs.

I was able to interview Trevor Bolder for this feature and he talks about Aylesbury and the first outings of Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust.

Well, what happened after that? David retired the Ziggy character in 1973, the same year it was mooted that David might play Aylesbury Market Square or at least relay the gig from the BAH to screens in the Market Square. David Stopps was convinced that Bowie would play Aylesbury again and offered to eat his hat if he didn't come back that year. He didn't and Stopps literally ate his hat on stage (Budget had made one from rice paper for the occasion).

Bowie, as we know went on to become one of the world's biggest rock stars and still retains affection for the Aylesbury Ziggy Stardust gigs and is a true Friars Hero. He did however make it back to Aylesbury in 1977 where in another first for Friars Aylesbury, Iggy Pop played his first gig for years and on keyboards was.....a certain David Bowie.

 

Here's some thoughts from those who were there:

David Bowie:

“[Spiders From Mars drummer] Woody Woodmansey was saying, “I’m not bloody wearing that!” There were certainly comments, a lot of nerves. Not about the music — I think the guys knew that we rocked. But they were worried about the look. That’s what I remember: how uncomfortable they felt in their stage clothes. But when they realized what it did for the birds . . . The girls were going crazy for them, because they looked like nobody else. So within a couple of days it was, “I’m going to wear the red ones tonight.”

Woody Woodmansey:

'The Aylesbury Friars Club gig sticks in my mind as one of Bowie and the Spiders favourite gigs. I remember the first time we played we'd spent weeks working out the show and it was the first airing of a Bowie and Spiders concert that we then took around the world! The audience reception was the best.'

Mick Rock photographing Bowie at this gig (thanks Martyn Cornell)

Friars Aylesbury promoter David Stopps:

'The gig on 15 July was used as a showcase for record company executives from all over the world.  I remember doing a little history of the town and giving this out to these high-flying executives.  This was an amazing gig, there was real hysteria.  We had a hard time with security too.  It was really that intense. It was also quite clear at that point that it was breaking huge.  I had put on the gig in Dunstable the previous month and Bowie was extremely good. I remember the fellatio with Ronson at that gig and I remember everyone being pretty shocked.  It was breaking literally by the day and by the time 15 July came around there was great excitement in the air.  Needless to say, the gig had sold out instantly'

Roger Taylor (Queen drummer):

"I got Freddie out in my little Mini and I remember the lights didn't work very well and we were going around the roundabouts and he was going "Oh dear - I don't think you can see dear, can you?" and I said "Don't worry Freddie it will be all right" and anyway we did get around the roundabouts and we got out to Friars Aylesbury which seemed like the end of the earth at the time.  I think it could have been the first-ever Ziggy Stardust gig and it blew us away - we were blown away - it was so fantastic like nothing else that was happening and so far ahead of its time - the guy he had so much talent to burn really and charisma to burn as well, I hate to gush but he did have it like no one else did at the time"

Angie Bowie in 2012:

'I looked at the [Friars Aylesbury] site and there's nothing more to say. You've said it all. Great show'

Rolling Stone's Glen O'Brien in an interview with Andy Warhol, 1972 said:

'The Aylesbury town hall is the size of an average pre-war high school gym...There were perhaps a thousand peers in the hall when we entered.  At first I thought it was remarkable that RCA had spent at least $25,000 to bring a select group of writers to a concert at which there were no seats for them, save the floor...David Bowie did not come on unannounced.  He was in fact preceded on stage by a handsome Negro and his attendants who attempted to work the audience to a fever pitch by tossing them balloons, pinwheels, and hundreds of Bowie posters.  The audience needed little prodding, though, and anxiously awaited David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, while the giant amplifiers sounded a recording of old Ludwig Von's Song of Joy from the Ninth Symphony.  David appeared on stage with his band to what could fairly be called a thunderous ovation.  And he deserved every handclap...His hair was a vibrant orange..And the band played on...And David proved himself to be a unique performer'

The New Roxette's, (and local leek grower), Rick Pearce recalls the gig:

'I don’t remember how we got hold of tickets for the July 15th Friars date but we did, somehow.

By now the ‘Tour Without End’ had really hit its stride and things were getting faster, slicker and even tighter than ever. Memories of the gig itself are a jumble of confused images and impressions:

A huge wave of energy and sound coming off the stage, Hang On To Yourself always hits like a bolt of lightening and it’s the first time I’ve seen them in a small venue since they played here in January…Blue lit otherwise darkened stage for The Supermen… Total strobe disorientation and fragments of She Shook Me Cold during the jam section of I Feel Free… Ronno raising his arm to signal the end of White Light White Heat and Woody just keeps on drumming… Crushed against the PA by the crowd with Jackie, Jenny and her friend Tim and being deaf for days after… Bowie taking off his jacket towards the end of the show, ripping it to pieces, throwing rags to the crowd. At the same time Stuey George and (probably) Stage Manager Peter Hunsley are hurling fliers from both sides of the stage, girls are fighting over bits of white satin and I’m wondering how it’s possible to look cool in the middle of all of this, realising it’s impossible and giving up on even trying… Grabbing Ronno’s guitar as he runs to the front of the stage and shoves it out into the audience… The surface of the guitar is rough, almost like sandpaper and the strings are very light gauge… Wondering if seeing the Beatles at the Cavern was anywhere near as good as this…

Eventually the band leave the stage, the houselights come on and we are left standing there, drained, deafened and stunned by the sheer intensity of what we have just witnessed.

After that things just got bigger, wilder and totally beyond control. DB and the Spiders were no longer able to be just our band. The Universe, or at least America had taken them over and we would never get them back. Sadly that’s often how it works and the only choice we have is to live with it every time it happens or to become bitter, twisted, cynical and ultimately deadly boring.

On further consideration, there is no choice!'

Journalist, author and original Friars member Kris Needs writing in 2012:

'There’s been much attention lavished lately on the 40th anniversary of Ziggy Stardust’s spectacular landing on this planet, particularly the January 29 gig which marked the first time Bowie’s exotic new creation had set foot on a stage.


    Over the last few weeks, I’ve written magazine features and spoke to Gary Kemp for BBC Radio specials, now realising most of the attention went to how this shy singer-songwriter, hiding beneath his long blond tresses, metamorphosed into that amazing creature called Ziggy Stardust, with a lot of the in-between events skipped over in favour of the July, 1973 retirement announcement.


    Everyone has loved to credit that ‘Starman’ appearance on Top Of The Pops for the moment Bowie exploded into the national consciousness and Bowie-mania was born. Very true, but I actually think the Friars Dunstable gig a few weeks earlier showed that Bowie-mania was taking off nicely. It was all happening so fast, something new and exciting happening every day.


    Then came July 15. By then, me and local fans  including Rick and Judy Pearce and John Hopcraft had pursued Bowie to various local suburban gigs, the Ziggy album was out, I’d helped with his fan club and was marvelling at the beautiful serendipity of Mott The Hoople getting their ‘All The Young Dudes’ rescue. Up until now, it had been easy to talk to Bowie, before and after the show. We were always greeted warmly by him and he really didn't seem to believe how fast it was all happening.  But now, since the TV and some Star Is Born-type reviews, manager Tony DeFries’ Colonel Tom Parker-style tactics upped gear. He started cutting Bowie off, trying to create an untouchable legend, Elvis-style.


    When Bowie returned to Friars on July 15, he was back on safe ground playing a showcase for a planeload of US journos and record company execs flown in to start the buzz for Ziggy's invasion of America. Although I managed to witness the soundcheck in the afternoon, things had changed; the show was slicker, his jumpsuit now the red and green quilted affair, the going down on Ronno routine debuted that May in Oxford now a set piece. Bowie had also gained a mean, black bodyguard called Stuey, who informed me after the gig that I would see his charge, 'over my dead body'.   


    So that magical six months, whose reverberations would ring through the ensuing decades, was over. David wasn’t ours any more but it didn’t matter. This had been a gift from the gods for a teenage Stones-Mott fan like me, paved the way for the New York Dolls and a new period of immense fun running Mott‘s fan club for a few years. Like the Stones, the shockwaves of his impact reverberated deeper than the music, invading image, culture and social taboos, sparking a new revolution. No one knew that a direct lineage to punk rock was opening up but, at that moment, pop music was being invaded by a vision from the future. Forty years later, I can still feel that buzz.'

Friars founding father Robin Pike writing in 2012:

I decided that this gig should be a Gala.  My background in theatre and ballet told me that Galas must have flowers and lots of them.  So Nick Menday and I set off for Covent Garden flower market just after pub closing time on Friday July 14th.  At this time the flower market was still in Covent Garden with trading starting around 1am.  I have absolutely no recollection of which flowers we bought but we did indeed buy lots!  Coincidentally, Lou Reed was playing his first UK date at the Scala in Kings Cross that night and since it was an all-nighter Nick and I made our way over to the venue.  Friars had booked Lou Reed for a date later in July and it seemed reasonable to ask the Scala promoter for admission via his Guest List.  Now I have a thing about Guest Lists, and I vividly remember the Promoter informing me wearily that I was the 220th person to be on the List.  In the end one of us paid.  As for the show!!  Lou had a band called The Tots on account of their extreme youth and this was his first tour since leaving the Velvet Underground.  In fact I learned later that the bass player was 15 years old.  I think it was around 2.30am when they came on and they were stunning.  The audience was equally stunning.  I shall not go into detail here but for anyone who is curious I invite them to listen to the lyrics of Walk on the Wild Side.  There were a lot of Candys that morning.

We arrived back in Aylesbury and set about enacting my flower plan.  I had formed the idea that David Bowie should play under a floral sky.  This meant that we would 'fly' the flowers above the front of the stage.  The Assembly Hall (aka Grosvenor)  happened to have a number of benches with collapsible legs not that I had ever seen them used.  Anyway, we turned them upside down, filled them with soil and stuck the flowers in.  The soil came from a garden at the back of Barclays Bank in the Market Square (but do not ask me how we got in there).  There was a spare lighting bar above the stage which had to be lowered manually by means of a nasty winding wire and handle mechanism. We suspended the benches from this bar and slowly wound it back up with the floral display hanging below.  I thought the effect was brilliant.  Somehow I think that I may have thrown some flowers on to the stage as well.

Oh.............and the gig was brilliant too.  As I recall Mick Ronson played a fine version of ' I feel Free.'  

Author and original Friars member Pete Frame writing in 2012:

All the times that I’d seen Bowie earlier, it seemed as if he was still prospecting . . . but at Friars that night, it was obvious that he’d found the goldmine. He charged around the stage, full of confidence, secure in the knowledge that all the elements had finally come together and the time was right. He dressed, thought and sang in full technicolour. For the first time, the world was in his grasp. We all knew that nothing would stop him now.

   I clearly remember the bus load of foreign journalists trooping up that alleyway beside the Green Man. RCA had flown them in to witness Bowie climaxing at the club which had nurtured him – all the more alluring because it was in a sleepy, provincial market town. Those whose minds were comprehensively blown included Dave Marsh, who then wrote for the Detroit-based Creem magazine (and later wrote the first Bruce Springsteen biography), and Lillian Roxon, who had recently written the world’s first rock encyclopedia (which, significantly, had no entry for Bowie). Executives from RCA were strutting around the foyer, whooping in jubilation because they knew that Bowie was about to jump from the Friars stage onto the world stage.       

Friars fan Robin Symons:

my wife and I as teenagers went to the gig and at one point, David took his satin jacket off and threw it into the crowd, Vivien my to be wife, grabbed at it and tore of one of the pockets ! She still has the remnants which also has had some coloured gems sewn on.

Friars fan Aly Moss:

Yes, I was at the Ziggy Stardust gig. I nearly got expelled from school as a result.

My friend Hilary and I had been made to go on a school trip to York to watch the mystery plays, but due to torrential rain, they were cancelled, so an alternative trip was arranged. However, Hilary and I decided we would far rather see David Bowie at Friars, so we did our chore (we were staying in a youth hostel) very early in the morning, shinned down a drainpipe and caught the train back to Aylesbury in time for the concert. Unfortunately we didn't tell anyone where we were going, so you can imagine the ructions that caused!! Hilary managed somehow to wash her hair on the train in readiness for the evening, and we had a great time.

We were summoned to Miss Camp's office on the following Monday morning, and narrowly escaped being suspended for nearly giving the teacher on the trip a heart attack.

Sadly, Hilary passed away some years ago, but it remains one of my favourite memories of the fun we had together during the Friars years. It was definitely worth the trouble we got into!

I have since found out that my future husband was there as well, but we didn't know each other then!

Friars fan Jacky Sayell:

I will always remember that gig being a big Bowie fan. I was waiting for him to come out the back of Friars, he was with Angie and he was just getting into his car when someone smacked him in the mouth. I was so shocked to see blood everywhere and will never forget it. Soon after went to London to see him play the Marquee and he asked if anyone went to Friars I said I did then he replied "do you know Dave Stopps and Kris?" I went "yep" in a state of shock then he went on to say he loved playing Aylesbury Friars. Made me proud.

Part of the poster exhibition at Bamalama Posters, 55 Leather Lane, London until 26th July 2012.

This was issued in 1972. The owner of this copy (Keith Bradbury) received this in the Regent Cafe in Kingsbury Square, Aylesbury.

and the back simply had this

 

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