I didn't think I'd be unemployed, that's for sure, so when I heard the news this morning, my time was my own. My first instinct was to play all of my favourite (should be 'fave' I think?) records at mourning banishing volume. But then I dusted off Kevin Cann's book 'Any Day Now' - the exhaustive, almost day by day account of Bowie's formative years in the UK - picked up the car keys, and went for a little drive.
Everyone who was a fan (was? That sounds odd) has their own David Bowie, dependent on the age and the point in his career when they 'turned on' to his music. My own David Bowie was created in 1969, hearing 'Space Oddity' over the school Tannoy as part of an educational programme on space travel. Three years later, soon after the carrot topped, blue guitar swagger of Bowie performing 'Starman' on TV's LIFT OFF WITH AYESHA hit me for six - forcing me to rush out and buy the 7" with its dangerous and perhaps even more mercurial B-side 'Suffragette City' - I brought my copy of the single along to our primary school final year picnic, where the teachers had thoughtfully rigged up a record player to enhance the event. 'Starman' effectively cleared the picnic area - it obviously wasn't for everyone. My father, whose own version of David Bowie conjured him as a kind of Tommy Steele for the next generation, faithfully bought me all his albums when they came out, right up to the point where I asked Dad what 'lobotomy' and 'libido' meant because I'd heard Bowie sing the words. It didn't help that I asked him rather loudly in the middle of a party that my decidedly strait-laced parents were throwing.
|40 Stansfield Rd|
But back to this morning. So I've posted up a few songs (including possibly my all time favourite 'Conversation Piece') on social media like many other friends, and I'm still in shock. My David Bowie was the early version: 'She's Got Medals'; 'The London Boys'; 'Silly Boy Blue'. There's a shameless nostalgia operating alongside the grief, so I decide to take a drive around South London, Kent and Surrey to see if I can connect with my 'early years' Bowie, using Cann's book as my guide.
|Stockwell Infants School|
|106 Canon Rd|
|23 Clarence Road|
|4 Plaistow Grove|
The gig list at this time shows that the Konrads really worked the provinces. A few of the venues that were regularly used were Shirley Parish Hall, Wickham Hall and Justin Hall, part of St David's college - these venues were interspersed between Croydon and Beckenham. Presumably because of the distance from centrally connected transport, Bowie would be playing to a largely local Kent/Surrey crowd. Until 1964, when David would progress from the Konrads to the more R&B based The King Bees, this small and very quiet part of the south east would be his playground.
|Justin Hall, West Wickham|
|Shirley Parish Hall, Shirley|
|Wickham Hall, West Wickham|
|The Three Tuns - site of the Beckenham Arts Lab|
A few hundred yards away from this venue is the Croydon Road Recreation ground, an unassuming public space which was the location for the Beckenham Free Festival, held in August 1969 (and namechecked in the Bowie song). As I made my way to the bandstand, from where a permed newly blissed out Bowie once performed - a long way from the Konrads yet geographically just down the road - I saw that a few bunches of flowers had already been laid at its steps. An older woman was talking to a couple of local people as I approached through the mud - she also had a microphone and was clearly attempting to record some local memories of the man. I mentioned to them that Brixton was being seen as Bowie central today. She became annoyed: "But Bowie only lived there for a few years. He belongs to Bromley and Beckenham, not Brixton," she remonstrated.
|Croydon Rd Recreation Ground - site of the Beckenham Free Festival|