So farewell then, David Bowie

A personal tribute to the sadly-departed artist.


So Farewell then, David Bowie

It was 1974, and I had begun to encounter my first and only bout of bullying at a boys grammar school.

The reason? I liked classical music. I was studying music O-level (and later A-level) and was making regular trips to Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.

Most of my contemporaries had discovered ‘rock’ – most of it ‘progressive’ rock. Their satchels were adorned with badges and home-made artwork depicting Pink Floyd, ‘ELP’, Jethro Tull, ‘Yes’ and the like.

The school had a library that contained a modest collection of classical vinyl LP’s. I and a few others were in the habit of borrowing and returning these, but we had already become rather self-conscious in doing so, as we had begun to experience mild ridicule from the ‘cool’ boys.

When we had these LP’s in transit (and therefore visible to the masses), the taunts would come “What have you got there, Redmires…… (first names were never used at school – it was considered ‘soft’) ……..Tchaikovsky’s greatest hits?”

At this point I would like to report that I had the strength of character to tough it out with these cool types, and hold my head high in unrepentant and dignified manner. However I was 14 and I craved credibility as much as the next person, and I disliked abuse as much as the next person.

And so I began to invest my weekend milk-round money in Woolworth’s ‘pop music’ section. First of all I bought Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. It wasn’t difficult to like that – after all, it was just classical music with modern instruments. But Oldfield didn’t really cut it with the cool boys. They noted a slight change of direction when I brought it in to lend it to Walton, but I clearly still wasn’t one of them.

Not that I wanted to be fully one of them – I had no intention of giving up on classical music, I just wanted to get these inverted-snobbery morons off my back.

And then I remembered Ashton.

Ashton lived down my road in one of the leafier suburbs of town. He was in the year below me. Like me, he was in the school orchestra but (unlike me) he had an elder brother – one who was into rock music. I recalled Ashton’s telling me he had started to listen to his brothers’ records. It was time to befriend him and (if possible) his brother.

On my first visit to Ashton’s it was just he and I. In fact thinking about it, it was always just he and I. I never met the brother, but I did meet his rock LP collection. First-up was Tommy by The Who – a double ‘concept album’ I was told. Surely every classical LP I had ever listened to was a ‘concept album’?  Then I saw a cover sticking out from the rack– it had some skinny long haired bloke in daft flares and a shirt. The track listing alongside looked like it had been drawn on with a crayon. I was (of course) staring at the rear cover of Hunky Dory.

“Pete….put this on, will you?” (we were on first-name terms by now, but never at school, only in the safety of our homes).

And so began my love affair with the music of David Bowie. What was originally presumed to be a necessary evil in order to restore my school-‘cred’ quickly became a joy. Eight Line Poem, The Bewlay BrothersSong for Bob Dylan……… I loved it all – even Kooks, a song which four decades later seems pretty naff, really.

On my second visit to Woolworths’ pop section I headed straight for the B’s – I eschewed the Black Sabbath and Budgie offerings and instead pulled out Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. I caught the bus straight home and proceeded to play it to buggeration whilst analysing the lyrics on the dark blue inner.

And what lyrics. “Pete….play this track called Time”, I said…”and listen carefully ……he says wanking!!!!!”. And so he did, and how we laughed. There wasn’t much to amuse a young teenager in those days other than Monty Pythons Flying Circus.

Whilst admiring his later work, I couldn’t really sustain my interest in Bowie beyond Young Americans – a young American named Springsteen had become my new ‘Bowie’. But I will never forget the enormous impact of four stunning and wholly individual LP’s – Aladdin Sane, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and Diamond Dogs. Music would never be the same again for me. From Bowie I checked out Lou Reed and the Velvets. I loved the sheer sense of counterculture engendered by both artists.

And yet somehow I still love classical music.

January 2016