I don’t often pre-order records. Has to be something pretty special and I have to be feeling expansive (pre-ords are always expensive) and patient (the lead time is usually considerable). But having missed out on the multi-CD issue of Bowie At The Beeb back at the turn of the century, I was determined not to repeat the error. So in went the order for the 4LP set, sometime pre-Christmas 2015.
With the passing over of credit card details the memory of the purchase drifted out of consciousness. Partially the volume of acquisitions, partially protecting oneself from too much anticipation. Blessed are those that expecteth nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.
There were expectations around Bowie’s new album, of course. His 25th studio release, Blackstar, released into the world on 8th January 2016. Pre-ordered that too.
Then, on 10th January, Bowie died.
We knew he was ill, yet it felt sudden. Shocking. More heartbreaking than I could make sense of, even via a long and probably self-indulgent post. Somehow the fabric of popular culture seemed torn and no number of tributes or archival releases has been able to stitch it up. Bowie is gone.
Will they change the Bowie At The Beeb release, I wondered? What did that question even mean? That a funereal black band would be added to the box? Fuck knows.
But I do know that while I could tackle Blackstar with its intimations of mortality and möbius density, the youth and life of Bowie At The Beeb undid me. I just couldn’t listen to the young David, tentative and hungry, stretching and yawning like an indolent teenager waking to a day full of promise and tedium.
“Silly Boy Blue”, recorded May 1968 with the Tony Visconti Orchestra, if you don’t mind, and broadcast on John Peel’s Top Gear, has such innocence, such insouciance. A charming interview with Brian Matthew from 1969, introducing a previously unheard song, “Let Me Sleep Beside You”. Slightly twee but with hints of Hunky Dory. Side one of eight.
Record two gives us a slab of early 1970 Bowie, featuring the first appearance of Mick Ronson. I love the stuttering grandeur of “Cygnet Committee”. We want to live, I want to live. Two songs from April ’70, including “The Supermen” which didn’t appear on the 2000 CD set. HA!
The photos. Hair long, feminine. The costumes. Wouldn’t have admitted it back then (even to myself), but I’d have said yes, if he’d asked nicely.
The lovely, loyal Mick Ronson, gone since 1993. Time takes a cigarette.
Duo performances of David and Mick. Intimate. “Oh! You Pretty Things” (Side five).
The Spiders From Mars doing their thing with infectious swagger while Bowie pirouettes (Sides 6-8).
There may or may not have been a lump in my throat during “Rock and Roll Suicide”, the final track on side eight.
Give me your hands ‘cos you’re wonderful.