Monday, 11 January 2016

Thank you David Bowie, from Manchester

'Once there were mountains on mountains
And once there were sun birds to soar with
And once I could never be down...'

It’s so much easier to look back on the beginning, to travel back through the wealth of the art he created, than to consider the end.  David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, South London, 1947 – but just as his name would change, so would his associations. The master of invention, he would never stay tied by a particular place.  In this way it’s hard to say he meant ‘this’ to Manchester and ‘this’ to London: he went far beyond that. As  the haunting track ‘Lazarus’ from the 2016 album ‘Blackstar’ reflects ‘Oh, I’ll be free/ Ain’t that just like me?’: a concise summary of his artistic power.  He explored his talent, the world, through dynamism rather than definition – ultimately reinventing himself in ways that freed him from location. He entered people’s thoughts and memories instead, in a way almost alien. In this sense, he seems just as part of Manchester as he is part of London, part of parent’s memories as well as the inspiration of the younger. David Bowie’s death, announced to the world on January 11 2016 resists definition too. Instead it shows the man, the artist, the innovator, alive not just in his music, but in the endless cultures he created – all whilst remaining free.


The freedoms unfurled by Bowie is clear in Manchester, as though not a regular visitor, his artistry seems to communicate his presence here in a much more effective way. He’s inspired a legion of local talents, with Morrissey, Joy Division, New Order, Inspiral Carpets and Happy Mondays as just some examples. That is the thing about Bowie; he lets other artists stand, without ever diminishing.  It’s the same even for more recent artists such as Charlatans, The Slow Readers Club and The Courteeners too, who took to the media to express their sorrow.

His impenetrable status perhaps seems like a far cry from the travelling musician of the early 1960’s – at this point ‘Davie Jones & The Lower Third’; who came to Manchester on the 12th June 1965 to perform a gig at the Kings Head pub. Four years later, the once jazz-loving boy  now brought psychedelic flair to the North in the form of a rare solo performance at the Magic Village Club, just  off Market street. The grittiness of Manchester met the gravitas of Bowie on this 21st February 1969 occasion. Reports from the time described how Bowie blew a small crowd of about 30 away with an impromptu performance. It was the following night he would gig at the Free Trade Hall, a venue where later musical legends would also gather.


But now the music legends, just as so many of us, are gathered in thought. David Bowie touched Manchester so much more than just tours and trips:  as despite not being in the city often, one can’t help get the sense that he KNEW it. It was Bowie who knew the importance of reinvention, escaping convention and unlocking expression: something shared with the city. It was after all, in  a car on the way Manchester’s very own Granada studios in 1971 to mime his version of ‘Holy, Holy’ on TV that Bowie showed his aptitude for creative philosophy. As he reflected on his studies of stardom, to publicist Dai Davies:

“If you want to be perceived as a star, you start off with little bits of behaviour like that, not opening the door for yourself, waiting for someone else to do that...”[1]

It wasn’t in arrogance that Bowie expressed these views, it was knowledge. For Bowie is the star who kindled so much in Manchester – giving the inspiration for many others to open creative doors. His presence pulsed through the posters and albums covers of the 1970’s, the era where he turned strangeness something to shout about, to advertise.  The ‘freak’ became fashion and the underdog became fierce – something this city and its people have thrived from. The starman, a starship, a New Killer Star, Blackstar. One thing is for sure here in Manchester; David Bowie is a bright star.
Rest in peace.

A tribute is being planned at Sound Control on Sunday the 7th February, set to be called ‘Sound Control to Major Tom’. Money will be raised for Cancer Research and the opportunity for all to listen to the music of David Bowie and reflect on his life.

[1] Bowie: The Biography
Wendy Leigh
Simon and Schuster, 23 Sep 2014