Hear David Bowie’s early live performance for John Peel at BBC, 1970
In the late sixties, David Bowie was still what one would call a struggling artist. By the turn of the next decade and with ‘Space Oddity’ grabbing an Ivor Novello award, things had started to look up but he was far from the iconic we know and love today. Below we are looking back at one of David Bowie’s first steps into nationwide stardom as he joined the illustrious BBC Radio 1 DJ, John Peel for a special recording of some of Bowie’s rarest songs.
The recording took place at BBC Paris Cinema in Regent Street and saw legendary BBC radio host, John Peel welcome David Bowie and the Tony Visconti Trio (AKA The Hype) to the Radio 1 studios to lay down a set for his ‘The Sunday Show’ on February 5th, 1970. It was a recording that would become a burning piece of Bowie iconography and a foundational moment in the Starman’s decade of dominance.
It was a special recording for many reasons. Firstly, it was one of the first times that Bowie joined the BBC as such, in comparison to previous appearances, a headline act. The singer’s 1969 hit ‘Space Oddity’ is called one of the singles of the year by Peel in his intro and the disc jockey had clearly earmarked Bowie as one of the stars of the future. Despite this commendation, it would still be a few months before Bowie’s ship really set sail.
One of the key mates on that ship would be legendary axeman, Mick Ronson. The iconic guitarist in the Spiders From Mars, the band which would back Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and blast them all into the glam rock stratosphere, arrived at the studios to make his debut alongside the great man himself. What Ronson and Bowie concocted having spent little to no time together was a hint at their fruitful partnership.
The recording also ranks highly on the list of Bowie releases because, for a long while, it seemed as though we would never hear the show ever again. As with much of the BBC’s vaulted output from the sixties and seventies, the broadcaster reused tapes in a bid to save money.
Bowie’s session for The Sunday Show was one such tape that was wiped and readied for reuse. It meant that this live recording of some rarely heard Bowie tunes never made it to Bowie at The Beeb and were seemingly lost to the airwaves.
That is until some legend popped up in 1984 with a cassette tape recording of the show. It had been crudely edited but that didn’t stop Bowie fans from losing their shit. The first bootleg LP issue in 1984 was No More Sleeping With Ken Pitt (Citizen Kane Records 001), it was then re-released as We Were So Turned On (idem), and London Studios (idem).
A year later, Janine (Fancy Records PCS 70, LP) appeared, on which the sound quality was much better and the original running order of the songs was restored. Following the loss of the master tape, Bowie himself came to the rescue and offered his personal copy from his collection of the show for the Bowie At The Beeb CD which was lovingly remastered in 2000.
For David Bowie fans it’s a very special recording not just because it features Mick Ronson’s debut with Bowie nor because it was nearly lost to the ether. But because it gives a live run out for some of his rarely heard early numbers, ‘Amsterdam’, ‘God Knows I’m Good’, ‘The Width Of A Circle’, ‘Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed’, ‘Cygnet Committee’, and ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’ are all given a sumptuous live recording.
Below you can listen to that legendary recording session (plus a few more) which saw David Bowie, backed by his soon-to-be-stalwart band, deliver an unstoppable live performance and drop a rather large hint at the future that lay in store.