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A look back at the debut of David Bowie's band Tin Machine


On May 31st, 1989, David Bowie would add to his long line of musical revelations when introducing the world to his new band Tin Machine at the International Music Awards. On reflection, Bowie’s attempt at fronting a group would never really match his solo work and, in the end, leave him rather unsatisfied. But in 1989, when Tin Machine was introduced, the world took one large deep breath.

The anticipation was largely in preparation for another change of musical persona from Bowie, the likes of which usually left audiences breathless. However, this change wasn’t quite the rock and roll alien from outer space Ziggy Stardust, and instead, represented a Bowie starting to see the curve in his lineage. Perceived as an ageing act by many in the business, Bowie was less keen to pursue his artistic prowess as vigorously as before, and with Tin Machine, he sought safety in numbers.

The band was the latest venture was inspired by sessions with guitarist Reeves Gabrels. It led to inviting drummer Hunt Sales and bassist Tony Fox Sales to form the rest of the band, with “fifth member” Kevin Armstrong provided rhythm guitar and Hammond organ.

The project was intended as a back-to-basics album by Bowie, with a simplified production, as opposed to his past two solo albums which had been more challenging. Perhaps a key difference to before was that unlike previous Bowie bands (such as the Spiders from Mars), Tin Machine acted as a democratic unit.

Bowie later stated that he and his band members joined up “to make the kind of music that we enjoyed listening to” and to rejuvenate himself artistically. Although it may not have been apparent initially with Bowie reverting to ‘hard rock’ type of yesteryear, the brief foray with Tin Machine allowed Bowie to wash off the audience’s expectations of the unexpected and prepare for decades more at the top of his game.

However, when Tin Machine took the stage in New York for the International Music Awards in 1989, the expectations on David Bowie was huge. It’s palpable in the performance of ‘Heaven’s Here’ that Bowie is under the pressure to deliver against this bold new step away from what had seen him become a legend; himself.

Watch the footage of David Bowie’s Tin Machine performing ‘Heaven’s Here’ at the International Music Awards in 1989.

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