David Bowie – Undocumented 1969 Belgian Radio Interview Tape / Bowie speaks about the Beckenham Arts Lab, and his developing career
A previously undocumented David Bowie interview tape, recorded on October 11, 1969. Part of a radio documentary on Swinging London, Belgian journalist Ward Bogaert spoke to Bowie about the phenomenon of Arts Labs, and his developing career.
This captures Bowie at the moment his song “Space Oddity” was becoming his first hit. Two days before the interview, Bowie’s first appearance on Top of the Pops was aired. And during that month, while Bowie was on tour opening for Humble Pie, producer Tony Visconti was preparing his self-titled album for release.
Kevin Cann’s comprehensive Bowie book Any Day Now: The London Years: 1947-1974 notes that on October 11 ‘In the afternoon David is interviewed by Ward Bogaert at the BBC Broadcasting House in central London for the Belgian Radio Service. Bogaert had met David at the Malta Song Festival…’
The 5″ reel-to-reel tape was formerly the property of early Bowie manager Ken Pitt, who gave it to an English journalist writing about Bowie.
The tape runs 7 minutes and 45 seconds, with Bogaert speaking in Flemish and English, and Bowie in English. Nearly all of the “Space Oddity” single is played, and Bowie speaks in a few segments totaling about 2 minutes. Bogaert asks about Arts Labs–Bowie helped found one in the London suburb of Beckenham (more below)–and his recent career success.
Bowie says of Arts Labs, ‘Sculptors, painters, puppet makers, poets–they all want to do something and they don’t know where to do it, so this is a club where they can do all the things they want to do.’ Asked if there are many of these clubs around Britain, Bowie replies that there are 53 in total. ‘We’re in contact with others, keep a regular news sheet informing each other of what we’re doing. The artists travel from one club to another. Nothing organized. They just turn up and then they do some work.’ Asked if they’re paid to appear, he answers ‘We try to pay everyone expenses, and usually there is one main artist and we give him a fee for playing the club and the rest of the artists get expenses.’
Bowie explains they’ve had a lot of local support from the authorities, and there is never ‘trouble from the audiences, we’ve never had any incidents whatsoever. They’re not audiences here, they are the club, everybody participates.’ We hear live audio from the Beckenham Arts Lab, where Bowie mention performer Dave Kendall, and introduces a second performer: ‘From Brighton, the very erratic Mr. Roger Kaney.’ We then hear an unidentified performer on stage, interacting with the audience.
Bogaert plays the “Space Oddity” single, with cheering from the Arts Lab crowd inserted in the middle. He asks Bowie about his current success, and he replies ‘I’ve never looked at my career and said ‘yes, this is what I’m destined to do.’ People around me have wanted me to do other things, but I didn’t like what they suggested, and therefore I didn’t do it.’ Bogaert asks ‘You’re becoming a commercial artist in that you sell a good deal of records. Doesn’t that alter your attitude a little bit toward business? Bowie replies ‘Commercial? Commercial, as opposed to being underground, or commercial as opposed to being poor? ‘Being poor’ says Bogaert. Bowie answers ‘No, not really, because I lived without money for so long. Now I am making money, and I’m still living without money. I’m happy.’
In its original Belgische Radio en Televisie box, with Ward Bogaert’s name and telephone number written in pencil. On the back of the box is written ‘Swinging London Extrait David Bowie Sequence.’ Attached is a post-it note in Ken Pitt’s hand, reading ‘Ward Bogaert’s interview with David. Radio Station BRT Belgium. Recorded in London. Pitt and Bogaert met at the Malta Song Festival.’
With a professional digital transfer of the tape, and Recordmecca’s written lifetime guarantee of authenticity.
From DavidBowie.com: At the start of 1969 David was at a low point in his career. Through his friends Christina Ostrom and Barry Jackson, he met Mary Finnigan and moved into her flat as a lodger. Friendship flourished and the four of them decided to organise a Folk Club at the Three Tuns. It was an immediate success and soon developed into an Arts Laboratory – attracting talent from all over London and the south east. Musicians who played at the Arts Lab included Peter Frampton, Steve Harley, Dave Cousins and the Strawbs, Rick Wakeman, Tony Visconti and Mick Ronson. Lionel Bart gave a dazzling performance.
There was a lot more than music at the Beckenham Arts Lab. Visual artists created original works, poets gave readings, there were light shows, street theatre, dance – and Brian Moore’s unforgettable puppets. Between 1969 and 1973 The Beckenham Arts Lab was a crucible for artistic talent and the launch pad for David Bowie’s rise to stardom. His anthem to the 1960’s ‘Space Oddity’ became a hit in the autumn of 1969. Many other Arts Lab enthusiasts became established artists – including George Underwood and Christina Ostrom.
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