Posted Thursday 12 May 2016
Kingston University has once again rocked to the sounds of music superstar David Bowie - exactly 44 years after he performed as Ziggy Stardust on campus. The iconic rock legend originally took to the stage with his support band, the Spiders from Mars, on 6 May 1972 at the then Kingston Polytechnic's Penrhyn Road site for what became a seminal gig for fans. On Saturday 7 May, more than four decades later, tribute band The Thin White Duke performed a two-hour set to a sell-out audience of more than 120 Bowie devotees at Kingston University's Knights Park bar.
University film and cultural studies expert Professor Will Brooker fronted the band for a selection of the tracks in the guise of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust persona. Professor Brooker will shortly complete a year-long project exploring Bowie's career as research for an academic book entitled Forever Stardust that he has been writing about the pop icon. The study has seen Professor Brooker transform himself into Bowie, spending a few months at a time experiencing specific periods in the star's life to acquire an understanding of his creative thought processes.
During the past 12 months, Professor Brooker has been dressing as Bowie, wearing the same make-up, experimenting with sleep deprivation, following the singer's diet and only consuming books, films and music from the appropriate time periods. He has even undertaken vocal coaching which prompted him to make contact with The Thin White Duke to ask whether he could sing with them to get an insight into the star as a performer.
The idea to recreate the 1972 gig had been born last autumn while he was in the full throes of his immersive Bowie project, Professor Brooker explained. "As I was carrying out my research I discovered that the first ever Ziggy Stardust concert was held just down the road from the University at the Toby Jug pub in Tolworth. Later I learned about the Kingston Polytechnic gig, which had taken place only a few months afterwards," he said. "I was taken with the idea of promoting the connection Bowie had with the area and decided to mark the end of my research project with a gig held exactly 44 years later."
Bowie's untimely death from cancer in January had hit him hard, Professor Brooker admitted. "Like most other fans, I had had no idea he was even ill and found it difficult to continue my research. I even considered not going ahead with the concert," he said. "In the end, though, I concluded that it would be a fitting tribute to Bowie's memory especially as, sadly, this is now the only way anyone will ever be able to hear his music live."
Thin White Duke band manager and lead guitarist Ben Fuller said when Professor Brooker had approached the six-piece tribute group they had leapt at the chance to take part in the special event. "We were thrilled to be playing where David Bowie and the Spiders performed - and just down the road from where Ziggy Stardust was conceived," he said. "What we do as a band comes from a deep love of Bowie and his music so this chance to re-live the classic 1972 concert and celebrate with fellow fans has been a great privilege."
Professor Brooker kicked off the concert with spirited renditions of Rebel Rebel, The Jean Genie and Suffragette City. He was dressed in clothing inspired by the classic Ziggy Stardust outfit of bright orange dungarees, a patterned scarf, six-inch wedge boots and an eye-patch teamed with spiky red hair. The outfit was the work of Esher-based dressmaker Jo Irvine. "I feel honoured to be wearing one of Jo's designs as she has also created costumes for celebrities and dancers on Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing on Ice and Britain's Got Talent," Professor Brooker said.
He later performed The Man Who Sold The World and Starman - this time attired in an adaptation of Bowie's iconic pastel blue suit. "The outfits, along with the efforts of my make-up artist, Laura Kalirai, help me to get in to character," Professor Brooker explained.
The playlist for the event spanned many of Bowie's career highlights from the 1969 classic Space Oddity, through 70s hits including John, I'm only Dancing and Ziggy Stardust to 1980's dance floor fillers such as China Girl, Ashes to Ashes and Let's Dance. Professor Brooker said it had been fantastic to see so many people of all ages having a great time and singing along. "A number of young people were in the audience, including two who had done a terrific job of recreating the Aladdin Sane lightning bolt and Ziggy Stardust gold circle make-up," he said.
Bowie superfan Indie Brindie was first drawn to the star in 1980. He attended the event sporting an eclectic homage to his hero - a silver ‘space man' jacket and purple trousers, combined with matching silver winkle-picker shoes. "The band, the river venue, decorated with 70s posters from the period, and Will Brooker's guest appearance made for a really memorable evening," he said.
A haunting version of Heroes, with Professor Brooker on backing vocals, brought the event to a close. "We could have filled the venue many times over which is a mark of Bowie's impact for nearly five decades," Professor Brooker said. "I like to think he would have approved."