Following the untimely death of rock icon David Bowie earlier this week, I asked one of South Shields’ most enigmatic characters and former regular performer on TV’s The Tube, Wavis O’Shave, if he would like to pay tribute to the legend.
Here is the first part of his wonderfully insightful look back at the man and his music.
“So now we understand why Bowie didn’t look too well as he attended the opening night of the stage play Lazarus, based on his music and The Man Who Fell To Earth theme from his 1976 movie.
“He’s probably duetting with Mick Ronson again, already.
“Bowie was a much-needed phenomenon back in the early 70s, as live gigs had ground to a standstill, most artists just standing there, quite boring – you may as well have stayed at home and played the albums – but he was about to change all that.
“Only Alice Cooper, across the pond, was applying a similar resurrection as the live show was about to transform into theatre!
“Bowie freaked out the UK nation with his androgynous and alien-like Ziggy, borrowing his haircut from three different sources, one being a spikey Tommy Steele.
“Looking for an image, he decided to be an Anthony Newley sound-alike for some years during the early 60s, a period in which the already talented Bowie should have been a star in his own right far, far earlier than having to wait for Space Oddity in 1969.
“His original mime artist teacher, Lindsay Kemp, was born in South Shields, by the way!
“For years he had tried all different directions and angles to find a niche, but strangely, it never happened.
“All that changed the minute Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, and the BBC played the opening bars of Space Oddity in synchronisation with the live footage.
“Amazingly, David went a-missing from the charts again for a further three years until, confessing that he was like a Xerox machine copying a few other lesser-known artists and amalgamating them all into one, Hey presto, here comes Ziggy!
“‘I’m a cosmic yob’ he informed the music press.
“Much of his deeper lyrics were inspired by his interest in Tibetan Buddhism, and in common with him, I later stayed at the Tibetan refugee monastery in Dumfries that he visited, and, rumour has it, donated some of his royalties from Oddity to.
“According to my sources, he tussled with a big decision – was he going to opt out and actually become a monk or would his destiny announce itself as the talented up-coming musician he was?
“I’m told he had a problem when faced with having to shave his head if he lingered with the former, and maybe that’s what swung it!
“He had a talent for borrowing and rehashing, hence the chords in the chorus of Life on Mars is Sinatra’s My Way in reverse, and the bars in the chorus of Starman taken from Somewhere Over The Rainbow, only with an octave leap!”
• The tribute continues on Monday, when Wavis talks of the times he actually met David Bowie.
Being a performer who owned the stage, his first movie was quite a typecast role playing an alien but his performance on Broadway as John ‘ The Elephant Man’ Merrick really showed that he really could act . He was found to be an excellent narrator too when in 1978 he narrated the Prokofiev composition of ‘Peter and the Wolf’. There was no task too big for his all round talent and charisma. Hard to imagine that when he played the second ever Glastonbury festival in 1971 there were, allegedly, an audience of only 200!
You can take your pick from any amount of his excellent hit singles and equally excellent albums over the decades as he would constantly and like no other artist before him change his style and appearance, an idea later copied by Madonna. You could never get bored with a chameleon! I first met up with David in 1977 when Iggy Pop (one of those original ‘lesser known’ acts) announced a very short Autumn tour in the UK and it was rumoured Bowie might just turn up at some of the shows. I was well prepared and, sure enough, there he was playing keyboards for Iggy at Newcastle City hall. I returned home with four autographs signed on glossy pix.
I next met up with him in 1978 after catching him at his Gosforth Park hotel whilst on tour and he autographed my extremely rare USA ‘Man of words, man of music’ original ‘Space oddity’’album. I was offered £500 on the spot by a French fan alongside me. Thanks but no thanks. Now, here’s the scoop – to this day nobody really knows what the ‘Life on Mars’ lyric is all about - even Bowie himself had confused himself over it - but he told me that it was about a parallel universe.
As both a performer and song writer, Bowie was one of the best and clearly most original Britain has ever offered the world. Overall, the man was quite an enigma, living his latter years out in rather a reclusive way, retiring from live shows after an initial heart attack in 2004.
As with all true rock legends, the legacy he leaves is his music and the videos that encapsulate the phenomena that was, and shall remain, the unique David Bowie.