DAVID BOWIE AT THE BECKENHAM FREE FESTIVAL

 

The festival was compered by the Beckenham composer David Bowie, who introduced top name groups to an estimated 3000 crowd. Among the local groups performing were Comus, who should go a long way with their distinct sound produced by a fusion of flute, violin and 12 stringed guitar. Gun Hill lacked perhaps the proffesional polish of Comus, but they obviously have a feeling for the blues. The Gas Works entertained with some sitirical songs but they also did some excellent blues, "Standing Stiff"' which featured harmonica, bottleneck guitar and Kazoo.

"The Strawbs" are becoming well-known nationally and put over their own special band of protest song forcefully.

Bowie On Stage Children of the summers end  Band

Keith Christmas.

Keith Christmas on stage at The Beckenham Free Festival

Keith Christmas, who played on the L.P Space Oddity has built himself a reputation in folk clubs, performed some folk and blues numbers with superb guitar accompaniment. His first Lp was out at that time and included in the set was 'Robin Head'
Keith has been performing for about 5 years and has known the Arts Lab for about a year and it was Bowie who booked him.

When asked was the Festival his biggest gig to date Keith said" A hard one that, as the festival was not very successful in terms of numbers and was a bit lacking in atmosphere - I was regularly doing clubs like the Troubadour in Bristol and Les Cousins in London which were far more demanding".

Many years later Bridget St John remarked "I remember the day in general - the pagoda-like structure - being outside and it being a beautifully relaxed and sunny day - I don't remember my set - but my biggest memory is that after performing a group of us went and listened with David to his test pressing of the single Space Oddity - it was quite amazing and we played it over and over - it was so remarkable".

David Bowie himself put particular zest into his compostitions, battling bravely against troublesome loudspeakers. A friend Peter Horton, from Vienna, played a guitar performance of J.S. Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. Mr Horton, who represented Austria in the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest. Also performing were Bridget St John, Appendix Part One, Comus, Nita and Dave Jones, Sun, Amory Kane, Kamirah, Giles and Abdul and Clem - a Beckenham Youth who played the sitar.


Comus  Band Mary Finnigan and DJ Tim Goffe

 

Bridget St. JohnThe pre-concert blurb advertised John Peel, the Radio One D.J. and Junior Eyes appearing but Peel did not turn up and Junior Eyes were off doing a gig in Germany. But it did not turn out so bad as those who did appear more than compensated for their absence.

But the lasting impession musically, was the Strawbs and Keith Christmas, they brought basic folk music with strong contemporary tones to the tiny band-stand. And Keith Christmas after an electric guitar solo swung into The Ballad Of Robin Head with gusto, enthusiasm and ability and was deservedley treated to the cheers of the audience.

 



The DJ on the day was Tim Goffe and he remembers..."I was a medical student at the time living in a flat in Charlton and was also social secretary at my medical school and booked all the bands for the regular social events dances, balls and college folk club, as well as running a disco. I had some spare rooms in the flat and advertised them in the newly launched Time Out. To my surprise, one of the sub-editors at the time replied and before long, he and his wife moved in. His name was Bob Harris and he and I, very briefly, started and ran a disco together. So maybe I helped launch whispering Bob on his career, or maybe that's just fantasy on my part!

Anyhow, he had a few friends in the music business including David Bowie and The Strawbs, and David's girlfriend at the time (later his wife), Angie, also was looking for somewhere to live, so she also moved into our flat and lived with us for maybe 4-6 months, so DB was a fairly frequent visitor! I played a bit of acoustic guitar at the time -I was never any good, but enjoyed singing in and visiting folk clubs - but had this rather nice 12-string, a Swedish Hagstrom, that was lying around the flat whilst I was at college. DB fancied it, borrowed it and played it for a while.

Gibson

The picture of him at BFF shows him playing it and on the www.Hagstrom.org.uk website it is reported that he used it on Space Oddity. I'm not sure about that - I never discussed it with DB, but he gave me his 12-string, an old cherry sun-burst Gibson, for my Hagstrom in a straight swap. It was the Gibson (left) that was used on Space Oddity. I have often wondered what happened to my old Hagstrom and whether DB has still got it, or who has it now. Incidentally, he told me that the Gibson previously belonged to Pete Townsend of The Who. I can believe that, because it was in poor shape when I got it and it never played well. I did book David as a live act for a college "Hop" (The London Hospital Medical College, Whitechapel) around the time of the launch of Space Oddity -a sell out.

Scattered around the perimeter of the park were the other essentials that make a happening happen. Growth recouped the money they had put into the festival from a barbecue, exotic tea, candy floss, the Tibetan Shop, The Culpepper herb and food stall, astrologers, mystics, fortune tellers, Tarrot readings and a poster stall. Dave Grozier and Pete Logan sold rings made from aluminum.


Poster Stall Herb Stall Tea Stall

Brian Cole and Angie Bowie

The Barbara Cole and Brian Moore puppets performed a show for adults. The colourful puppets manipulated by Saskia Thomas, Dave Neill, Cledwyn Hughes and Dave Bebbington.
The smell of incense filled the park and the pink candy floss clashed with the bright colours of the Kafftans, cloaks and elaborate head-dress of the audience.

Freaked-out youths convulsed rhythmically to the harsh beat of the pop groups, while bead-bedeckled appreciators tapped their feet to the folk artists, or drooled lovingly over their Eastern Scene Man.

In the crowd were twin sisters who had traveled from Harrow. One of the organisers Mary Finnigan said "The Festival had been a great success. All the visitors were well behaved".

David Bowie 1947-2016 R.I.P

 

 


Comments   

0 # Roger Williams 2014-12-05 14:35
Wow, the first time I have ever seen anything on the BFF. I was at the original festival in 1969 and this brings it all back. I dont think I remember The Strawbs all the same.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Simon Webber 2014-12-08 14:56
Didn't Bowie go to Ravenswood School?
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Carl Simpson 2014-12-08 16:19
Yes Bowie did go to Ravenswood. It was called Bromley Tech at that time.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Simon Percival 2014-12-14 06:28
Many of these acts are still performing after all those years. It was good to see Bill Leisagang of Appendix Part One perform at this years festival. Bowie himself contributed items for the raffle.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # martin 2015-01-23 15:07
I could have sworn Ravi Shankar also played
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Peter Leach 2015-06-17 14:04
I went to Beckenham Free Festival but got there late and missed Bowies's set. Mind you, I did see him play the Three Tuns on several occasions.

I have great memories of the music of this era, and of various festivals. I saw the Blind Faith and Stones Hyde Park shows that year (1969), and also went to the National Jazz and Blues Festival at Plumpton in East Sussex (The Who, Floyd etc).
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Clem alford 2016-01-10 16:57
I played sitar at that gig. Bowie asked me after I got back from India.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Admin 2016-01-11 18:37
Hi Clem,

I tried tracking you down when I was putting these pages together. If you have anything that you would like to contribute contact me via the site.

Admin
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Clem Alford 2016-01-11 23:28
Hi I also used to play sitar at the Arts lab in the Three Tuns on a Sunday evening. Bowie used ask me to come down and do a spot. I used to live just along the road from there. It was quite a scene in those days and full of new stuff.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Admin 2016-01-12 07:02
Clem,

Contact me via the site http://www.beckenhamhistory.co.uk/contact-beckenham-history
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
+1 # Paul Williams 2016-01-17 17:34
It was very moving visiting that bandstand today with my two young boys and seeing the tributes. I grew up in Beckenham and was 11 in 1972 when the fame really hit. I did have the good fortune that year to see Mick Ronson in Beckenham Junction car-park wearing a shiny metallic jumpsuit and stack boots. I followed him a bit, pushing my bike, as he headed up the road to Haddon Hall but bottled it...
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Bobbie Seagroatt 2016-01-20 11:34
Comus played here too! I woz there :-) x
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Roger Sargent 2016-07-21 08:20
Interesting and nice story and well appreciated about a great person, such an icon and it seems even more now. So sad of his death - tragic! Will be at the Beckenham Festival on 13th August to celebrate and be part of this funding excercise. Best regards RS :)
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # John 2017-03-09 10:00
It was great festival!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Steve 2017-03-13 09:03
It's was awesome!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Cassandra Morrison 2018-07-03 21:15
Noel Redding was undoubtedly a talented bassist...but "Superstar"? No.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
+1 # Robert Workman 2019-04-09 18:49
Lovely memories David. I was the manager of Gas Works. David Bowie got to know of us when we provided the improvised music for a one-man mime and dance show at the Drury Lane Arts Lab by The Great Orlando (Lindsey Kemp's partner). Bowie then invited Gas Works to play at the Beckenham Arts Lab several times and they also played at the Free Festival. When Starman became a hit in America we were invited to the big house for a party to welcome David home from the States. He travelled home by theTrans Siberian Railway. He was scared of flying. We met Tony Visconti at the party and when Tony got his first independent deal to make records his first two artists were Sparks and Gas Works. There's an appreciative and truthful paragraph about his involvement with Gas Works in his recent auto-biography.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Terry Martin 2022-03-06 16:06
Hi Bob.
Wow, good to see your post ! I asked Tony V a little while back whether he know of the whereabouts of John & Mick. Said he hadn’t heard of them for some while. A bit of history - Tony Kingsbury and I were at the 1969 Beckenham gig. We ran folk clubs and concerts around East London ( Leyton, Walthamstow ) and West Essex ( Loughton, Epping) we had Gas Works many times on at our clubs. I seem to remember in those hazy days coming with my band ( Annick and John. / collectively Thyme) down to visit yourself and the guys at your house in ( Sth ?) London. I remember having a good old reminisce plus a game of tennis!!
Fab days. We’re still running clubs on an ad hoc basis. Be good to hear from you Bob.
Terry.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Terry Martin 2022-03-06 16:21
Hi Bob. Just read the bit in Tony V’s autobiography.
It was my club at the William IV in Leyton that he saw and signed Gas Works !!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Steve 2022-03-16 16:56
Nice pic of DB in Croydon Road Rec. I wonder if the photographer knows The National Portrait Gallery has a copy of it in its collection!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote

Add comment


Security code
Refresh