‘He lent me his guitar – he was so nice’: Memories of David Bowie’s 1972 shows at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
On what would have been David Bowie’s 72nd birthday, we look back at his legendary performances as alter-ego Ziggy Stardust at the Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, in 1972.
“I was upstairs looking down and I can remember the lines: ‘See the mice in their million hordes, from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads.’ It’s something I’ve never ever forgotten – a musical moment.”
Blues guitarist Lloyd Watson, 70, is recalling the first of two nights when he supported David Bowie at the Rainbow Theatre in August 1972. (The line, of course, is from stone-cold Bowie classic Life On Mars?, released the previous year on the Hunky Dory LP.)
At the Finsbury Park music venue, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars performed rock music as theatre – with mime artists, costume changes and video projections throughout the set.
The singer, then 25, only played at the Rainbow three times in his career: on August 19 and 20, 1972, and on Christmas Eve the same year.
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Lloyd, who had won a folk-rock competition run by British music magazine Melody Maker, was invited to support Bowie (and the then largely unknown Roxy Music) on the two August dates. He played a half-hour set using electric and acoustic guitars.
On the Sunday show, Lloyd even played a guitar belonging to the Starman himself.
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“When I went back to my dressing room on the Saturday night,” he told the Gazette this week, “someone had stolen my acoustic guitar.
“David Bowie came straight down and lent me his guitar for the next night. It was just sort of a natural thing a musician would do for another musician.”
He remembers Bowie’s kindness: “My parents came down to see me do the gig and came to the after party.
“Bowie came up to them and said: ‘You must be Lloyd’s mum and dad.’ He was very nice to them and to me.”
Guitar-loving John Little, now 58, was in the Rainbow audience – alongside his best friend – as a 12-year-old kid. He was “knocked sideways” by the concert.
“It was a bit mind-blowing, really,” he said. “I particularly remember the song Five Years – it really moved me.
“Seeing the diversity of people there opens your mind up to tolerance. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
The show in August was also the first time the young John had been on the London Underground.
Bowie returned to The Rainbow theatre once more in 1972, for a sold-out gig on Christmas Eve.
All along Seven Sisters Road, fans were queuing up to see the rock icon.
They came bearing gifts: Bowie had urged fans to bring toys to donate to Barnardo’s children’s home, where his father had worked in public relations.
“He had already played two sets at the Rainbow in the summer as part of the same tour,” said Mark Aston, local history manager at Islington Council’s heritage service, and Ziggy super-fan, “but, being Christmas, I’m sure it was even more special.
“As far as I know he never came back to play at the Rainbow but, of course, he was on to bigger and better things.”
Mr Aston also told the Gazette that the singer had performed in Islington before.
“He played Islington back in the early 1960s,” he said.
“Right at the beginning of his career, he’s officially listed as playing music at Studio 304, in Holloway Road, which was a record studio run by famous producer Joe Meek.”
Bowie himself had great memories of the 1972 Christmas performance, which he recorded in Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust (2005), a book he co-authored with Mick Rock, photographer of the stars.
The singer, real name David Jones, wrote: “It was always a great buzz to come back home and this was probably one of the best, highest energy jaunts of our [Ziggy and The Spiders’] short 18-month life.”
The Rainbow Theatre, formerly known as the Astoria, started out as a cinema in 1930 before becoming better known as a music venue in the 1960s. Big name acts like Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Bob Marley all played there.
The Grade II* listed building closed as a concert venue in 1982 and is now run by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Brazilian Pentecostal denomination of Christianity.
David Bowie died of cancer on January 10, 2016 – two days after releasing his final album, the critically acclaimed Blackstar, on his 69th birthday.
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