Gazette reader’s memory: I saw history being made at Bowie gig

Lloyd Watson, circa 1972 - the year he opened for David Bowie at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Par

Lloyd Watson, circa 1972 - the year he opened for David Bowie at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park. Picture: NORMA PALMER - Credit: Archant

Not long after winning the Melody Maker Rock/Folk Contest in 1972, my brother, Lloyd Watson, was invited to open two shows for David Bowie at The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park on August 19 and 20, writes Norma Watson-Palmer, sister of David Bowie support act Lloyd Watson.

An advert in New Musical Express that week by Bowie had described Lloyd as “a gorgeous butch blues singer”!

My parents, Stan and Hilda, and I travelled down to London on the Sunday from our home in Peterborough as we had been invited to the show that night. We collected my cousin Shelia (this is the correct spelling of her name, not Sheila and is due to an error by her dad when he registered her birth in Jamaica!), who was living in London at the time and working as a nurse at University College Hospital and who, most importantly, knew how to reach The Rainbow by car!

As we drove towards the theatre we saw a throng of people, all dressed in wonderful clothes and make-up. We made our way through the crowds to the front door and a smartly dressed commissionaire greeted us with the words: “Ah! Mr. Watson and family! Please come this way,” and led us through the foyer and into the auditorium before everyone else. Dad laughed at the shouts of “I’m with them!” that echoed through the foyer!

The excitement mounted as the crowds entered. Mum felt very exposed at the front so we moved to the back. Dad, Shelia and I would have gladly stayed at the front! The enormity of the gig hit my parents as Lloyd strode onto the stage and played his set brilliantly. Dad looked so proud and Mum cried! I noted that Lloyd’s acoustic guitar looked different and later learnt that it was Bowie’s guitar that he lent Lloyd after his own was stolen from his dressing room on the Saturday night while Lloyd was watching Bowie’s set from the side of the stage.

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Roxy were second on the bill and were brilliant. I was already a fan of their music so was excited to see them live.

Bowie’s show was mind boggling! He seemed to hold the entire audience in the palm of his hand and I knew that I was watching history unfold, on a personal and musical level. Music, dance, mime – a true feast for the senses! I fell a little bit in love with Mick Ronson that night as he was the perfect foil for Bowie’s on-stage presence.

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After the gig, Lloyd found us and said that Bowie had invited us to the after-show party. Mum was concerned about the long drive back but a little persuasion was all that was needed, and we were all escorted upstairs to a room that seemed to be teaming with people. Elton John and his manager, John Reid, were the first famous faces I recognised! Mum was a little overwhelmed when Elton smiled at her and said hello. Lloyd was flitting around talking to various people.

A short while later, a hush descended as a door opened and David Bowie entered, flanked by a small entourage. He nodded to various people and then approached my parents. I was surprised at how quietly he spoke as he said: “Hello! You must be Lloyd’s parents. My name is David. It’s a pleasure to meet you all.” He shook hands with Dad and asked permission to kiss Mum, Shelia and myself! David asked if we were being looked after, said how much he admired Lloyd for performing solo, and wished us a safe journey home. When David had moved on, Mum said the words that only a mother would utter: “A strange looking young man, but impeccable manners”! So true.

Second on the bill for those gigs were Roxy Music, and Lloyd was invited then to open for Roxy on their UK and European tours, and, in due course to record with band members Brian Eno on his album Here Come The Warm Jets; Andy Mackay on In Search of Eddie Riff, and in 1976 joining Brian Eno in Phil Manzanera’s band 801. They did a very short UK tour, with a slot at the Reading Rock Festival that year, which culminated with the release of a live album recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall entitled 801 Live, which is recorded in the music press at one of the greatest live albums of all time. Lloyd joining 801 is remarkable when you realise it was just six weeks after he’d been electrocuted at a gig and undergone extensive skin grafts at Addenbrookes Hospital. Phil Manazanera’s phone call to track Lloyd down was just the impetus he needed to withstand the surgery.

I hope these memories of a remarkable concert in musical history will interest others who might have been there those nights. Bowie’s musical legacy lives on.

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