As unforgettable festival performers disappear, they aren’t much more extraordinary or enigmatic than the inimitable David Bowie, who has won a spot at the Glastonbury Festival just twice – 29 years apart – during his too short life.
His triumphant Sunday Night game in 2000 went down in history as one of the best live performances of his prolific career, as fans were able to relive last summer when precious never-before-seen footage from the BBC was screened to celebrate. the 50th anniversary of the festival.
Bowie’s first performance at Worthy Farm at Glastonbury Fayre in 1971 was a rather chaotic, if not less joyous affair. Already the elegant and consummate pop star, despite having escaped commercial success by then, he floated on the farm in all his androgynous glory, long locks tucked under a jazzy bipperty-bopperty hat, a long cape of blue velvet flowing over elegant wide pants and high-heeled boots.
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After an inspiring first trip to America earlier in the year, Bowie was in excellent creative shape and was in the process of recording his fourth studio album. It had been less than a month since his first wife, Angie, had given birth to their son, Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones, and he had found impending fatherhood to be an inspiring experience.
Glastonbury was only due to be his second live performance of the year and it would be several months before his next gig as he put all his energy into songwriting and recording.
Bowie’s own recollection of the experience was recorded for the book Glastonbury: An oral history of the music, mud & magic, by Crispin Aubrey and John Shearlaw. Here is what he said: “It was in 1971 and I was at the bottom of the poster. I remember my time on stage getting pushed back later and later (I was originally scheduled around midnight or so), but things got so late that I didn’t get on stage until around five in the morning.
“So what could be better than spending the intervening hours well settled on the farm, with a team of late-day hippies, singer Terry Reid and all kinds of mushrooms. When I had to play, I was flying and I was able to barely see my little electric keyboard or guitar. I have no recollection of the show itself, although I do remember a strange girl getting up on stage and running away, mostly without music, while the audience woke up happily from their slumber.
He may not have remembered much, and unfortunately none of Bowie’s sets were filmed like other key performances that year, but the future musical chameleon was there, along with his winger, guitarist Mick Ronson.
They released no less than five songs from Hunky Dory, the LP that ultimately won domestic and international critical acclaim from Bowie – Quicksand, Changes, Kooks, Song for Bob Dylan and Oh! You Pretty Things, which was recently a Top 20 hit for Herman’s Hermits’ Peter Noone.
There’s no definitive list of the other songs in their hour-long performance, but some people remember The Supermen, It’s Gonna Rain Again, Bombers, and an Amsterdam cover by Jacques Brel.
The audience was much smaller than the 12,000 spectators at the free festival, due to the godless hour, but they were definitely excited. Bowie told them he didn’t play live because he was tired of “dying a death every time … It’s really nice to have someone who appreciates me for a change “, did he declare.
Moving on to 2000 and a nervous Bowie suffered from a bad throat when he stepped out for his long-awaited title Sunday night on the Pyramid stage, confessing to having suffered from a laryngitis attack. This concern was quickly forgotten when he won over audiences with the first chords of Wild Is the Wind.
Dressed in an exquisite Alexander McQueen frock coat and with strands of sand flowing again, his magnetic stage persona echoed the young Bowie of 45 years earlier and it was a triumphant spectacle. He even shared a song from that first setlist – the timeless classic Changes – as he and his band delivered an ecstatic feast of the biggest hits over the years.
For the record, the running order was Wild Is the Wind, China Girl, Changes, Stay, Life on Mars, Absolute Beginners, Ashes to Ashes, Rebel Rebel, Little Wonder, Golden Years, Fame, All the Young Dudes, The Man Who Sold the World, Station to Station, Starman, Hallo Spaceboy, Under Pressure, with a callback of Ziggy Stardust, Heroes, Let’s Dance and I’m Afraid of Americans.
David Bowie died of cancer on January 10, 2016. That year, the Glastonbury Festival honored the legendary music maker with a lightning bolt artwork of Ziggy Stardust with angel wings above the Pyramid stage. RIP – never forgotten.