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It was 50 years ago today: Never mind The Beatles, here’s David Bowie

Never mind Sgt. Pepper, there was another album released on the 1st of June 1967, and it was recorded across the road from my family home in West Hampstead, at Decca Studios in Broadhurst Gardens, in recent times the ENO (English National Opera) HQ.

I wasn’t yet formulated, but three decades later, when I was editing and publishing the Bowie magazine, Crankin’ Out in the very same London location (NW6’s Gascony Avenue*), Universal Music attempted to compile a 30th anniversary double-disc special edition of the album, the first of two albums eponymously titled David Bowie.

This June 1997 issue of Crankin’ Out, with exclusive Neil Tennant interview, coincided with the release of the pared-down Deram Anthology

Unreleased demos, including base oddities like Pussy Cat and Bunny Thing, were unearthed and about to be properly mastered for the first time at the label’s then-current studio set-up, still in NW6 at Belsize Road, just off Kilburn High Road before word got back to the Bowie camp. The Dame’s slightly shadowy management “consultant”, Alan Edwards* told the label in no uncertain terms that Bowie went “ballistic” at the plans, and, sadly the project was pared down to the music less interesting The Deram Anthology, with liner notes by the Crankin’ Out team (written by Mark Adams, edited by yours truly).

The cover photo of the album was snapped by Gerald Fearnley, whose brother Derek ‘Dek” Fearnley arranged and played on the album. The only other property I’ve owned in London was a three-storey townhouse in Dulwich, which I moved to from Gascony Ave in 2010. For a good year or so one of our lodgers happened to be Dek’s delightful daughter Helen. She came to live with us because her brother already lived in the same road, and only revealed who she was when she came back to pay a deposit, having caught sight of the shamelessly self-promoting copy of the BowieStyle book on our coffee table. Serendipity!

I’ve been mainly living in Australia the past three and a half years, but the middle of April this year saw me return to London for a bit of an extended vacation, dog sitting for a friend of mine in Covent Garden, where I was born. Kelvin is a five-year-old French bulldog, and his fave outing is a bounce round Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where tennis balls and Cheryl Gascoigne’s* pooch keep him exercised and entertained.

He looks like a rolling…. er, dog

On 14 April I shot the impromptu piccie above, with Kelvin having a solo tussle with the London School of Economics in the background. Only later did I realise it was the 50th anniversary of the release of David Bowie’s infamous single The Laughing Gnome, which, for better or worse, features a plethora of puns on the LSE and other contemporaneous entities (“the London School of Eco-gnomics, “a Rolling Gnome etc”). Bowie never liked the song, once telling the BBC’s Tony Blackburn “I wish I’d never recorded it,” which is why it wasn’t included on the self-titled debut less than two months later. That never stopped the former Radio 1 DJ from playing it to death though, single-handedly making sure a reissue of the song in the summer of 1973, just as the Thin White One’s Ziggy Stardust alter-ego reached his dramatic apex, peaking at No.6 in the UK singles charts. The Dame must have been livid! Ha, ha, bloody ha.

Steve Pafford

*Anal postscript: Cheryl Gascoigne made her ‘acting’ debut in the Pet Shop Boys music video, So Hard. And it probably was. In an as-yet unpublished section of the same 1996 Neil Tennant interview featured in the above magazine, the PSB frontman told me his view of the deliberately ill-defined role Alan Edwards of The Outside Organisation had with Bowie, silly: “It’s a very strange set-up, I think.” By the way, I’ve just bought some property in France, just outside Gascony. Zut alors!

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