David Robert Jones, a.k.a David Bowie: 8th Jan 1947 - 10th Jan 2016
Heddon Street is a small U shaped alley running off Regent Street about 5 minutes walk from Piccadilly Circus. It was once a low-rent warren of photographic and art studios and offices for furriers and the ‘rag trade’. Now it is paved throughout and home to luxury flats, executive offices and trendy restaurants. Despite these changes it still holds a special significance for David Bowie fans for it was here in January 1972, outside No. 23, amongst the piled rubbish and under a guttering gas lamp that Ziggy Stardust came to Earth….
“Look out your window I can see his light. If we can sparkle he may land tonight. Don’t tell your poppa or he’ll get us locked up in fright”
On that cold, rainy evening in 1972 David Bowie, a.k.a ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and his band, the ‘Spiders from Mars’ - Mick Ronson, Mick Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder were in a rented Heddon Street studio having photographs taken for the cover of their next album. The photographer, Brian Ward, tried to persuade the band to step outside for a final shot in the street but the ‘Spiders’ decided it was too cold and left Bowie to take the picture on his own. Bowie recalled: ‘It was cold and it rained and I felt like an actor.” The “Ziggy” outfit he was wearing, described as “a cross between Nijinksy and Woolworth’s” was made of fabric bought just around the corner in Regent Street.
There were two sets of photographs taken in the street that night. The first was outside the offices of ‘K. West’, a furrier at Number 23. This was used for the front cover for the new album. The other, used on the back cover, showed Ziggy in a red K3 phone box.
“I had to phone someone so I picked on you. Hey, that’s far out so you heard him too! Switch on the TV we may pick him up on channel two.”
The original photographs were in black and white. They were later hand coloured by artist Terry Pastor ‘to reflect the album’s overtly British vaudeville pop and fantasy narrative’.
When the album - “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” - was released in June 1972, Bowie and his alter-ego ‘Ziggy’ were catapulted to international fame. The record peaked at No. 5 in the U.K charts and No. 75 in the United States. It was eventually certified platinum and gold in the UK and US respectively. The only single from the record, “Starman”, charted at number ten in the UK and 65 in the US. In 1997, in a U.K poll “Ziggy Stardust” was named the 20th greatest album of all time.
Although most of the street furniture that appeared of those 1972 photographs:- the ‘K. West’ sign, the gas lamp, the piles of rubbish, the parked cars have all been removed Heddon Street remains a shrine to Ziggy and the man that created him. A duplicate of the original K3 phone box remains, tucked away and still working in a side alley and in 2012 a plaque was put up outside No. 23 celebrating what Bowie fans regard as holy ground.
Three weeks ago, on my birthday, my wife and I walked down Heddon Street and she took my photograph standing inside the ‘Ziggy’ phone box. Afterwards I closed the door and walked away. On Sunday January 10th, two days after his own 69th birthday, David Bowie closed a door of his own. He was a hero, a pathfinder and a beacon for our times and he will be missed…
Ground Control to Major Tom (Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six) Commencing countdown, engines on (Five, Four, Three) Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (Two, One, Liftoff)
The closing of the door
David Bowie’s last record ‘Lazarus’
Ziggy Stardust has visited the pages of this newsletter before. Well, he did come from Isleworth!
– from Martyn Day