From The Archive: David Bowie at Wigmore Hall

Fifty years ago, on 22 May 1969, a young experimental musician and artist appeared on the Wigmore Hall stage for the final number in a concert given by folk musician Tim Hollier with singer-songwriter Amory Kane. Then 23 years old and only a few months away from releasing his groundbreaking single ‘Space Oddity’, David Bowie seems perhaps one of the more unexpected figures in the Hall’s history – but it was in fact not even his first appearance here, as the previous year he had given a concert at Wigmore Hall with his multimedia folk and mime trio Feathers.

DavidBowie22May 1969Bowie’s 1969 appearance, however, saw him take to our stage not as a musician but as a dancer. In 1967, he had crossed paths with the inspirational performer, choreographer and mime artist Lindsay Kemp, who would go on to become a mentor and professional collaborator throughout the early 1970s, and by 1969 interpretative and conceptual dance was becoming an integral part of Bowie’s art.

As Hollier, Kane, guitarist Rick Cuff and drummer Clem Cattini played the evening’s final song ‘Evolution’, David Bowie – as can be seen in the pictures left – donned a space suit to perform a contemporary, balletic dance which may have represented a journey towards rebirth, removing pieces of his costume as the piece progressed. By the end of 1969, with ‘Space Oddity’ having reached number 5 in the UK charts, Bowie was on a meteoric journey of his own, and would never again return to Wigmore Hall – although his similarly space-themed single ‘Starman’ could be heard here recently, performed by violinist Pekka Kuusisto with help from the audience!

To accompany the anniversary of Bowie's somewhat unusual appearance at Wigmore Hall, we have created a playlist of the unexpected, the avant-garde and the genre-defying - and all pieces that have either been performed on the Wigmore stage, or are the closest recorded equivalent. John Cage's Living Room Music rubs shoulders with David Byrne's jazzy vocals and a solo piano piece by Billy Joel. Michael Starobin's Chase, performed here in 1987 by his brother David, could have come straight out of an early video game, while Henry Cowell's sinister The Banshee was played here by the composer himself in 1926. And though Clara Rockmore never appeared here, works by Kreisler were performed on the theremin at Wigmore Hall by her contemporary Lucie Rosen in 1936, only a few years after the instrument was invented.