On January 8th, 1997, BBC Radio 1 broadcast a special hour (called ChangesOneBowie) of exclusive semi-acoustic performances (recorded in New York) of classic Bowie tracks together with best wishes for Bowie from other musicians.
This report was originally garnered from a number of sources including David Gibbs, Spaceboy, John Larkin, Grant Wallace and others. Now KB has kindly provided a full review of the program.
There aren't too many David Bowie interviews I've heard on audio format that have actually been interesting. They seem to lack something, perhaps it's the bland production skills or the same questions that Bowie gets asked over and over again through the years, by interviewers who have a problem with their voice, i.e. monotonous and boring. So when I listened to the BBCs Radio 1 Bowie birthday special, (kindly supplied to me by the woman who ruffled David's hair), needless to say I was pleasantly surprised.
ChangesNowBowie was conducted by english DJ Marianne Hobbs (sp?), who managed to maintain maximum attention levels by her enthusiastic approach to Bowie, by starting off the interview saying David Bowie "looks absolutely gorgeous", and by having the nerve to ask some lighthearted yet personal questions
Who was hitting on you at the time, girls or boys?
What was the worst sexually transmitted disease and who gave it to you?
What sort of combination of drugs were you taking?
Some of the answers are surprising, I don't believe that David couldn't get any sex in the seventies (LOL), and I'm not sure whether to believe he doesn't drink alcohol anymore.
The focus of the special was of course on David Bowie turning 50. To celebrate, Bowie was given the opportunity to listen to 10 celebrities wish him a happy birthday and ask him various questions. Some comments were amusing: Bono from U2, "The world should queue up to kiss your arse" - Shaun Ryder (Black Grape), "You're a cool dude man" - Mick Hucknell (Simply Red), "Hello you cockney git..". Some were your average straight questions: Robert Smith (The Cure), "Why did you change your name" - Damon Albarn (Blur), "Why don't you write a musical"...and of course there was the obligatory bisexual question provided by Neil Tennant.
However the one message that really hit a chord with Bowie and myself as I listened, was the very touching one delivered by Scott Walker. Now I don't know much about Walker but it's obvious the man has the heart of a poet, he spoke with such eloquence that his words alone moved David deeply: "Have a wonderful birthday, and by the way, mine's the day after yours, so I'll have a drink to you - on the other side of midnight...how's that?" Judging by Davids reaction it is obvious to see that he views Walker as his peer. So how about an album together? :)
The questions and David's sometimes evasive answers were very enjoyable to listen to and humourous, note the comment about his bum! You can read the full transcript from Grant Wallace.
The most exciting aspect of this special however, were the nine songs Bowie recorded exclusively for Radio 1.
As part of the hype for ChangesNowBowie, we were told that Bowie will perform a surprising acoustic set.....and surprising it is! Most of these songs Bowie hasn't touched in a very long time and speaking as a true Bowiephile, these renditions are great!! The one thing that is noticeable on all these tracks are David's superb vocals. On songs like Quicksand and The Supermen, Bowie has done away with his familiar croon which works well in other areas but would seem out of place on these songs. I've always been impressed with the number of vocal characterisations he can use in his songs to convey an atmosphere...and these songs are no exception.
What follows is a brief description of each track showcased on ChangesNowBowie, and if you can get your hands on this BBC special....it's well worth your while.
The Man Who Sold The World
White Light White Heat
Shopping For Girls
David Bowie - Vocals, Guitar
Reeves Gabrels - Guitar
Gail Ann Dorsey - Bass, Vocals
Zachary Alford? - Drums
Mark Plati? - Synthesizers
TMWSTW: This rendition follows closely to the classic 1970 song, with the riff being played throughout, unlike the Outside tour where the song had been dramatically reworked and the familiar guitar work only obvious towards the end. If anyone heard this song at the Bridge Benefit concert a few months back, it's close to that but much crisper. This is a great renditon and Bowie and Dorsey's vocals near the end are hauntingly beautiful.
The Supermen: The first thing I noticed is Gail Ann Dorsey's cool bass, which is funkier compared to the original, (how many versions of Supermen has he done now)? The other difference is the ending which finishes on a refrain of the riff instead of the lines: "So softly a superman dies". This riff can also be found on one of the songs on Earthling.
Andy Warhol: Once again this is a much closer version to the song found on the Hunky Dory album, than his reworking for the Outside tour. Bowie went back to a semi-acoustic sound for this and brought his voice back-up from the almost baritone singing he used on the tour. Andy Warhol hated this song when Bowie played it to him.
Repetition: This is the most surprising and radically changed rendition in the set. Very catchy, much more so than the original off the Lodger album, with a funky drum beat added for good measure. Also added is Reeves Gabrels' trademark guitar licks which makes this version very colourful. This is great.
Lady Stardust: Quite a stripped down version, noticeably without the piano. However it does work well, particulary as this sounds rather soulful thanks to Gail Ann Dorsey's backing vocals. I'm not sure if he's actually performed this before. It's very nice.
White Light White Heat: This Lou Reed cover has been a Bowie favourite live for many years, and it's amazing to see how many times he can come up with different interpretations of it. This particular one is obviously not acoustic, but has a grinding electric guitar chugging along with a good solo in the middle. Dorsey's backing vocals add texture to this version, which if performed on stage would go down well.
Shopping For Girls: Originally off the Tin Machine II album, this has never been one of my favourites. It just doesn't stick in my mind the way most of his other songs do. On this track Reeves Gabrels has adopted a slightly country/western guitar slide effect.
Quicksand: As Marianne Hobbs said, this is a real treat for Bowie fans. Probably more so for the fact that like Lady Stardust, Bowie has rarely, if at all, played Quicksand live. This is very toned down due to the lack of drums entering the piece - however the saccharine guitar is nicely balanced out early in the song by synthesized string treatments and Dorsey's counterpoint to David's wonderful vocals completes the beautiful harmony heard on the original.
Aladdin Sane: No saxophones and no trademark Mike Garson piano, but that doesn't stop this track from working great as an acoustic song. The overall sound here is quite breezy and relaxed. I can almost imagine sitting in a smoke filled bar-room listening to this. David and Gail share a verse each and Gabrels compliments the track by imitating Garson's piano on his guitar. Very good.