David Bowie’s time in Kent and Bromley remembered as the music world mourns his loss

PUBLISHED: 09:37 11 January 2016 | UPDATED: 09:37 11 January 2016

Bowie as Ziggy

Bowie as Ziggy


Singing about a Beckenham festival, and living in Maidstone and Bromley, how Kent can remember the musician

As music and arts fans across the world mourn of legendary musician David Bowie, who lived in Maidstone during the early sixties, the world can look back and remember a career spanning across fifty years.

During his time in Kent, Bowie played at the Star Club in Maidstone, whilst living with rythm and blues band The Mannish Boys in Maidstone.

The son of Folkestone-born Margaret Mary Jones, Bowie’s parents supposedly met at The Ritz Cinema in Tunbridge Wells where his mother worked as a waitress.

Last month we interviewed Bowie’s former lover and landlady Mary Finnigan, which you can read below.

Two years on from the summer of love, while Woodstock Festival rocked on across the pond, one independent festival in Beckenham was grabbing local attention.

At the Croydon Road Recreation Ground, when the borough of Bromley was still very much part of Kent, David Bowie was headlining.

The festival proved to be the last hurrah of a local arts movement that would launch the soon-to-be megastar’s career.

And now a book detailing that summer, and the early days of Bowie’s career as it began to blossom, will be published in the new year.

Written by Bowie’s former lover, landlady and friend, Mary Finnigan, form the point of view of her 31-year-old self, the book tells the story of Bowie’s time co-founding the Beckenham Arts Lab, which would come to define his career.

Telling the story of the summer of 1969, Psychedelic Suburbia explains the story of how David Bowie moved in with her and her two children, just as his career was starting out, and how the iconic Beckenham Arts Lab was formed.

Set in the same year Bowie released his self-titled second album, later released as the now definitive rock album – Space Oddity - it provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of a legendary performer.

During the sixties, arts labs were created by notable musicians to encourage live performance across a range of artistic ideologies.

The story even features an insight into when Bowie met his first wife Mary ‘Angie’ Barnett, and the story of Ms Finnigan discovering a song written by Bowie professing his love for her.

Ms Finnigan said: “He was not the enigmatic person everyone knows him as now when I first met him, that came later.

“When we met he was very open, caring and charming, but he was also very moody, I don’t think there’s a creative person who isn’t.

“He lived with me from April 1969, we were lovers for a short while before he met Angie.

“He was very cavalier in his relationships, for example he brought his to-be wife Angie into my house.

“But he was 22, I think there were a lot of hormones and he was experimenting with all sorts of things.

“He had always very much liked women, I think being gay was expedient for him as it was quite trendy to be out at the time.”

Psychedelic Suburbia offers a unique insight into the early career of David Bowie, from a first-hand perspective.

Ms Finnigan said: “I knew the book would be intriguing to the droves of Bowie fans, and to people who know his music.

“He is a very enigmatic character, he has puzzled and confused people for some time, this book tells the unique story of his time in Beckenham.

“He lived with me from April to September 1969, I saw him as a talented musician and a creative individual.

“You could see he had talent as a singer songwriter, and was quite different from the run of the mill folk singer.

“His future success was not something that crossed my mind, what was most exciting for all of us, including David, was the sense of community.

“We first set up a folk club at the Three Tuns pub in Beckenham, we turned a dingy backroom into a psychedelic happening; that was my contribution, David provided the music, and we’d play every Sunday.

“At the time arts labs were setting up all over London, and David suggested we turn our club into an arts lab, which was met with great support

“Despite the stereotypes around us being hippies, people of all ages were interested in seeing our performances.

“We were so naïve and just wanted everyone to love us, and people of all ages went with that.”

As Bowie’s career progressed, a wealth of characters came with it, including Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, giving Bowie a chance to work on his theatrical stage presence.

Ms Finnigan said she could only speculate on what led Bowie to become so enigmatic.

She said: “I believe its down to his religious experiences.

“Anybody who meditates over a period of time, with the right teacher, will begin to learn there is no such as thing as the self.

“No matter how hard you may look you cannot find it, and I think once David realised that, it made it a lot easier for him to shape shift into all of these different characters.”

Before such personas would become household names, Bowie’s time with the Beckenham Arts Lab would reach its peak in August 1969.

Ms Finnigan explained: “The arts lab was crazy and hectic, but it all happened at a relatively leisurely place, I was still writing for the Sunday Times and looking after two children at the time.

“Of course all of our hard work had gathered quite a following, and it all culminated with the free festival in August 1969, which David immortalised with the song ‘Memory of a Free Festival’.

“David headlined on the day, but we had performers from our entire arts lab, and the day proved a huge success.

“Following the success we brought back Memory of a Free Festival at Croydon Recreation Ground in 2013 and 2014, to raise funds for the bandstand where David played, which proved a huge success.

“The book explains why something like this could never happen again, social attitudes have changed, the world is too cynical.”

“Of course the book goes into detail with what happened after the arts lab, offering the complete story.”

Alongside the intricate stories revealing stories that may never have been told before, Psychedelic Suburbia features pictures from sixties, including never before seen images.

Telling the story of Bowie in the same summer he released Space Oddity as a single, the book aims to tell the story of the sixties, providing a light-hearted, but revealing story of one of the world’s most loved and allusive musicians.

Psychedelic Suburbia was released on January 8.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Bromley Times. Click the link in the orange box below for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years, through good times and bad, serving as your advocate and trusted source of local information. Our industry is facing testing times, which is why I’m asking for your support. Every single contribution will help us continue to produce award-winning local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Thank you.

Most Read

Comments have been disabled on this article.

Most Read

Latest from the Bromley Times