Future of Bowie Bandstand hangs in the balance as fans mourn icon on what would have been his 70th birthday
PUBLISHED: 06:00 08 January 2017
© Photoshot / TopFoto
Tuesday marks the anniversary of the iconic artist's death
Attempts to renovate a bandstand made famous by a legendary free concert performed by David Bowie are still less than half way towards their target as preparations to make a renewed application for lottery funding continue.
The site at Croydon Road Recreation Ground, Beckenham, became part of Bowie folklore when the performer played there in August, 1969.
The free show was part of the Beckenham Arts Lab movement in which the star played an active role and was immortalised in the song Memory of a Free Festival – recorded just a month after the show and reworked and released as a single the following year.
Legend has it the singer also started penning the lyrics to classic Life on Mars at the site.
Campaigners have been working to get the Victorian bandstand renovated since 2013, when they first set up a festival to help raise money for the cause.
In the summer, the Bowie Beckenham Oddity event managed to raise £16,000 on top of the £18,000 raised from previous concerts.
But Bromley Council says it is still some way off its £120,000 target, raising £52,000 from various means including selling personalised Bowie Bricks – giving fans the chance to leave a permanent message carved in stone on the bandstand as part of the renovation work.
In addition, it was delivered a blow when it missed out on a bid for Heritage Lottery funding.
Now, however, work is under way on a renewed bid with hopes the huge wave of emotion for the performer will help carry it to success.
Colin Smith is deputy leader of Conservative-run Bromley Council.
He explained: “A future bid is already being considered. But we are taking our time to make sure the application for funding, whether it’s Heritage Lottery or English Heritage is a good as it can be.
“We’re determined to have a fitting tribute to Bowie and are working toward getting the renovations in place.
“Right now it is progressing at a more evolutionary speed rather than a big bang, but that could all change overnight if we received some big news.”
The Bickley ward councillor said some corporate parties had expressed interest in creating a further tribute to the Starman, but said he could reveal no more at this stage.
It comes in the week that fans and friends of the late singer will mark the first anniversary of his death.
The performer, best known for his pioneering fashions, blurring of sexual identity and hits such as Life on Mars, Heroes and Ashes to Ashes, died on January 10 last year in New York.
He had been battling cancer – an illness he revealed only to those closest to him.
His death prompted an enormous outpouring of grief by generations influenced by him. And that was felt keenly in Kent – the county in which he grew up and which played such a significant role in his life.
Among events taking place will be a special show at Ravensbourne School – where the performer attended when it was known as Bromley Technical High School.
Performed by a host of local musicians, it will run through a showcase of some of David Bowie’s biggest hits.
David Wright helped form Bowie Oddity which will be performing.
He explained: “I realised myself and a lot of the musicians I play with are all massive Bowie fans.
“We started organising this a while ago and we thought how about having it at his old school? It said they didn’t normally do gigs like this but they would for him.
“In a way this gig is a proper tribute – we’re not doing this for a career or to make money, it’s just a one night to celebrate his career and memory.”
His mother, Margaret ‘Peggy’ Burns, was born in Southborough, Tunbridge Wells, in 1913, and met David’s father, Haywood ‘John’ Jones, in the cafe of the Ritz cinema in the spa town, where she worked as an usherette.
The Ritz would later become the ABC then the Odeon cinema – and was demolished just two years ago.
They married and lived in Brixton where, in 1947, the young superstar in waiting, then simply David Jones, was born. They moved to Bromley in 1953.
The family would live there until 1965, with the young David attending Burnt Ash Junior school, before he failed his 11-plus and went to Bromley Technical College.
It was here that his musical career and love of performance began, with junior school providing a chance for him to join the choir and music and dance classes.
As a teenager, he became entranced by American stars like Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and Little
Richard after listening to singles of his father’s.
At the age of 15 he formed his first band. The Konrads performed locally, with shows in the likes of Bromley, Chislehurst, Biggin Hill, Orpington and West Wickham, before he announced he was leaving school to become a pop star.
He then had a short-lived career with the King Bees, before he joined Maidstone group the Manish Boys, where he admitted he dreamed of emulating Dartford rocker Mick Jagger [the two would later duet on the charity hit Dancing in the Streets in 1985].
He lived in the county town, Maidstone, for a short while, but in an interview with a fansite he remembered receiving a beating as he walked down the street. He said: “It was just this big Herbert. He knocked me down on the pavement and when I fell down, he proceeded to kick me for no reason that I can fathom to this day. I haven’t got many good memories of Maidstone.”
With an increasing desire to make it big, he then joined The Lower Third, a Margate band which had a regular slot in a Cliftonville hotel, before he moved on to front The Buzz and then Riot Squad, ditching his surname in the mid-60s to replace it with Bowie; after the American frontiersman.
He had feared Davie Jones was
too similar to Davy Jones of the Monkees.
By 1969, he released Space Oddity to coincide with the Moon landings, and went from performing in Beckenham folk club to enjoying his first major commercial hit.
The rest, as they say, is history.
He performed in Kent only once more; in Chatham for Ziggy Stardust’s farewell tour of 1973 – an album considered his seminal work and for which he will surely be most remembered.