David Bowie was remembered today in Aylesbury’s famous Market Square. Bowie was important to Aylesbury and Aylesbury was important to Bowie. The first song on the Ziggy album, Five Years, even references Aylesbury: “Pushing through the Market Square/ So many mothers sighing/ News had just come over/ We had five years left to cry in.”
Aylesbury has a lively music scene spawning groups such as Marillion, who also referenced the Market Square in “Market Square Heroes” and musician John Otway. But Aylesbury’s most famous contribution to Pop music was through the iconic Friars Club, often described as the “Music Club which rocked the world.” Ask anyone what Aylesbury is famous for and they will probably say: “Ducks and Friars.” Originally founded in 1969, and still going strong today, Friars became famous for its great atmosphere, iconic bands and infectiously enthusiastic audience. Friars is universally acknowledged as having played a role in the careers of David Bowie, Genesis, Mott The Hoople, The Jam, The Clash, The Ramones, Tom Petty, Split Enz, Kraftwerk, Fleetwood Mac, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Buzzcocks and many more …
There is a huge connection between Bowie and Aylesbury. He debuted two of his most iconic albums here. Some say Ziggy Stardust is the most important album of the 20th century. So today Aylesbury Market Square reverberated from 12-12 with David Bowie’s music. The celebration of Bowie’s life was organised at short notice by David Stopps, the driving force behind the iconic Friars Music Club where many legendary musicians cut their teeth and honed their acts in the 70’s and 80’s. The commemoration under the arches in Aylesbury’s Market Square to celebrate the life and music of Friars greatest hero. There was great music, video projections, a small exhibition of Friars memorabilia and the opportunity to sign a book of condolence, and the petition in support of a statue of David Bowie to be erected in the Market Square.
— #inAylesbury (@InAylesburyTown) January 16, 2016
David Stopp commented “Someone once said to me that Aylesbury is famous for three things – ducks, the Great Train Robbery and Friars Aylesbury. We should celebrate this.” Bowie played Friars Aylesbury four times – three gigs at the Borough Assembly Hall in the early 70s and one at the Civic Centre in 1977. Neither venue now exists. The Borough Assembly Hall was located behind the Green Man in Market Square and Mr Stopps said its stage would have been where Next is in Hale Leys.
Bowie made his world debut of Hunky Dory at Friars Aylesbury on 25th September 1971 and formed what were to become The Spiders from Mars in the Friars dressing room that night. Three months later on 29th January 1972 he chose Friars Aylesbury to perform the jaw-dropping world debut of ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’. In July 1972 he came back again with the fully developed Ziggy persona and played arguably the best Friars gig of its 47 year history. 50 US journalists were flown in to witness the event.
RCA records paid $25,000 to fly the “cream” of America’s rock press over to see the label’s up-and-coming star David Bowie perform at the Friars Club, Market Square, Aylesbury, England, in July 1972. The record company hoped the scribes from Rolling Stone, CREEM, New York Times, Andy Warhol’s Interview, and the New Yorker, would be sufficiently impressed to spread the word about Bowie back home. It certainly worked as Bowie, along with his Ziggy line-up of Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Woody Woodmansey (drums), delivered a blistering set, which been a source of mythical tales and innumerable bootlegs ever since.
Also in the crowd that fateful night were Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor of Queen, who were just starting off on their career. Taylor later recalled the gig for MOJO magazine in 1999:
“…Freddie and I saw the first Ziggy gig at Friar’s Aylesbury. We drove down in my Mini. We loved it. I’d seen him there about three weeks before in the long hair and the dress. Suddenly you saw this spiky head coming on stage. You thought, wha-a-at??? They looked like spacemen.”
The band’s appearance was not just a shock to the audience as Bowie later explained:
Woody Woodmansey was saying, “I’m not bloody wearing that!” [Laughs] There were certainly comments, a lot of nerves. Not about the music – I think the guys knew that we rocked. But they were worried about the look. That’s what I remember: how uncomfortable they felt in their stage clothes. But when they realized what it did for the birds… The girls were going crazy for them, because they looked like nobody else. So within a couple of days it was, “I’m going to wear the red ones tonight.”
David Stopps is also leading the campaign to have David Bowie and his connection with Aylesbury commemorated by a statue in Market Square. “There is already the example of the Ronnie Barker statue outside the Waterside Theatre but he had very little connection with Aylesbury. He started his career in Aylesbury –ironically at the Borough Assembly Hall too. But he had no special connection – and Bowie absolutely did.” Mr Stopps said the statue should reflect his Ziggy Stardust phase.
His campaign for a statue has been backed by the Aylesbury Society’s honorary secretary Roger King, while the Bucks Herald’s Back in Time columnist Karl Vaughan said: “I feel more strongly than ever that a permanent piece of artwork should be put up somewhere near the site of the Borough Assembly Hall or Civic Centre in memory of not just David Bowie but all the acts who made Friars the place to be. This must happen.”
Today at the event organised by David and Sue Stopps I and many others signed the petition for David Bowie to be commemorated in Aylesbury which played such a pivotal role in his career.
Let’s hope that Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars land in Aylesbury’s Market Square soon.
Five Years – “Pushing through the Market Square …..
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