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David Bowie murial in Brixton

The Bowie File

Blue Badge Guides need to know about pop stars as well as kings and queens. Apart from The Beatles, the late David Bowie probably attracts as much interest as any other. Here are six places particularly associated with him in London:

Bowie’s Birthplace

David Bowie was born David Jones on 8 January 1948 in Brixton. (He changed his name to Bowie to avoid confusion with Davey Jones of the Monkees.) There is no blue plaque on the wall of his birthplace because English Heritage only put them up twenty years after the death of the subject. Bowie attended Stockwell Infants School but probably had little memory of the area because the family moved to Beckenham on the borders of Kent and London when he was six. It was here that he met the George Underwood who designed some of his album covers and was his lifelong friend (despite them having a fight over a girl in which Bowie’s left eye was permanently damaged!).

Ziggy Stardust plaque

Ziggy Stardust plaque in Soho

There is, however, a plaque commemorating his Ziggy Stardust persona in Heddon Street, Soho. The cover photograph of the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was taken at the back of 23 Heddon Street. A plaque was placed there in 1972 by the Crown Estate (who own the land) and unveiled by Garry Kemp of Spandau Ballet, a big Bowie fan. It is not an ‘official’ blue plaque as it celebrates a fictitious rather than a real person. The sign above Bowie reads ‘K West’ which some thought stood for the word ‘quest’ but which was actually the name of the fur coat shop on the site! The picture of Bowie has appeared on a Royal Mail stamp as one of ten iconic album covers of all time.

David Bowie plaque

David Bowie plaque at Trident Recording studio

Although there is no plaque on his birthplace, one was unveiled at 17 St Anne’s Court in Soho, the site of the Trident Recording Studio where Bowie made many of his early records. This one was unveiled by Billy Bragg and George Underwood. The studio closed in 1981 but it had been used by Queen, Elton John and was where the Beatles recorded Hey Jude.

The BBC studio at White City

Most people date the moment when Bowie became a star to 6 July 1972 when he was appearing on the BBC’s chart show Top of the Pops which was filmed at their studios in White City, west London. He pointed at the camera and sang “I had to phone someone so I picked on you-hoo-hoo”. He then draped his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson’s shoulders as they sang the chorus to the single Starman. Pop stars were not supposed to act like that but Bowie always made his own rules. The footage can be seen on YouTube but the BBC has moved away from White City and it is now occupied by the Westfield shopping mall.

The Hammersmith Odeon

Bowie was never one to sit still and, almost as soon as he adopted a new image, he was looking for ways to move on from it. The Ziggy Stardust persona was introduced at the Toby Jug pub in Kingston upon Thames in 1972 with his backing group Spiders From Mars consisting of lead guitarist Mick Ronson, drummer Mick Woodmandsey and bass player Tony Visconti who later became Bowie’s producer and was replaced in the band by Trevor Bolder. Without informing his bandmates Bowie announced that he was retiring at a concert in Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973. Many thought that this might be the end of his musical career but he was just shedding the Ziggy identity before it took him over totally.

Front of the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Towards the end of his life, Bowie agreed to the creation of an exhibition called David Bowie Is which was first displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington in 2013. It was not expected to be a success but proved to be the fastest selling event in the museum’s history, attracting over 300,000 visitors. The exhibition then moved on to eleven cities around the world before it was finally displayed at the Brooklyn Museum in New York in line with his wishes. Bowie had died during this time but this only increased interest in the approximately 500 objects in the exhibition.

Bowie murial in Brixton

Bowie murial in Brixton

A Shrine to Bowie

After Bowie’s death in January 2016, people felt the need to pay homage to him and came to the Brixton painting of him by James Cochrane (usually known as Jimmy C) – if only because it was easy to access at the end of the Victoria tube line. So many left flowers and wrote messages that the council have now felt the need to protect the mural with a perspex cover. This is now the main shrine to Bowie in London.

Edwin Lerner is a Blue Badge Guide working in London and the surrounding areas.

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