They were the exotic first couple of glam rock, dressed alike in silk kimonos with bleached hair, Angie and David Bowie shocked Britain in the Seventies with tales of cross-dressing, drugs and bisexual liaisons. But their often stormy life together informed the classic Bowie characters Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin sane and the Thin White Duke. Their marriage went on to collapse in acrimonious divorce but it was for Angie that Bowie wrote some of his most tender songs. Here Angie, now 63, shares her views on Bowie’s latest single and reveals the inspiration behind the music.
The fans would take everything they could. Even David’s pair of Peruvian wedding bands, which he wore on his wrists, were often taken from him.
Bowie usando pulseras Peruanas como Ziggy Stradust
After his self-imposed silence of the past decade, suddenly David Bowie fans are spoiled for choice.
Not only do we have David’s first new music for what seems like an age, but also a major retrospective exhibition opening next month at London’s V&A.
But as I listen to his new single Where Are We Now? I can’t help but wonder what happened to the musical innovator. I’m not trying to be unkind, but I can’t escape the feeling that the retro-introspective mood of the song has one message – ‘I’m not going to be here much longer, let’s talk about the past.’
Exotic: Angie and David Bowie, pictured in 1974, were known as the first couple of glam rock and shocked Seventies Britain with their wild antics
There’s nothing about the sound that’s new, either. The subject matter is tired – it’s a nostalgic look back to the last time he was at the forefront of pop music.
And, worst of all, the record romanticises and mythologises a period of David’s career I recall with distaste. What I remember of Berlin – where David lived for three years in the late Seventies – is lots of sitting around nightclubs, with David pretending he was an extra from Cabaret witnessing the rise of the Nazis.
His life then seemed to be all about Romy Haag, the transsexual cabaret singer then making a name for herself as a modern-day Sally Bowles.
To his fans, David was just being another of his characters. But I suspect the main audience for this latest performance was me.
Our marriage was over. My father had fought in the Second World War and David knew that I would have no truck with fascism.
David always pushed the boundaries and I think that by flirting with Nazi Germany, he was – if only subconsciously – pushing me past the limits of what I considered acceptable.
In the years before, I had been not only his wife but his stage manager. I looked after security, the costumes, lighting, stage design and the sound. I wanted everything to be perfect to bring his creative vision to life.
Was I a trained professional? No. But I was smart and I was open to new ideas. We knew TV exposure was key if we wanted to sell out the big concert halls.
But the BBC didn’t know what to do with David. Eventually, Starman went up the charts and they had no choice but to put him on Top Of The Pops and the David Bowie phenomenon took off.
When I first met David, I was a student at Kingston Polytechnic. I was already friendly with Lou Reizner and Calvin Mark Lee of Mercury Records. Calvin was convinced David was a star and that his androgynous appeal was right for the times. Lou wasn’t so keen and it fell to me to convince the record label bosses to sign him. Which I did.
After the contract was signed, Calvin asked me to cheer up David, who was nursing a broken heart. We went to dinner and then danced to King Crimson at the Speakeasy Club.
The chemistry was there but I fought hard for months to stop it becoming a romantic relationship. David had lovers everywhere, yet our working relationship developed into something much more. We married in March 1970.
Our son Duncan was born in May 1971 and then we really got busy! We hired guitarist Mick Ronson and The Spiders From Mars came into being. We were on the road constantly and what a time we had!
David and I were fascinated by space travel. He had already written Space Oddity by the time we met and the record was released just in time for the Apollo 11 Moon landing. David, myself and a group of friends clustered around the black-and-white television set as Neil Armstrong made his giant step for mankind.
Space travel inspired much of David’s work. His big breakthrough came when he invented Ziggy Stardust, a character he said would look as if he came from Mars. Starman was the first single from the album The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, in July 1972.
While recording Ziggy Stardust, David decided he wanted to cut his hair. He said: ‘I want it to look different. What if I were to dye it red?’ I bought an armful of magazines and we went through them until David found one he liked. Suzie Fussey, who worked in a salon in Beckenham, Kent, did a lovely job, as you can see on the Ziggy Stardust cover. She later married Spiders guitarist Mick Ronson.
Creative: Angie and David’s stormy life together informed many of his characters such as Aladdin Sane
Star power: Davud Bowie’s music career took off after he invented Ziggy Stardust, a character he said would look as if he came from Mars
That hairstyle had a definite effect on David. It made him look stronger and wilder and, if possible, even more sexually ambivalent. It needed a lot of maintenance, making him become more self-conscious and narcissistic. It wasn’t long before David Jones had transformed himself into Ziggy, a lithe, red-headed, face-painted, polysexual alien.
The costume he wore on Top Of The Pops – and which will be a key exhibit in the V&A exhibition – was designed by Freddie Buretti, whom we had spotted at a gay disco in London. Freddie was so handsome, wearing white spandex hotpants and a short-sleeved sailor shirt. We quickly became friends and he made all the clothes for our various promotional campaigns.
To make life easier for all the fittings, Freddie came to live with us at Haddon Hall, an Edwardian mansion in Beckenham, converted into apartments. It was David and my first real home together and we transformed it into a grand living space. We decorated it with Burmese sideboards, a Japanese jigsaw desk, and a piano. We went to the docks and bought wonderful silk Chinese and Persian rugs.
At the local antique store on Beckenham High Street, I bought a walnut bed from France with a marquetry headboard. It was a great place to sit and work. David wrote the lyrics for Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust sitting cross-legged on that bed in his yellow Stirling Cooper sailor pants.
Come back: After his self-imposed silence of the past decade David Bowie fans have been treated to new music from the star
Watching David write was inspiring to me. He was at his most content composing. Music floated from his mind and fingertips. He would strum the 11 strings on his 12-string Harptone guitar and wander to the piano and play a few bars, then off to forage for rice pudding in the kitchen. After some run-throughs, he would pad into wherever I was and say: ‘Come hear this.’
The tall ceilings and plaster and wood of Haddon Hall complemented the sound of all musical instruments. I felt like we were in a magical place and the melodies and ideas filled us with resolve to be totally successful. Haddon Hall was always full of people. Musicians, artists, designers all gathered.
We had some wonderful, crazy times. One of my best memories was a dinner party with Lionel Bart, the legendary composer of Oliver! David played early studio mixes from Ziggy Stardust. Lionel proclaimed it a rock opera.
I’ll never forget David’s stunned and delighted face as he absorbed the consequences of the compliment. I shopped at Liberty and at Brick Lane in the East End for fabrics. For David’s clothes, I went to Sloane Street and places in Chelsea, New York – a clothing store called Vintage Hallowe’en and Paradise Bootery.
The Mary Quant lamé T-shirts in every colour were available at any department store.Strangely enough, I received my greatest compliment at this time. David’s manager Tony Defries noticed that many of the girl fans were copying the way I dressed.
One night, he said: ‘We’ve got seven or eight Angies sitting out in the audience.’ I was astounded. And so was David. I caught sight of one girl. A platinum-haired teenager who was very pretty and had got herself a dark-green woollen dress like the one I had been seen out in only a week before. Even her hairstyle and make-up were identical.
Kansai Yamamoto was one of Japan’s top avant-garde designers. David loved his costumes and insisted on several for the Ziggy tour of Japan and Europe in 1973.
David’s shows were received ecstatically everywhere we went, which was wonderful for him, but very hard on the costumes.
After every show, it had to be rushed back to Kansai’s studio and painstakingly repaired and beads re-attached. The black-and-red leather, hand-painted, short-legged jump suit was a big favourite of David’s.
Costumes have a short life and David needed 30 pairs of trousers and as many jackets at the start of his tours and sometimes even that wasn’t enough. Shirts were lost by the hundreds. The fans would take everything they could. Even David’s pair of Peruvian wedding bands, which he wore on his wrists, were often taken from him.
Outrageous: Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto designed this striped vuinyl bodysuit for the singer
David was fascinated by people who had explored the depths of human experience. He was curious about everything and inspired by George Orwell’s 1984 and Beat Generation author William Burroughs’s The Wild Boys. David met Burroughs in New York, along with Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Andy Warhol.
In New York, all the components of the Diamond Dogs tour – models and story, stage show and the songs – transformed our hotel suites into studios of theatrical production and design. The lyrics for the Diamond Dogs album were inspired by Burroughs. I wasn’t there when Burroughs showed David how he wrote prose and then cut up each line, throwing them into the air to see where they landed.
David wrote many of the songs for Aladdin Sane on his 1972 tour of America but The Prettiest Star dates back to Christmas 1969. I was staying with my parents in Cyprus when he phoned and sang it down the phone to me. Two days later, I was back in London and our first stop was the recording studio, where Marc Bolan was adding the guitar solo. I was crazy about Aladdin Sane, loved the songs, especially The Prettiest Star. That was the most personal. He wrote it for me.
But as David became more successful, it also became hard to feel that I was in a relationship with him. He found it difficult to express his feelings. He began behaving increasingly badly and that’s when I began to plot my escape. In the years that followed, David seemed to deny I had any part in his success.
Despite my misgivings about his single, I’m delighted about the Bowie exhibition. The V&A show is an extraordinary collection of more than 300 artifacts – his flamboyant costumes, handwritten lyrics, stage sets and more – and will confirm David’s towering influence over British fashion, art and music during the last four decades.
For six or seven years, we were in it together. It was a quite extraordinary time and such good fun. I’m still very proud to have been involved. I’d never take any credit for David’s music – that’s all his. But the exhibition shows how I helped him deliver his dream.