Memories of the day David Bowie played Worthing - 50 years ago this year

50 years ago this year David Bowie landed in Worthing in the shape of Ziggy Stardust.

David at school circa 1971
David at school circa 1971

David Whitehead, who writes as David Colworth, was there to see Bowie on that auspicious day.

David grew up in Worthing and went to Worthing Technical High School. After a long time away, he moved back to Worthing a few years ago. He has recorded his memories of the day in I Played Ziggy’s Guitar (David Colworth, available on Amazon as a paperback or e-book).

“For a teenage music fan in the early 1970s, it was a frustrating time. If you didn’t like the heavy rock sounds of Led Zep and Deep Purple or the boring old hippy singer-songwriters, then there wasn’t much to get excited about. I was looking for something new to call my own.

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    “It’s hard to imagine now, but at the start of the 70s, David Bowie was a forgotten figure. He was a one-hit wonder who had faded away rapidly. But one day, while mooching around a record shop, quite by chance I stumbled across a bizarre looking LP: The Man Who Sold The World. The album cover was weird – a man in a flowery dress. What was that all about?

    “The music was something else. Startlingly original and challenging, this guy had obvious talent, but the album was a total flop. Later that year, he released Hunky Dory, now regarded as one of the all-time classics, but again, it was a complete failure. I couldn’t understand why Bowie remained in obscurity.

    “However, in spring 1972, Bowie relaunched himself as the alien rock star Ziggy Stardust and began touring small venues around the UK. Then, one day I spotted a poster announcing that Bowie was coming to Worthing. Yes, The Starman was coming to boring old Worthing, and just 50p a ticket!

    “On the day of the concert, together with Ellie, my girlfriend and fellow Bowie fan, we made our way to the Assembly Hall after school, hoping to say hello and get an autograph. Amazingly, when the roadie saw us hanging round outside the stage door, he invited us in to meet David and the band. And there we were, face to face with Ziggy Stardust. Stick-thin, two differently coloured eyes, snaggly teeth, heavily made-up and dressed in a glittery catsuit – yes, he really did seem like some weird alien.

    “But in reality, he was warm, humorous and down to earth. He certainly wasn’t the remote, unapproachable figure he was soon to become. He seemed to be quite touched by the fact that he had two such devoted fans in Ellie and me. He didn’t have many at that point.

    “We chatted for ages, and I asked him to show me how to play some of his songs, and just like a friendly teacher, he was very encouraging about my clumsy attempts to play guitar.

    “The show itself was stunning, featuring many of the songs that would shortly make him famous, such as Starman, Life On Mars, Ziggy Stardust, and many more. Best of all, during the encore when David spotted me, he pulled me up on stage, handed me his 12-string guitar, and said “Go on, you play”. And yes, for 30 glorious seconds, I was a member of Bowie’s backing band!

    “We met and chatted again after the show, and David told us all about his new LP that was due for release a few weeks later. That was, of course, the Ziggy Stardust album which would propel Bowie to stardom. He gave us autographed photos and even offered to give us a lift home in his battered old Jaguar. But we’d left our bikes outside so had to decline the kind offer. Bowie’s career took off that summer, and by September 1972, he was touring the USA, selling out the Carnegie Hall in New York City – all the way from the Assembly Hall Worthing in just four incredible months.

    “They say you should never meet your heroes. Well, I’m glad I did!”