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TONIGHT'S TV: David Bowie and the Story of Ziggy Stardust (10pm BBC4)

Posted by Michael Moran
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on Friday, 22 June 2012

Pop music, and pop culture generally, changed forever in June 1972. When David Bowie And The Spiders From Mars performed Starman on Top Of The Pops they rewired the brains of a generation.

This documentary focuses on that extraordinary year when David Bowie managed to make three great LPs of his own – every one now acknowledged as a classic – and almost as an afterthought produce hit albums for two of his major influences and write a smash hit single for a third.



To explain the genesis of Bowie’s epochal Ziggy Stardust album, 40 years old this month, the programme reaches back to Bowie’s beginnings. There’s some superb footage of Bowie performing with choreographer Lindsay Kemp, images of a folk trio that even many Bowie scholars will have forgotten their hero was in, and a great bit archive film featuring often-overlooked showbiz polymath Anthony Newley.

It was with Space Oddity that Bowie first ‘really made the grade’ and Sir Elton John is on hand to reveal how awestruck he was by that initial glimpse of Bowie’s genius.

The programme makers have also dug up some terrific, rarely-seen, pictures from a concert by Bowie’s ‘dry run’ for the Spiders concept – The Hype.

Mick Ronson, Bowie’s musical wingman through the Ziggy era and creator of many of those spectacular arrangements that bounced seamlessly from hard rock through cabaret to free jazz and back again sadly died in 1993. Bowie himself appears only in archive recordings but the Spiders rhythm section is on hand with absolutely wonderful anecdotes from that tumultuous period.



Drummer Woody Woodmansey seems somehow to have transformed into a wry Jim Bowen lookalike over the years. Mercifully, bassman Trevor Bolder’s flowing locks are intact, masking the patches of permanently blue skin that are the legacy of an ill-advised face-painting idea in the 1980s.

Things like makeup and bizarre costumes are part of the Ziggy legacy. The imaginary rock and roll spaceman brought those fringe concepts into the mainstream and it’s impossible to look at the pop charts from any week since the dawn of Ziggy and not find at least one artist who betrays his influence.

Mark Almond, Holly Johnson from Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp are on hand to tell their stories of growing up as Bowie fans. You would be hard pressed though to find anyone aged between about 25 and 60 who hadn’t loved at least some of the pop chameleon’s prolific output.

If only to see Peter Noone’s bemused take on Oh You Pretty Things, or The Sweet’s bassist dressed up as a bizarre glam-rock Hitler, make sure you watch this programme.

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