Blog 3: The Early Years
With such a vast array of songs to choose from, it is hard to cover every era of Bowie equally, and up until now, we haven’t really had much chance to work many of his earlier songs into our set. Hopefully, this will change as we mature. There are two songs from the earlier years, however, that write themselves into any Bowie set: Man Who Sold the World and Space Oddity.
The Man Who Sold the World is one of the songs we have done from the start and we never tire of playing. The only time we haven’t played this in a full set gig was in Jam Café at the end of 2018 for a very simple reason (Miss Bowie mega trivia for you here.. If there is ever a quiz, pay attention to this because it will be a question :D): there wasn’t enough room on stage for Jane to have a microphone stand so she couldn’t sing and play the tie at the same time. The metal tie is the star of the show, inspired by the very iconic wooden scraper on the original version. Here is a splendid photo by Emotions from Photons of the tie:
This track has been widely covered by the likes of Nirvana, Midge Ure, and Lulu to name but three, and has also been morphed quite spectacularly by Bowie himself over the years. With our version, we have tried quite a straight cover interpretation of it, concentrating on the iconic riff that is so very typical of the sound Bowie (and Ronson) achieved on this album.
However, there is another very interesting fact about our version of this song: to date, it is the only cover we do where we have changed up from the original key. This was kind of done by accident. When we were first rehearsing it, we once hit on the higher key, before dropping it down to the original key and finding it somehow didn’t sound as good. So, we decided just to keep it in this accidental key and build the great backing vocals from that. This is one of those songs that Mel does the backing for so tightly and that Andrew joins in on whenever he wants to! (He once had his microphone confiscated but he is back on probation now!).
Much of the inspiration for how to perform this song has come from the absolutely brilliant performance of it by Bowie with Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi… https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5wpes7. Jane did ask the band if she could have this costume and be carried on stage but it was a firm NO.
Space Oddity is such an iconic track, we just have to play it. It evokes the late 1960’s space exploration period beautifully. During rehearsals, this proved one of the more difficult songs for us as the timing of the drums, guitars, and vocals coming in needs to be spot on. We’ve worked hard on it and it is probably the song that, so far, has been the most constantly rehearsed.
This song has been even more widely covered over the years than The Man Who Sold the World and is, of course, one of the songs Bowie played extensively. One of our favourite performances of this song was from his 1974 tour of the U.S… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ_wnJSRFso. Jane did ask the band if she could have a telephone and a crane but it was another no (recurring theme honestly, no fun!!).
What is interesting about this version is how slow it is. Such an atmospheric song, it can work at any pace but getting that pace to flow is the main challenge. The trick, we found, is to lean into the spaces in between the music to really capture that feeling of floating in zero gravity. Here is a video of us playing it at the Bowie France Convention in January 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ByGEhBXTJA.
This song currently sits somewhere in the middle of the first set as it tends to work well as a transition into a build-up of songs with a bit more volume. It would, however, also work well as an opener or even as a first encore, and as we add to the set and shift things around, it may well end up in a different position.
Space Oddity is followed by Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, Oh You Pretty Things, and Jean Genie so look out for our next update on these.