Recording: Please Mr Gravedigger

The sixth recording session for David Bowie’s debut album took place on Tuesday 13 December 1966.

This was intended to be the final session for the album, although more songs and overdubs were recorded in early 1967. As with the rest of the album sessions, it took place at at Decca’s Studio 2 in north London. Mike Vernon was the producer, with Gus Dudgeon engineering.

On this day Bowie re-recorded the closing song, ‘Please Mr Gravedigger’. An earlier version had been taped on 18 October 1966.

The album version contains no conventional instruments, but instead comprises Bowie’s vocals and a succession of sound effects. The latter were partly down to studio engineer Gus Dudgeon, whose initials were shared with the “Mr GD” of the lyrics.

I just love it. I just love Gravedigger! The bottom end on the thunder is fantastic. Decca had the most fabulous sound effects library. What I remember is Bowie standing there wearing a pair of cans [headphones] with his collar turned up as if he was in the rain, hunched over, shuffling about in a box of gravel. And you thought Brian Wilson had lost it! I asked him, ‘How long is this thing?’ And he said, ‘Well, five minutes should do it,’ so I went off to the sound effects library and found some thunder and some rain and I’ve managed to get it in extremely good stereo – the sound of the thunder is really hefty – plenty of low end!

So I put together five minutes of rain and thunder and I threw in a few birds as well, and that became the backing track. Now is that weird or is that weird? The sneeze is a good piece of acting, isn’t it? That’s clever; that’s when you see the actor in him. There’s another weird thing about that track which has always freaked me out. It’s about a bloody gravedigger and how [the narrator] is gonna chuck him in and dig his own grave for him, and he keeps on going on about ‘Mr GD’. They’re my initials, and it bugs me! Every time I hear it I think, ‘Oh no, don’t do that, that’s like sending me a chain letter, thanks very much. I had forgotten the horrible vibe I get every time I hear him singing, ‘Oh, Mr GD.’

Gus Dudgeon
Strange Fascination, David Buckley
Recording: Come And Buy My Toys, Bunny Thing
Live: Town Hall, Lewes
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