Live: Three Tuns, Beckenham

David Bowie performed for the first time at the Three Tuns in Beckenham on 4 May 1969.

The Sunday night sessions were initially billed as The Folk Club, but would later become the Beckenham Arts Lab. The event was masterminded by Bowie and his landlady and lover Mary Finnigan, and the founder members also included Barrie and Christina Jackson.

It was inspired by the Arts Laboratory, an alternative arts centre founded in 1967 by Jim Haynes at 182 Drury Lane, London, where Bowie performed with Feathers on 6 December 1968.

Also performing on this opening night was singer/guitarist Tim Hollier. A liquid light show was provided by Barry Low, and the event attracted around 50 people and a £10 profit for the organisers.

The Folk Club opened to an audience of fifty people, more than were expected, who heard David sing for most of the evening. ‘He was very together,’ says Mary Finnigan. ‘Barry Low brought his ‘liquid whirl’ and the people loved it. There was a super psychedelic atmosphere.’ Tim Hollier came as a special guest artist and at the end of the evening, after all the expenses had been met, Mary and David went home happy and contented and richer by five pounds each.

David’s self-made gig was obviously a success. Ninety people came the second week, one-hundred-and-twenty the third week and thereafter there were never less than that figure, causing the club to expand into the Three Tuns’ conservatory and garden. ‘David was very idealistic in those days,’ Mary wistfully recalls, ‘and we began to get more of a community feeling. Love and Peace were moving out to the suburbs. Then one Sunday night David announced that the Folk Club was to become an Arts Lab. We called it Growth.’

Kenneth Pitt
The Pitt Report

The Three Tuns became the Rat and Parrot in the 1990s, but reverted to its old name shortly before its closure in 2003. It reopened later that year as an Italian restaurant. A plaque outside says: “David Bowie Rock Musician Lived in Beckenham & Launched His Career in The Three Tuns 1969 – 1973”.

David Bowie plaque outside the former Three Tuns pub

Last updated: 21 March 2023
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