Recording: Memory Of A Free Festival

David Bowie began recording ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’ on 8 September 1969.

This was Bowie’s first recording session for his second album since 17 July. In the interim he had performed in Malta, Italy, and the Netherlands, as well as a handful of shows in England.

On ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’ was recorded at London’s Trident Studios, with Tony Visconti producing. Bowie was backed by Junior’s Eyes, the band who accompanied him for much of the Space Oddity album. Mick Wayne and Tim Renwick played guitars, John Lodge was on bass guitar, and John Cambridge played drums.

This was written as a homage to the Free Festival, organised by the Beckenham Arts Lab, which was held at Croydon Road Recreation Ground in Beckenham on 16 August 1969. There were Arts Labs all over the UK around that time. I was there, it was a very moving event and the song portrays it beautifully. David plays what was considered a toy electric organ, a Rosedale, sold through Woolworths, but it had a beautiful sound. Marc Bolan bought one as well and used it on a song called Children Of Rarn. It was only electric in the sense that a motor blew air past real miniature organ reeds, there was no circuitry inside.

Junior’s Eyes were back. We invited all our friends to sing in the end repetitive choir, many came from Beckenham. It was a blissfully chaotic session. If you were blindfolded and threw a doughnut across the room with ricochets you’d hit 15 hippies at any given angle.

Tony Visconti, May 2015
Five Years (1969–1973) book

The song was completed the following day. A re-recording for release as a single was begun at Trident on Saturday 21 March 1970, with work continuing over the following two days.

The original album version was recorded at Trident on 8 and 9 September 1969, just three weeks after the event. David himself played the shaky psychedelic intro on a Rosedale electric chord organ.
Kenneth Pitt
The Pitt Report
Last updated: 22 March 2023
Live: Three Tuns, Beckenham
Recording: Memory Of A Free Festival
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