Live: Speakeasy, London

David Bowie performed at the Speakeasy in London on 8 January, his 23rd birthday.

He was backed by Tim Renwick on guitar, Tony Visconti on bass guitar, and John Cambridge on drums.

I suppose David slept through most of his birthday, for that night he was to be at the Speakeasy for the first of the NEMS bookings, a solo performance for which he was to receive one-hundred pounds. He had, however, asked Tony Visconti to accompany him on bass and when he spotted drummer John Cambridge in the club he asked him if he had his kit with him. John said that it was outside in a van and he readily agreed to bring it in, set it up and join in the gig.
Kenneth Pitt
The Pitt Report

Also present was Tim Hughes, a reporter from gay magazine Jeremy. Hughes reported on the show, and the following day a photographer from the magazine took shots of Bowie at Haddon Hall, his Beckenham home.

It’s the midnight hour and the taxi drops us somewhere behind Oxford Street. We plunge down a red stairway. This is the Speakeasy – the club for Top Pop People. David is doing the late-night spot. Someone takes our coats and we make our way to the bar. The drinks are very expensive. The lighting is so murkily subtle that it is almost impossible to make out the features of the person standing next to us. We are dimly aware of other inhabitants. A sprinkling of boys in bone-tight velvet pants held up by redundant broad leather belts whose heavy ornate buckles force one’s eyes to mid-riff level. Hordes of girls with deader than dead-pan faces stand in predatory clusters – these are the notorious groupies – the ‘Scene’s’ attendant Furies. They outnumber the boys four to one. It’s just not David’s scene. The disco stops and a single sharp spot stabs its way through layers of multi-coloured light show. It’s David’s turn. Perched precariously on two boxes – a luminous elfin face surrounded by an aureole of blond curls – he looks very vulnerable. He works hard. Numbers from the LP… Jacques Brel. Some bawdy poems by Mason Williams. Buzz the Fuzz. Throughout the act there is a spattering of blasé applause. Groupies parade. People keep right on talking. No one seems involved. The reaction is disturbingly muted. It’s all over and David joins us at the bar. The elfin face looks puzzled. ‘I can’t believe it. The manager says I got a good reception. If that’s what happens when they like you – what happens when they hate you?’ A marauding groupie gropes him in the crush. ‘Who was it? I ought to get a fee for that.’

This was Bowie’s first performance at the Speakeasy, which was situated in the basement of 47 Margaret Street, London. However, he had been there at least once before, on 9 April 1969, the first night he spent with his future first wife Angela.

Last updated: 27 March 2023
Recording: The Prettiest Star, London Bye Ta-Ta
Photo shoot: Haddon Hall, Beckenham
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