Live: Roundhouse, London

David Bowie performed at London’s Roundhouse on 22 February. It was a pivotal live date in his career.

Bowie was backed by Mick Ronson on guitar, Tony Visconti on bass, and John Cambridge on drums. The band had recently adopted the name Hype, although they were not billed under that name at the Roundhouse show.

On this occasion Bowie and the band dressed in colourful and flamboyant costumes, which marked the beginning of glam rock. Bowie was Rainbow Man, Ronson was Gangster Man, Visconti was Hype Man, and Cambridge was Pirate Man.

We’ve had these costumes made by various girl friends which make us look like Dr Strange or the Incredible Hulk. I was a bit apprehensive about wearing them at the Roundhouse gig because I didn’t know how the audience would react. If they think it’s a huge put on the whole thing will backfire but they seemed to accept it which was nice.
David Bowie
Melody Maker, 28 March 1970

David Bowie and The Hype at the Roundhouse, London, 22 February 1970

David’s new trio had now been rehearsing and he telephoned me to ask if I could suggest a name for it. He enthused about the progress that had been made and we talked about the strong element of hype he wanted to introduce into the trio’s launching. ‘In fact, the whole thing is just one big hupe,’ he said.

‘Then why not call it The Hype?’ I asked.

‘That’s it,’ he laughed, and I heard him say to the trio ‘How about The Hype?’

They must have have approved for then he said to me ‘OK then, it’s The Hype.’ All we need now is some work.’

Kenneth Pitt
The Pitt Report

Also on the bill were Caravan, the Groundhogs, and Bachdenkel. Bowie had previously performed at the Roundhouse with Turquoise on 14 September 1968.

Poster for David Bowie at the Roundhouse, London, 22 February 1970

We rehearsed almost every day for two weeks for what was our most important gig as David’s band; we were opening for Country Joe and The Fish at the Roundhouse on 22 February. Musically we were getting very tight. One night as we sat talking at Haddon Hall the chat moved on to the fact that we had nothing decent to wear on stage. Angela, who had theatrical training, and Liz, as a creative seamstress, were the solution; they designed some outrageous stage wear. We gave ourselves names, like cartoon characters.

I was dressed as a superhero comic-book character and called ‘Hype Man’. David had inadvertently come up with a name for the band during a telephone conversation with his manager, Ken Pitt; we had become The Hype. I wore a white leotard, silver crocheted briefs and a green cape with a red H on my chest. John Cambridge’s pirate outfit, complete with an eye patch, became ‘Pirate Man’, while Mick Ronson was dressed as ‘Gangster Man’. Somehow David acquired a gold lamé suit and a gold fedora for Ronson, and with the rest of the small budget we got several diaphanous scarves that the girls sewed on David’s shirt – David donned a leotard under that and was ‘Rainbow Man’. Musically it was a great gig, although we were heckled initially, and called a variety of homosexual epithets.

This was the time when rockers had long shaggy hair, some wore beards, and the dress code was check flannel lumberjack shirts and torn jeans. In contrast we were glamorous. For me this will always be the very first night of Glam Rock. I didn’t know it at the time, but when we saw photos taken of us by Ray Stevenson, Marc Bolan was visible resting his head on his arms on the edge of the stage, taking it all in. Bolan never admitted he even went to the gig. When we got back to the dressing room we found that the clothes and winter jackets that we had arrived in had all been stolen. Roger the Lodger drove the gear back to Beckenham in his heated van, but we all piled in David’s small hand-cranked Riley, wearing our thin costumes; the car’s radiator was broken and we kept warm by sheer body heat.

Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

The costumes were by Angela Barnett and Liz Hartley, the girlfriends of Bowie and Visconti respectively.

We had spent a week in Glasgow with Lindsay and his troupe, working on a show for Grampian TV, which in those days was a marvelous experimental organization. We had a wonderful time doing the show (despite the ravening cold of a Scottish winter, which permeated every inch of our boardinghouse bedroom and made us curl up close and cuddle every night), and David, who performed ‘Space Oddity’ and did a reprise of his part in [Pierrot In] Turquoise, one of the shows from his days as a member of the troupe, was at his creative best. He was very happy, and I think the whole experience – just being back in Lindsay’s world, watching that genius of staging at work – rekindled his theatrical passions. So I wasn’t at all surprised when, a week or so after we got back to Haddon Hall, I walked into the music room and found him and the boys in the band, Mick Ronson, Tony Visconti, and John Cambridge, talking about costumes. They had a show coming up at the Round House, opening for Country Joe McDonald (!), and David had tabled the idea that they do something new, exciting, and theatrical.

Which certainly lit my lights. It was one of my little things to tease Ronno and the lads about their blue jean addiction – endless bloody denim, you’d think it had come down the mountain with Moses! – so I was tickled pink. It was Point me at the sewing machine! Let’s go!

David was the easiest. It was all his idea, of course, so he was ready and willing, and then too, I had the ideal material at hand, a three-or four-yard remnant of some wild silver netting I’d found in town. Back that with turquoise silk or whatever, I thought, and you’d have one hell of a stage cape. If David wore it over an all-white outfit, with his lovely golden curls above it, the light would bounce beautifully. That would get the audience’s attention. And of course the silver tied in with the ‘Space Oddity’ theme – the astronauts’ suits, the shiny skin of the alien archetype, the starry strangeness of the impression David was working to create.

He loved the idea, and I went to work.

Tony was also an eager customer. He came up with his own character, the ironic superhero Hypeman, and that was just fine. His trim, well-muscled body would look great in a basic superhero leotard, and all we really needed on top of that were Hypeman insignia, which I cobbled up in no time. We decided against a cape for him, since David was wearing one, and went for a collar cum shoulderpiece I built from petticoat wire. Voilà! Tony was happy.

The others weren’t so smitten with the whole idea. They weren’t very articulate about it, but that was okay; I understood. It was one thing to be the good, straight macho rock-and-rollers in David’s band, I’m sure, but quite another to go dressing in silly outfits and poncing about the stage like poofdahs. People might start to wonder.

It was okay, I told them. They didn’t have to wear tights or capes or anything like that. They could be whoever they wanted to be, as long as it wasn’t their usual selves.

That brought them around. John Cambridge, who was drawn to things American, decided to be a cowboy (simple enough: big fringed shirt, boots, and so on; he got it all together himself), and Ronno, after much agonizing, agreed that if he really couldn’t be his usual sex-appealing self and wear his usual tight jeans and crisp white open-chested shirt, he’d get into the spirit of the thing and be Gangsterman. So we went up to town together and found him a brand-new Carnaby Street suit, an extraordinary piece of work in shiny gold velour, double-breasted, and a great bargain too; about sixty quid, if memory serves. A few accessories later he looked stunning. I’d have oiled his Tommy gun anytime (if, that is, I didn’t have to stand in line behind every other girl in London).

That, then, was the lineup for the Round House show: the Space Star, Hypeman, Gangsterman, and the cowboy. If you think it sounds like the prototype for the Village People, you might be onto something. If you suspect it was a little ahead of its time and therefore a little hard to relate to, you’re definitely onto something; the Round House crowd reacted to the new and different Hype with a lot less enthusiasm than they displayed for Country Joe’s more familiar all-denim act. I’ve read, in fact, that David ‘bombed’ that night, and that most people in the crowd were ‘baffled.’

Critical subjectivity aside – who really knows what the crowd thought? – baffled is good. Stunned is better, but baffled is at least a step in the right direction. Bafflement begets curiosity, which creates a buzz. So something could have started on the underground grapevine that night. There might have been a little flurry of interest among the trend-hungry, the people one step ahead of the pack. The nucleus of David’s natural constituency might have stirred.

We knew it had been good for us, if not for them. Putting that show together had been a blast, and it felt like just the right thing to be doing. I was very happy; I saw David’s star emerging from a vast, featureless sea of sixteen-ounce indigo-dyed cotton into something lighter, brighter, crisper, more colorful. Much more colorful.

Angela Bowie
Backstage Passes
Last updated: 28 March 2023
Live: Three Tuns, Beckenham
Live: David Bowie and Hype, Arts Centre, Basildon
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