David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars performed at Oxford’s Town Hall on 17 June 1972.
It was the 39th date of the Ziggy Stardust Tour, which had begun on 29 January. The support act was the JSD Band.
This show is best known for a Mick Rock photograph which captured the moment Bowie appeared to go down on Mick Ronson guitar. Rock was advised by Bowie before the show on what he planned to do, and the image garnered some welcome publicity for the tour and Ziggy Stardust album.
The fellatio picture is one of the most striking images from the Ziggy period. A few days after the release of Ziggy Stardust, there were a thousand people – his biggest audience to date – at Oxford Town Hall, and I was shooting the show from the front, because I had the access. I wanted a different view so I went to the side, and that’s when it happened.
David said he wasn’t trying to look as though he was going down on Mick, and if you look at the picture you can see that he’s not actually on his knees. He’s chomping on Mick’s guitar but his feet are splayed. He was hugging Mick’s buttocks in a cute way, but he only did that because of the way Mick was swinging his guitar around. He said, ‘I was simply trying to bite Mick’s guitar.’ He was playing a passive role to Mick’s macho role. The crowd certainly had never seen anything like that before.
I remember him rushing offstage afterwards and he said, ‘Mick, did you get it? Did you get it?’ And I’m thinking to myself, Well, I think I did. I’m not sure. It happened so fast. Everything happened so fast in those days. So the next day I got up really early, processed the film, saw the shot, blew it up, and then brought it in to show David and Tony Defries, who both loved it. This was proper shock value, like Jimi Hendrix setting light to his guitar, or Pete Townshend smashing up his. This had gay overtones as well, which was still quite shocking in 1972. The rock industry had never seen anything like it. It was mad.
Rock photographers were fairly low down on the rungs at the time, but that picture really set me up. And he knew that. David was a very fast read, and he would pick up on things very quickly and absorb them. Then he would make them his. David was a complex person, there was no doubt about it. Complicated, a true artist. I didn’t realise until much later how hard he had worked to get where he was. He had had time to evolve, which is what made him so good. He had time to marinate.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Also on this day...
- 1974: Live: Community War Memorial, Rochester
- 1971: Recording: Man In The Middle, Looking For A Friend by The Arnold Corns
- 1968: Audition: Hair
Want more? Visit the David Bowie history section.