Live: Earls Court, London

David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars performed at London’s Earls Court on 12 May 1973.

It was the 112th date of the Ziggy Stardust Tour, which had begun on 29 January 1972. It was also the start of the final leg of the tour, which took in England and Scotland.

The 18,000 tickets sold out in three hours, and it became Bowie’s biggest concert to date. However, his manager Tony Defries had failed to consider that Earls Court was not set up for large rock shows, and the PA and acoustics proved inadequate.

Personally, I’m not worried by what is said about it… we were the first band to experiment with the place, and if I remember rightly the Rainbow had exactly the same kind of reception when it first opened as a venue. We had a similar problem with Earls Court apparently. After about three-quarters of the way back, everything was totally lost and it became just an aerodrome. Somebody had been put in charge of getting the acoustics together, and it hadn’t been done sufficiently well.
David Bowie
NME, 9 June 1973

Fans moved forward to see and hear better, and the band were forced to temporarily leave the stage while order was restored. Newspaper headlines included “Bowie Fiasco – What Went Wrong?” and “Aladdin Distress”, and the experience meant the final Ziggy Stardust Tour shows were moved to Hammersmith Odeon.

The gig was a disaster. The PA system, which Robin Mayhew and his Sound Control team had controlled reasonably successfully (apart from my stage monitors as you know) for both the US and Japanese tours, just could not cope with the cavernous acoustics of the huge exhibition hall. The lighting crew had a similar problem in that they just didn’t have enough gear, or enough power even if they had, to light the stage adequately in the huge gloomy space that was Earls Court.

It transpired that in fact no rock concert had ever before been held at the venue. David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars were the first, the guinea pigs, and the nine of us on-stage, plus the harassed sound, lighting and road crews were to pay the price for Tony Defries’s overambitious gamble.

The band knew right away, at the sound check, that we were in big trouble. The on-stage monitors were useless to me as usual, but whereas I would normally hear something of the overall sound in the auditorium, at Earls Court all I heard was a cacophony of slap-back echoes, criss-crossing and colliding. We were all experienced musicians and the others had certainly encountered poor acoustics in town halls and church buildings in the past, just as I had myself, so we resolved to make the best of it and the gig started as planned to a roar of welcome from 18,000 enthusiastic Londoners.

Several thousand people towards the back of the hall quickly realised that they were unable to see or hear anything of the show that they had paid good money to see and hear. Shouts of protest from the disgruntled people at the back led to scuffles between fans, and between fans and security men. Some drunken members of the audience took their opportunity to misbehave badly, and they danced naked and even urinated in the aisles – so we were told later anyway. Twice David was forced to stop the show, and he appealed in vain for order to be restored.

John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson
Bowie & Hutch

The setlist

Bowie returned to Earls Court on 29 and 30 June and 1 July 1978 during the Isolar II Tour.

Last updated: 10 May 2023
Radio: Scene And Heard
Travel: London to Aberdeen
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