In the studio
Bowie was released from his contract with the Pye label in the autumn of 1966. With three members of his band the Buzz – Dek Fearnley, Derek Boyes and John Eager – plus additional session musicians, he recorded three songs in a single session at RG Jones Studios in Surrey on 18 October. The songs were ‘The London Boys’, ‘Rubber Band’, and an early version of ‘Please Mr Gravedigger’.
Bowie’s manager Kenneth Pitt played the recordings to Hugh Mendl, who worked in A&R for the Decca label’s new pop and easy listening imprint, Deram. Mendl passed the song on to Decca producer Mike Vernon, who bought the rights to the three songs and agreed to record an album.
He sounded like bloody Anthony Newley on all those first singles I made with him. It bothered Mike Vernon and me because we’d say, ‘Bowie’s really good and his songs are fucking great, but he sounds like Anthony Newley.’ I was an engineer at the time and I didn’t know if it was a plus or a minus but it felt like it was possibly a minus. But he did it so well that it was really rather good!
Strange Fascination, David Buckley
The David Bowie sessions began on 14 November 1966 at studio two in Decca’s West Hampstead facility, where the whole album was recorded. Bowie’s band were paid fixed rates as session musicians, and Fearnley received an arranger’s credit. Mike Vernon was the producer, with Gus Dudgeon – who later produced Bowie’s first hit ‘Space Oddity’ – engineering.
I spent time with David and Dek Fearnley, who worked with David on the arrangements for the record. He had already recorded some things – whether they had come out via Decca, I don’t know. We had various meetings to go through the songs, one at Dek Fearnley’s house somewhere in Kent, and once at my flat in Hampstead Garden Suburb. There were plenty of songs. I’m not saying there were loads that we didn’t do, but there were options and they all sounded very interesting. Whether I believed in it or not as a product is a completely different matter.
I had to look at it from the point of view that if I am being paid to produce this record I must do the best job I possibly can – my interest was more blues, rhythm and blues, and jazz. Bowie was on a different planet altogether – it was hard for me but I did my job to the best of my ability. I was helped enormously by Gus Dudgeon. I got him involved as he was a bit quirky and I thought he would get on well with Bowie, and in fact they did, like a house on fire, and worked together at a later date.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
The first day saw the recording of ‘Uncle Arthur’ and ‘She’s Got Medals’; a follow-up ten days later, on 24 November, was even more productive, yielding four songs: ‘There Is A Happy Land’, ‘We Are Hungry Men’, ‘Join The Gang’ and ‘Did You Ever Have A Dream’ – the last of these became the b-side of ‘Love You Till Tuesday’. Also contributing to the session was session musician Big Jim Sullivan, who played acoustic guitar and sitar on ‘Join The Gang’.
‘Little Bombardier’, ‘Sell Me A Coat’, ‘Silly Boy Blue’ and ‘Maid Of Bond Street’ were taped on 8 and 9 December. ‘Sell Me A Coat’ had already been earmarked as Bowie’s next single, although it wasn’t to be.
‘Come And Buy My Toys’ was completed on 12 December, with John Renbourne on acoustic guitar. Bowie and Renbourne also worked together on an unreleased beat poem parody titled ‘Bunny Thing’.
A new version of ‘Please Mr Gravedigger’ was laid down on the following day, 13 December. This was supposed to be the last recording session for the album, although more overdubs were added in 1967.
On 25 February the song ‘Rubber Band’ was re-recorded, and ‘Love You Till Tuesday’ and ‘When I Live My Dream’ were both completed. The three songs were arranged by orchestrator Arthur Greenslade, and were recorded and mixed in a session running from 10am to 6pm.
More mixing followed on 29 February, and the album was finished on 1 March 1967, with the completion of mono and stereo mixes.
The way it turned out was very much determined by the songs, and by the arrangements Dek wrote. They were very much complementary to the song. There were some very off-the-wall solos played by instruments you wouldn’t expect to hear. The way it was set up was there was a basic room session, then we would bring in special people to play clarinet or tuba and so on. It’s not that different to how the Beatles made music. They were overdubbed at a later date when we thought it would work rather than waste someone’s time coming in and decide you didn’t like it. We didn’t want to waste time or money.
With Bowie we didn’t start ’til the afternoon and worked ’til late. I think we did everything in Studio 2 at the Decca Studios at 165 Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead, which was the one we used for pop records. I don’t think we did any sessions in Studio 3 or Studio 1 – it was right next to the Railway Tavern, which upstairs had the club Klooks Kleek.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
Two other songs dating from the David Bowie sessions were considered for inclusion. ‘Your Funny Smile’ and ‘Bunny Thing’ both featured on an early acetate of the album, prepared in December 1966, but were later dropped. Another session outtake, ‘Pussy Cat’, remains similarly unreleased.
On the acetate, side one of the album had the running order: ‘Uncle Arthur’, ‘Sell Me A Coat’, ‘Your Funny Smile’, ‘Did You Ever Have A Dream’, ‘There Is A Happy Land’, ‘Bunny Thing’. Side two was the same as the eventual release. Missing altogether at this stage were the songs ‘Rubber Band’, ‘Love You Till Tuesday’, ‘We Are Hungry Men’ and ‘When I Live My Dream’.