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.
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.
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’.