In the studio (continued)

Another significant figure at the sessions was engineer Ken Scott, who had worked with the Beatles at EMI Studios on Abbey Road. He was hired by Visconti to co-engineer Bowie’s album with Trident co-owner Barry Sheffield.

Tony was definitely in control of the sessions and the arrangements, with David saying little after the players learned the song. Later during mixing, it was all Tony again, with David rarely around, a practice he would continue during all the albums I did with him.
Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust

Ken Scott reprised the engineering role on The Man Who Sold The World, and went on to produce Bowie’s subsequent four albums – Hunky Dory, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane, and Pinups.

Recording David’s album was interesting, although I was not sure that Junior’s Eyes was the best choice for all the songs. We eventually used some session men to finish the album; I also played bass, recorder and added some backing vocals. The highlight of this album was the re-recording of ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’. I didn’t like the throwaway B-side version that Dudgeon recorded, with Paul Buckmaster playing avant-garde cello to David’s simple 12-string guitar accompaniment. I heard a Wagnerian orchestra in my head. I convinced Mercury to allow me to use a fifty-piece orchestra for just this song and then spent five days writing an arrangement. It was based on David’s guitar chords and would require him to sit in the middle of the orchestra and play guitar without singing (we recorded his vocal afterwards).

On the day of recording we started rehearsing at 10 a.m. in Trident studios. It was very stressful, made more so by the fact that Trident’s new 16-track machine wasn’t working well at all. Our 1 p.m. deadline for the orchestra’s departure was fast approaching, and any extension was out of the question as overtime was too expensive. With ten minutes to go the tech staff made the machine work a little better and we were able to record just one take to tape. We listened to it just once as the clock showed one o’clock; we had a harrowing happy ending.

Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

Visconti later expressed dissatisfaction with the David Bowie album, putting it down to his inexperience in the studio.

I must confess that my work was naive (bordering on sloppy) on this album. It was my second album production, and I really didn’t know too much about the quality control of sound and how to turbo-charge the sound of instruments for rock – I always left it up to the engineer, and this young Visconti couldn’t attract or afford the talents of the Geoff Emerick or Glyn Johns yet. I am, however, proud of several tracks where I felt more comfortable in my capacity of bass player and recorder player, as in ‘Letter To Hermione’ and ‘An Occasional Dream’.
Tony Visconti
tonyvisconti.com

Like Bowie’s first album, the recording sessions were spread out over seven weeks from July to the end of September 1969, owing to other commitments including live dates, TV and radio appearances, trips to Malta and Tuscany, and illness. On 3 August Bowie was informed that his father John Jones was seriously ill with pneumonia. Bowie rushed to the family home at 4 Plaistow Grove where he found Jones semi-conscious.

Two days later, during a Trident recording session, Bowie took a phone call and was informed that his father had died. Bowie was devastated and wept, although his fellow musicians were not told why. The bereavement helped inspire the album track ‘Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed’.

John Jones was buried on 11 August 1969, around the time that Bowie and his new girlfriend Angela Barnett (later Angie Bowie) moved into Haddon Hall at 42 Southend Road in Beckenham. He was also closely involved in the organisation of a free festival at the Beckenham Arts Lab, which took place on 16 August and was commemorated in Bowie’s song ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’.

Work on the album was complete by September, with the final edits made by Visconti on 3 October. The producer settled on the final running order three days later.