Hunky Dory had been released on 17 December 1971. Almost as soon as that album hit the record store shelves, however, Bowie had moved on to his next incarnation.
On 22 January the Melody Maker published an interview in which Bowie told journalist Michael Watts: “I’m gay and always have been, even when I was David Jones.” The confession was remarkable for the times, and caused a media storm. The publicity was immense, even if some publications and readers were less enthusiastic, and Bowie’s provocative declaration – regardless of its accuracy – made Bowie a figurehead for not only gay fans, but also the disaffected and misunderstood.
A week later, Ziggy and the Spiders made their first onstage appearance in their full glam regalia. They performed on 29 January at the Friars Club in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, at a show where Bowie was billed as “The most beautiful person in the world”. Ostensibly, the show was promoting Hunky Dory, but Bowie and the band played several as-yet unreleased songs from the Ziggy Stardust album.
On 7 February they performed three songs for the BBC television show The Old Grey Whistle Test. Bowie’s publicist at Gem, Anya Wilson, had been lobbying the BBC for over a year, but executives had been wary of Bowie’s appearance, particularly the Mr Fish dress he wore around the time of The Man Who Sold The World. Wilson had an ally in Jenny Evans, the assistant of Whistle Test‘s series producer Mike Appleton, and both worked quickly to secure Bowie a slot when the show was an act short.
Jenny made sure I had David available and ran into Mike offering Bowie for the show. With some arm twisting and the fact they were really under the gun, we were on. As soon as the show was in progress and they found out they were dealing with an extremely talented, charismatic professional with showmanship galore, they fell in love with David and we never had a hard time with the show again.
Any Day Now, Kevin Cann
The band performed ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ and ‘Queen Bitch’ from Hunky Dory, along with ‘Five Years’ from the forthcoming album. It was Bowie and the band’s first TV appearance, and was broadcast the following evening, on Tuesday 8 February 1972.
The Ziggy Stardust Tour
By this time Bowie was on the cusp of stardom. Nonetheless, the tour that transformed his fortunes began inauspiciously.
The first date of the Ziggy Stardust Tour took place on Thursday 10 February at the Toby Jug in Tolworth, Surrey. Billed as simply David Bowie – the Spiders From Mars were rarely credited in publicity at this stage – it was Bowie’s final pub gig. Angie Bowie was operating the stage lights, and Nicky Graham played piano with the group.
The first leg of the tour continued throughout England, plus a single show each in Scotland and Wales, before finishing on 7 September 1972 at the Top Rank Suite in Hanley, Staffordshire.
But that was far from the end of the tour. On 22 September the band performed their first US show at the Cleveland Music Hall in Cleveland, Ohio. It continued in North America until early December, when the band returned for more British shows which took them into the new year.
The band returned to the US for more shows in February and March, before switching to Japan for nine dates in April. They were back in the UK on 12 May, where they remained until the tour ended on 3 July 1973 at London’s Hammersmith Odeon – the legendary show where Bowie famously broke up the Spiders From Mars.
The line-up of musicians varied as the tour progressed, although the core of Bowie, Ronson, Bolder and Woodmansey remained unchanged. And although it was always the Ziggy Stardust Tour, it was also in support of the follow-up album Aladdin Sane, released on 13 April 1973. In all, the tour lasted 18 months and took in over 170 shows across three continents.
The whole Ziggy Stardust thing was 18 months, from beginning to end, it was a really short period of time. And that includes Aladdin Sane. And Aladdin Sane, I guess what I was doing on that, I was trying to start moving into the next area I wanted to go in. But using a rather pale imitation of Ziggy as a secondary device. And in my mind it was Ziggy Goes To Washington: Ziggy under the influence of America. But it allowed me to be a little freer in what direction I was going to take.