One afternoon later in January, a photoshoot took place at 29 Heddon Street, the studio run by Brian Ward where the cover photography for Hunky Dory had also been taken. Heddon Street was a quiet lane just off Regent Street in the heart of London.
Ward took various shots of the band, including the close-up portraits which adorned the album’s inner sleeve. Towards the end of the session he suggested the band go outside for more pictures before the daylight became too poor, but the band opted to remain inside.
Bowie, however, was happy to stand in the light rain and be photographed. He wore a jumpsuit designed by Freddie Burretti, with fake diamond beads sewn into the crotch, his Yamamoto platform boots, and a Gibson Les Paul guitar borrowed from Mark Pritchett.
Various shots were taken along Heddon Street, including some both outside and inside a red public telephone box at the north end of the street, and against the doorways of various businesses. One such business, K. West, was based at Burlington Buildings at number 21 (not 23, as is often claimed), and Bowie was photographed beneath the sign affixed to their wall. He actually stood by the doorway of the next building, number 23, with the K. West sign just behind him.
K. West was founded in 1903 by Henry Konn, a Polish immigrant who imported fur. The letter K stood for Konn, and West referred to the West End of London. The firm remained at the Heddon Street address until 1991.
The company directors were initially unhappy with their signage being used on the cover of Bowie’s album, and within weeks of its release their lawyers contacted RCA:
Our clients are Furriers of high repute who deal with a clientele generally far removed from the pop music world. Our clients certainly have no wish to be associated with Mr Bowie or this record as it might be assumed that there was some connection between out client’s firm and Mr Bowie, which is certainly not the case.
Soon enough, however, they became more relaxed about the association, and became used to fans having their photographs taken outside the building. The sign remained on the wall for several years, but was later replaced by one for a company named Alphabet. It was eventually bought by a Bowie fan in the late 1980s.
Bowie returned to Heddon Street several times in later years, occasionally taking friends on a tour of London locations from his past. In 1981 he visited while writer and actor Tim Whitnall was taking photographs. To Whitnall’s surprise, Bowie agreed to have his photograph taken underneath the K. West sign.
On 1 March 1993, Bowie took Rolling Stone journalist David Sinclair on a tour of London locations, including Trident Studios and Heddon Street. He found the scene of the Ziggy Stardust photoshoot had changed somewhat, though some aspects remained.
“We’re gonna have to suss this out a bit… Everything’s gone, obviously. There was a photographer up here called Brian Ward, I think it was this building here, and outside the building there was a phone box…” There is indeed a phone box, a squat, modern blue job. Suddenly, the realisation dawns. This is where the photography for the cover artwork of Ziggy Stardust was done. But of course it’s all changed. For one thing, the sort of big, red enclosed phone box in which Bowie posed for the shot on the back of the sleeve is a thing of the past.
A woman walking up the street toward her office greets Bowie with a genial smile. “They took your phone box away, isn’t it terrible?” she says. Whatever Bowie may say about wearing glasses and keeping his head down, his is still a face that few people fail instantly to recognize. The woman informs him that the photographer has moved on and so has the company K. West, under whose sign Bowie stood with his foot up on a rubbish bin twenty-one years ago. Amazingly, the old light above the doorway is still there, but the famous sign was auctioned off as part of a sale of rock & roll memorabilia. At home, Bowie has got hundreds of photographs of fans who have sent him pictures of themselves with their foot on a dustbin under the K. West sign.
“It’s such a shame that sign went,” Bowie says. “People read so much into it. They thought K. West must be some sort of code for quest. It took on all these sort of mystical overtones.
“We did the photographs outside on a rainy night,” Bowie continues. “And then upstairs in the studio we did the Clockwork Orange lookalikes that became the inner sleeve. The idea was to hit a look somewhere between the Malcolm McDowell thing with the one mascaraed eyelash and insects. It was the era of Wild Boys, by William S Burroughs. That was a really heavy book that had come out in about 1970, and it was a cross between that and Clockwork Orange that really started to put together the shape and the look of what Ziggy and the Spiders were going to become. They were both powerful pieces of work, especially the marauding boy gangs of Burroughs’s Wild Boys with their bowie knives. I got straight on to that. I read everything into everything. Everything had to be infinitely symbolic.”
As with the Hunky Dory sleeve, Brian Ward’s cover photography was in monochrome. It was colourised by Terry Pastor, who co-ran the Main Artery design studio in Covent Garden. During the process Bowie’s hair – still in its natural light brown colour – was given a blonde tint.
Pastor also illustrated the lettering on the front cover with Letraset, then airbrushed red and yellow before white stars were added to the words ‘Ziggy Stardust’.
David phoned to ask how it was going. I told him the front was done and I had started on the photo for the back sleeve and he was really surprised there would also be a retouched photo on the back. He was excited and said ‘I can’t wait to see it.’
Any Day Now, Kevin Cann
Beneath the album credits on the back cover were the words: “TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME.” This instruction was omitted from later reissues, although it was restored on the 2015 reissue, which was a faithful replication of the original.
Although almost all of Bowie’s album covers featured a picture of the singer, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust was unusual in that Bowie occupied a small proportion of the front cover, and his glamorous clothing was not shown off to its full extent. In an era in which a good image was vital for an aspiring star, the choice of cover photograph is perhaps surprising, although he was more visible on the back cover.