Recorded: 25, 26 November 1981
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Arranger/conductor: Dominic Muldowney
Released: 13 March 1982
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982)
David Bowie: vocals
Eckehard Scholl: piano
Bernd Machus: bandoneon
Ingo Cramer: guitar
Michael Bucher: tuba
Thomas Hoffmann: drums
Erwin Milzkott: flute
Joachim Welz: clarinet
David Kreitner: alto saxophone
Axel-Glenn Müller: tenor saxophone
René Waintz: trumpet
Ralf Armbruster: trombone
Hans-Joachim Glas: concert master
Uwe Weniger: viola
Rolf Becker: cello
Ulrich Berggold: contrabass
David Bowie In Bertolt Brecht’s Baal is a five-track EP containing songs by the playwright Bertolt Brecht.
Brecht wrote Baal, his first full-length play, in 1918, yet it was not performed in public until 1923. Its premiere took place on 8 December that year at the Altes Theater in Leipzig, and it was reworked for a 1926 production in Berlin.
The BBC adaptation was directed by Alan Clarke, who was best known for his social realism works for television and cinema. These included Scum, Made In Britain, and the feature film Rita, Sue And Bob Too.
Clarke envisaged a stark television version of Baal, using split-screen effects to convey Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, the distancing effect in theatre and cinema in which the actor directly addresses the audience in order to make conscious critical observers of them.
The play was adapted for the small screen by John Willett, produced by Louis Marks and directed by Alan Clarke. The three approached David Bowie after noting his performance as the lead in The Elephant Man, and correctly guessed that the singer had an interest in Brecht and Weimer-era Germany.
Bowie had been introduced to Brecht in the late 1960s by mime artist Linsday Kemp. He had absorbed the works of Brecht while living in Los Angeles in the mid-70s, a period in which he had become obsessed with Germany. Clarke and Marks visited Bowie at his home in Vevey, Switzerland in July 1981, and were impressed by the scale and depth of his knowledge.
To their delight he readily agreed to appear in the play. Four weeks of rehearsals took place in Acton, London, before the week-long shoot from 8-12 August 1981. It was first broadcast by the BBC the following March, and the EP David Bowie In Bertolt Brecht’s Baal was released to coincide.
Bowie performed a series of songs in the TV adaptation, with lyrics translated by Willett and Ralph Manheim. They were given a simple banjo accompaniment on screen, but it was decided that they would benefit from a fuller arrangement for the record release.