Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: 16-17 July 1969
Producer: Tony Visconti
Engineers: Ken Scott, Malcolm Toft, Barry Sheffield
Released: 14 November 1969
David Bowie (1969)
The Width Of A Circle
David Bowie: vocals, guitar
Tim Renwick: guitar, clarinet, recorder
Tony Visconti: bass guitar, recorder
The shadow of David Bowie’s former lover Hermione Farthingale looms large over several of the songs on his second self-titled album. Although most evident in ‘Letter To Hermione’, it has a counterpart in the album’s second half, in ‘An Occasional Dream’.
This is another reflection of Hermione who I was very hung up about.
Disc and Music Echo, 25 October 1969
The two songs cover similar ground, a first-personal confessional directly addressing Bowie’s former paramour. In ‘An Occasional Dream’ he recalls the rented room in London’s Clareville Grove, which they shared from August 1968 until their separation in early 1969. This was a time of transition and experimentation for Bowie, whose early efforts at stardom had come to nothing, and left him casting around for artistic identity and direction.
I think David expresses himself beautifully. But they weren’t written and handed to me, there wasn’t any ulterior motive. Obviously they strike into the heart. They’re wonderful, wonderful love songs, whoever they’re for… To me, that’s just the David I know. Who was very personal. These weren’t works of fiction, they were just heartfelt songs.
In the studio
In March 1969, Bowie and John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson recorded ten demos at Mercury Records’ UK headquarters in Knightsbridge, London. The tapes, which included versions of ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Janine’, ‘An Occasional Dream’, ‘Conversation Piece’, ‘Ching-A-Ling’, ‘I’m Not Quite’, ‘Love Song’, ‘When I’m Five’, ‘Lover To The Dawn’, and ‘Life Is A Circus’, were released in 2019 as The ‘Mercury’ Demos.
The Mercury demo of ‘An Occasional Dream’ was not far removed from the final album version, although it featured additional lines sung by Hutchinson.
A second demo, again recorded with Hutchinson, was first released on the 40th anniversary reissue of Bowie’s second album in 2009. This version was taped at Bowie’s Clareville Grove home.
On 16 July 1969, following the release of the ‘Space Oddity’ single, sessions for the rest of the album began at Trident Studios in central London.
I think this was the other ‘letter’ to Hermione, a very romantic song. We can’t remember the drummer’s name on this, he was an older jazz musician and I don’t know how we came to meet him. It could’ve been through an agency. He was a good drummer, but he counted off in a military squadron sergeant’s voice (as in ‘hup-two-three-four’) which set us giggling before one take and he knew we were laughing at him. Let us just say we never really bonded. I played bass and recorders along with Tim Renwick who also played the clarinet. It’s lovely when you discover that a rock guitarist like Tim also studied ‘serious music’ and could read off a written page. Tim also played guitar and David is on 12-string.
Five Years (1969-1973) book
On the first day, two sessions took place, from 2-5pm and 7pm to midnight. Bowie and his band recorded ‘Janine’, ‘An Occasional Dream’, and ‘Letter To Hermione’. The first two songs were returned to the following day.
‘An Occasional Dream’ was one of two songs on Bowie’s second album on which Visconti played bass guitar,; the other being ‘Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’.
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’.