1. Outside album coverWritten by: David Bowie, Brian Eno
Recorded: January – February 1995
Producers: David Bowie, Brian Eno, David Richards

Released: 25 September 1995

Available on:
1.Outside
No Trendy Réchauffé (Live Birmingham 95)
Ouvrez Le Chien (Live Dallas 95)

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals
Brian Eno: keyboards, synthesizer
Carlos Alomar: guitar
Yossi Fine: bass guitar
Joey Barron: drums

The most conventionally pop moment on David Bowie’s 1.Outside album is ‘I Have Not Been To Oxford Town’, sung from the perspective of murder suspect and prisoner Leon Blank.

The song finds Leon Blank in a prison awaiting trial for the murder of Baby Grace Blue. It is perhaps the most conventional piece of storytelling on 1.Outside which, like all of Bowie’s concept albums, often strays from the core narrative.

Listened to D. B. disc (after swimming and park and lunch). Strong, muddy, prolix, gritty, Garsonic, modern (self-consciously, ironically so). Every rhythm section superb (even mine). Some acceptable complexity merging into not-so-acceptable muddle; several really beautiful songs (‘Motel’, ‘Oxford Town’, ‘Strangers’, others). The only thing missing: space – the nerve to be very simple. But an indisputably ‘outside’ record. I wish it was shorter. I wish nearly all records were shorter.
Brian Eno, 19 January 1995
A Year with Swollen Appendices

Key to the backing track are Carlos Alomar’s layered, scratchy rhythm guitar parts, a showcase in effective and economical playing. Alomar was underused on 1.Outside, much of which was improvised in Montreux with Reeves Gabrels on guitar, but ‘I Have Not Been To Oxford Town’ and ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ show the range of Alomar, always one of Bowie’s most versatile and dependable sidemen.

In the studio

Work began on the song on the afternoon of 17 January 1995. That morning was spent unsuccessfully on ‘I’m Deranged’, after which Brian Eno suggested they work on a new song. In the studio were Bowie, Eno, guitarist Carlos Alomar, and drummer Joey Barron.

After lunch I suggested not trying to throw more overdubs at half-formed songs in the hope they’d be rescued by sheer firepower, but instead start a new piece.
Brian Eno, 17 January 1995
A Year with Swollen Appendices

Work continued on the song – which had the working title ‘Trio’ – the following day.

After he’d [Bowie] gone (mid-afternoon) I worked on the new thing I started in desperation with Carlos and Joey yesterday – currently called ‘Trio’. That came out well: swampy and viscous, something you might find in Unusual Books – ‘Erect Man in Mud’, or ‘Semi-naked Woman in Dense Syrup’. Very weird.
Brian Eno, 18 January 1995
A Year with Swollen Appendices

Eno’s diary gave a fascinating insight into Bowie’s creative process, and his ability to translate a complex vision into music. The moment the song came together came on the next day, when it became known as ‘Toll The Bell’.

The thing I started last night really burst into life today when David heard it. Bizarre: he sat down and started writing the song on the first hearing, listened once more and said, ‘I’ll need five tracks.’ Then he went into the vocal booth and sang the most obscure thing imaginable – long spaces; little, incomplete lines. On track 2 he sang a companion part to that, on track 3 a ‘question’ to which tracks 1 and 2 had been the ‘answers’, and then, on the other two tracks, the lead lines! So he unfolded the whole thing in reverse, keeping us in suspense for the main song. Within half an hour he’d substantially finished what may be the most infectious song we’ve ever written together – currently called ‘Toll The Bell’. What’s fascinating is that he has glided over my careful structure, rambled around it in a fantastic way – so that you have two structures floating together, but not locked in an obvious way. This makes me think of two things: first, my recent evangelical buzzword, ‘unlocked’, and, second, those Peter Eisenman buildings (of which I have been very suspicious) which utilize two different grid systems intersecting. There’s something lovely about the almost accidental relationship between these two strata – music and song – which share the same sonic space. The song had everyone going.
Brian Eno, 19 January 1995
A Year with Swollen Appendices

Live performances

David Bowie performed ‘I Have Not Been To Oxford Town’ throughout the Outside Tour in 1995-6.

The first performance was on 12 September 1995 at the Meadows Music Theater in Hartford, CT, the opening date of the tour.

Bowie last performed the song on 4 June 1996 at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan. This was the opening show of his Outside Summer Festivals Tour; afterwards it was dropped from his set.

Recordings of ‘I Have Not Been To Oxford Town’ from 1995 can be heard on the 2020 live albums No Trendy Réchauffé (Live Birmingham 95) and Ouvrez Le Chien (Live Dallas 95).