Released: 8 November 1993
David Bowie: guitar, keyboards, saxophone, synthesizer, percussion
Erdal Kızılçay: guitar, keyboards, saxophone, synthesizer, percussion
‘Ian Fish, UK Heir’ is the penultimate track on David Bowie’s 1993 album The Buddha Of Suburbia.
The title is an anagram of Hanif Kureishi, the author of the 1990 novel of the same name. Bowie supplied the soundtrack for the BBC’s television dramatisation. Kureishi, like Bowie, was brought up in Bromley and attended Bromley Tech, although Bowie was seven years his senior.
I played the classical guitar on ‘Ian Fish, UK Heir’. That was from Ravel or maybe Brahms. David took it two octaves lower, he was always very interested in unusual things.
Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001) book
One of several instrumentals on the album, ‘Ian Fish, UK Heir’ is a brooding, synth-heavy piece reminiscent of Bowie’s experimental work on Low and “Heroes”. It uses the chord structure and other elements from ‘Buddha Of Suburbia’, slowed down to a crawl (listen out for the “down on my knees in suburbia” section, played on a guitar, from the 2:40 mark), with additional instruments and ghostlike wordless vocals sprinkled over the top.
I’ll tell a little of the working methods: I took each theme or motif from the play and initially stretched or lengthened it to a five or six minute duration. By means of time-code I experimented with various rhythmic elements, drums, percussion, temple blocks, et al until I found a sense of companionship to the primary motif. Then, having noted which musical key I was in and having counted the number of bars, I would often pull down the faders leaving just the percussive element with no harmonic informations to refer to. Working in layers I would then build up reinforcements in the key of the composition totally blind so to speak. When all faders were pushed up again a number of clashes would make themselves evident. The more dangerous or attractive ones would then be isolated and repeated at varying intervals so giving the impression of forethought.
On two pieces, ‘The Mysteries’ and ‘Ian Fish’, the original tape was slowed down, opening up the thick texture dramatically and then Erdal would play the thematic information against it.
The Buddha Of Suburbia sleeve notes
Two months after Bowie had agreed to work on the TV show’s soundtrack, Kureishi and scriptwriter/director Roger Michell were invited to Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, to hear the works in progress.
How could we not feel intimidated? What could schoolboys like us say to the greatest and most famous, who had written over 300 songs, including ‘Rebel-Rebel’? (In the pub in Bromley High Street we played his records on the juke-box constantly, kids at different tables suddenly yelling, as one, during conversation ‘Suffragette City, oh yeah!’) Now we were sitting a few paces from Lake Geneva; yards away, in the other direction, was the house in which Stravinski composed ‘The Rite of Spring’. And in the studio the familiar pictures of The Buddha ran on the monitor suspended over the mixing desk, which was dotted with dozens of buttons, levers and swinging gauges, alongside which were banked computers. All this, not to launch space ships, but to make sweet music!
At the end we sighed. Relief was palpable. Bowie saw, though, that some of the music altered the mood of the scene. Repeatedly he re-wrote, adjusted cues and thought about how composing music for films is different to writing songs.
‘Ian Fish, UK Heir’ appeared on both the 1993 and 2001 versions of Bowie’s instrumentals compilation All Saints.
It also appeared in three versions on the soundtrack of Brett Morgen’s 2022 film Moonage Daydream.