Forty years ago today…Tigers on Vaseline in Leeds

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON JUNE 29, 2013

Exactly forty years ago today, on Friday 29 June 1973, music fans in Leeds were treated to one of the strangest couplings of performer and venue in rock and roll history as Ziggy Stardust touched down for two shows in the unlikely setting of the Rollarena, a roller skating hall on Kirkstall Road, Burley, Leeds. Hammersmith, and David Bowie’s last ever show as the Starman, was to follow only four days later. I was there, and it only took me another thirty-nine years to weave Bowie into A Matter of Life and Death.

The gig I’d been so eagerly awaiting on my home turf had been scheduled for earlier in the tour at Leeds University but was cancelled at short notice, apparently because the stage was too small. This led to an emergency announcement on Yorkshire TV to alert gig goers who by then, no doubt, were fully made up, be-sequined and ready for action. I know I was.

The ‘small stage’ excuse was somewhat suspicious as bands including The Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd had graced the same venue over the previous two years but possibly the real reason lay in the rumour that the band were smashed out of their minds at their hotel just outside of Leeds – the Post House at Bramhope as I recall. The staff were said to have witnessed considerable debauchery among the entourage that night, but then they were probably more used to having the stars of local TV productions such as Les Dawson, Barry Cryer and John Cleese as guests. A quick look at Bowie’s tour itinerary that June lists cancelled shows at Portsmouth and Coventry as well which may give a clue as to the level of ‘tour fatigue’ going down.

The re-scheduled gig, when it arrived nearly four weeks later at the end of the month, was a never to be forgotten experience. I managed to sneak a cassette player in and recorded segments of the show (I can only imagine I was saving the battery by recording some rather than all of the gig). The sound quality made Live at Max’s Kansas City sound like Sergeant Pepper when I played it back, but play it back many times I did. The Spiders came on to the Walter Carlos’ version of Beethoven’s Ninth from the film Clockwork Orange, and went straight into ‘Hang On To Yourself’. The crowd, even without skates, moved like tigers on Vaseline and never stopped until the end of the encore – White Light, White Heat (or maybe that was the last one on my old tape).

The only problem with the whole Ziggy at the Rollarena experience was the subsequent Pennebaker film, which was fantastic but over time began to inform the memory so that recollections of Leeds fall into line. What I’d give for that crackly audiocassette tape now.

Bowie is now the watchword for any artist who goes through unforced changes in a quest for fresh creativity. I referenced this myself in A Matter of Life and Death (below). All these years later, it’s still one of the most memorable gigs I’ve ever attended.

Wham, bam, thank you Ma’am.