Fifty years ago, on Friday 29 June 1973, one of the strangest couplings of performer and venue in rock and roll history took place as David Bowie touched down for two shows in the unlikely setting of the Rollarena, a roller-skating hall on Kirkstall Road in Burley, Leeds. Hammersmith, and Bowie’s last ever show as Ziggy Stardust, would follow four days later.
The gig I’d so eagerly awaited 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-sequinned and ready for action. I know I was.
The ‘small stage’ excuse was somewhat suspicious as bands including The Rolling 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 heads at their hotel just outside of Leeds – the Post House at Bramhope as I recall. The staff there 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, which may give a clue as to the level of ‘tour fatigue’ going down.
Worth the wait
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. 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.
Tigers on Vaseline
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. What I’d give for that crackly audiocassette tape now).
Memories of that show at the Rollarena were subsequently hijacked – or cemented – by the Pennebaker Hammersmith film, which is fantastic, but not Leeds. Same but different! I’ve already got my tickets for the 50th anniversary cinema screening on 3 July.
Wham, Bam, thank you Ma’am
I still go to plenty of gigs, but even after all these years that night stands out as an all-time great. Wham, bam, thank you Ma’am.