Thursday, 11 May 2017

And Ziggy played the Poly

Fifty years ago today (12th May) Procul Harem’s A Whiter Shade of Pale was released  - a seminal record and one which was subject to a well publicised copyright dispute around joint authorship. In fact the victor there, Matthew Fisher, can be doubly pleased as changes to duration provisions in copyright law now mean that copyright in the sound recording now persists to 2037, rather than finishing in 2017. 

Whilst not as seminal, on this date 45 years ago David Bowie played our Law School Building. To mark Bowie’s passing we produced a spotify playlist replicating the set list he was alleged to have played that day and this is available here.  Our Little Titchfield Street site has a fabulous musical pedigree and history, with many bands playing here in the 1960s and 1970s, a selection of posters  from this time, sourced from our University Archives, are on display in the Law School and available on line here. To mark this 45th anniversary we are delighted to present a guest blog from our very own Chris Ellins, Course Leader of the LLM Entertainment Law at the University of Westminster  

The photo for the album sleeve was in fact taken in Heddon Street,
a stone's throw from the University.

 And Ziggy played guitar – at the University of Westminster
by Chris Ellins

45 years ago on 12 May 1972, as part of what became his iconic Ziggy Stardust tour, David Bowie and his band, The Spiders from Mars played at the Little Titchfield Street venue of the Polytechnic of Central London (which had recently changed name but was still widely known as Regent Street Polytechnic), both predecessors of the University of Westminster. It was the tour that would start his ascent into becoming a global icon. Little Titchfield Street was the home to the student union and a hub of student musical activity at the university and a popular venue on the student circuit. It played host to many bands and singers of the 1960s and 1970s, including Cream and early incarnations of Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac and also was the first place that Jimi Hendrix performed in the United Kingdom.

Bowie released Hunky Dory in December 1971 and in 1972 followed this up with a tour to promote that album and the emerging Ziggy Stardust. The first part of the tour included many colleges on the student tour circuit and the gig at the University of Westminster was part of this. David Bowie was not as well-known or popular at the time as he became, he had only just secured a new 3 album record contract in the summer of 1971 and many gigs were reported not to be full. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album was released in June 1972, was followed by a tour of larger venues and then the USA later in the year and David Bowie the legend was born. On the Hunky Dory album Bowie referred to himself as an actor and it’s clear the gig at the University of Westminster took place at the moment just before Bowie was on the cusp of worldwide fame during which he was consolidating the development of his Ziggy Stardust persona and showed his acute interest in performance and the art of drama and stagecraft, with his stage shows featuring lights, extravagant (for the time) stage costumes  and costume changes, all mixed with his projection of skilled musicianship and ambiguous sexuality – a whole enveloping dramatic and musical experience. One footnote to the show was that the tour featured guest keyboard players. At the time of the Polytechnic of Central London gig this was Matthew Fisher who had played with Procol Harum, in particular on their famous song Whiter Shade of Pale, which had been released fifty years ago and exactly five years to the day before Bowie and the Spiders from Mars played at The Polytechnic of Central London. This song many years later became the subject matter of litigation brought by Fisher concerning copyright authorship and ownership, reaching the highest court in the land, the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court).

A review of the show showed all of these elements featured. Described as at “Regent Street Poly”, Rosalind Russell reported that Bowie “camped up his show outrageously”, featured a costume change from the first to second part of the set and that he “posed, postured and pouted for the audience.” “Coloured lights flashed in conjunction with the music, and gave good effect to the short set the Spiders did without David” (presumably during the costume change). It also featured an intimate element when “David and his lead guitarist Mick Ronson sat at the front of the stage, and David sang "Space Oddity".  The set was mix of the old Bowie numbers, covers and the coming Ziggy Stardust new. It was rapturously received and Russell reported that “even after an encore, it was a while before the audience would leave the hall, such was the success of the show

She concluded that “somehow it would be a shame if Bowie was to become a superstar, but I don't think fame would turn his head!”. It was clear the super star Bowie soon after became had emerged and had played at what is now the home of Westminster Law School, its Centre for Law Society and Popular Culture and associated LLM in Entertainment Law at the University of Westminster.

Source: Rosalind Russell May 1972, no title given  but probably from Disc and Music Echo May 1972 see