Ziggy Stardust at the Finsbury Park Rainbow Theatre - 19th August 1972
by Rikki Arundel
The Man who Sold the World
The theme of the 2014 LGBT History Month is Music, so in celebration of that I wanted to share a personal story of my first real encounter with music and the LGBT community.
I had moved to London in late 1969 and very quickly was introduced to an entirely new culture of music from the pop charts I was familiar with – what was then called Underground music and was largely only available on LP, vinyl albums, rather than collections of singles.
Fortunately for me there was a Harlequin Record shop a short walk from where I worked. I had become friends with Nigel the manager and every pay day I would buy three or four new albums, mostly on his recommendation. In November 1970 he passed me a new album that made my heart race.
I never did tell him why I instantly bought David Bowie's Man Who Sold the World, but the reason was simply because of the picture on the album sleeve. There was David Bowie in a dress for all the world to see. I so wished I had the courage to do that. No one knew I was trans and I certainly didn’t tell Nigel despite the fact that over the next few years his appearance became increasingly camp and he often wore nail polish and even make up.
So I became a David Bowie fan and a follower of the new exciting Glam Rock movement. In December 1971 Hunky Dory appeared followed swiftly in March 1972 by Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. By this time Bowie had progressed from wearing a dress on the cover of an album to dressing in spandex body suits with striking makeup. Even though I was too scared come out, I did cross dress a lot at this time my appearance became increasingly camp.
Homosexuality had been decriminalised in 1967, but attitudes had still not changed much and attitudes towards trans people were very definitely negative. Anyone then who was discovered to be trans was likely to find themselves featured in press, and would almost instantly lose their job and any hope of getting another one. At least that was my impression. I was also so scared to enter gay bars I seldom came into contact with anyone who was gay or trans – until August 19th 1972.
As a result of my friendship with Nigel I was able to get tickets to the Ziggy Stardust concert at the Finsbury Park Rainbow Theatre – formerly the Finsbury Park Astoria Cinema. This concert had sold out in two hours and turned out to be one of the defining moments in rock history and in my view a significant day in LGBT history.
What Bowie produced was
not just a rock concert; it was a theatrical rock experience.
Arriving at the concert I was overwhelmed first by the audience and fans. Everywhere I looked boys were wearing makeup, and feminine clothes. One gorgeous guy walked past me wearing a pinstriped suit, high heeled shoes and fabulous make up and jewellery. I so envied them for their courage to be out like this and for the first time in my life I realised that I was also attracted to men, especially feminine men. It scared me and excited me at the same time.
While Roxy Music played we were all trying to work out why the stage was filled with a multi level structure constructed of scaffolding – even Brian Ferry commented on it – we were soon to find out.
As Bowie’s set began the stage was plunged into darkness –green and other dark lights then lit up in an eerie glow strange statue like characters on platforms positioned throughout the scaffolding. The theme from Clockwork orange began to play and these statues came to life – members ‘of Lindsey Kemp’s mime company.
Then the opening bars to lady Stardust and under the scaffolding the band members were lit up. In the middle of the scaffolding structure a huge white screen was lit up with a 20 foot shadow of the David Bowie then the screen was raised and Bowie came forward strumming a 12 string guitar, floating in a sea of dry ice and dressed in a tight body suit with red hair and stark pale makeup. An image of Bowies friend and fellow glam rocker Marc Bolan was projected onto a screen during this opening number.
Throughout the show Bowie and the dancers moved up and down the different levels of the scaffolding structure turning each track into a theatrical performance. I lost count of how often bowie changed costume.
I have never forgotten that night. Bowie was one of the first performers to outrageously present himself as bisexual. Many artists thought this would finish him as a serious artist. Elton John, who was still in the closet, left the concert early saying “He’s blown it.” I didn’t think so and he had inspired me. From that day onwards I began visiting trans clubs and accepting who I am, even though I remained in the closet as far as work was concerned.
It would be 30 years before I finally found the courage to come out and let the world know I am trans – but when I did come out one of the first things I did was to enter a talent show where I could go on stage dressed outrageously camp and perform three songs from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.