This week has marked a decade since I ventured out on tour with David Bowie! Well, not in the literal sense, however I spent a month on the road in Europe following Bowie’s 2003 “A Reality” through a few cities. It was a most splendid period of my life where I found myself in a new city almost every day, meeting new friends and taking in some of the best concerts of my life to date.
The adventures began in Nice, France on November 10th where Bowie cut short his set by a half dozen songs due to a throat infection. It was during his rendition of “The Motel” where things began to fall away as Bowie’s voice dropped considerably. A brief pause between songs was followed by an apology from Bowie and then the news that he would play a few more numbers that would not take a toll on his throat.
I had seen Bowie the previous year in LA and San Francisco as part of Moby’s “Area 2” festival. Whilst these shows were great they lacked the punch of a full concert setlist so a year later, and being in Europe, a more Bowie friendly part of the world it was going to provide a chance to hear more of his obscure album tracks, mixed in with his more prominent numbers. Sadly, this first show of my very own “mini tour” came to an abrupt end after some 20 songs. The great worry now was how would Bowie’s voice hold up at the next stop some two days later in Toulouse?
Before I was able to get to Toulouse there was a small matter of trouble following the concert in Nice. After the show I had waited outside Le Palais Nikaia for my German friend, Simone. For whatever reason we missed each other and before long the venue, situated in the bad part of town near the airport was quickly becoming sparse. I had missed the last buses back into the city so went walking in search of a taxi or another way back into town.
Walking down a long, winding and dark road I was approached by two young guys on scooters who asked me for some money. Upon my response that I had little money to give, one of the not so nice fellows proceeded to pull a flick knife out and began demanding my wallet in a mixture of broken English, French and Arabic tongues. By now I was dead scared and had only one option. Run!
I ran and ran and ran my heart out that night. Eventually I came to set of traffic lights where I stopped a car, motionless at the red light. The driver offered little help and sped off. I kept running. The thugs on scooters kept chasing! I’m not sure how far I had run that night but thankfully the scooters being ridden by these two shonks were not very fast to begin with. They hurled abuse in Arabic at me as they chased me though I eventually came to a bus stop where a few locals were holding out for the next bus into town. I am not sure what would have happened had they not been there but to this day I am most thankful of their help as two of the men waiting scared the two goons on scooters away.
Eventually I found my way back to the hostel I was staying in where I had never been so grateful to be within the confines of four walls. Only a year before I had been held up in LA at gunpoint by a group of teenagers with nothing to lose. Two lives down, seven to go!
The following afternoon, November 11, I made a swift train journey west before arriving in Toulouse on a day that had been drenched in sunshine. My thoughts were firmly pressed on finding out the news on Bowie’s voice and if the show on November 12 would even go ahead? Finding an internet cafe was something of a challenge though once I found one it took only a few seconds to learn that Bowie’s planned show in the city had been canceled due to ill health and it was now time to play the waiting game for Marseille in a couple of days. To pass the time I became a modest tourist in the southern French city which was the fourth biggest in the country behind Paris, Marseille and Lyon.
Fantastic news greeted me when I arrived in the seaside town of Marseille. Bowie would be playing his gig there on November 14 at Le Dome! And despite not being back to full health I was greeted with 3 more songs than the last outing which included a wondrous reworking of the 1984 gem, “Loving The Alien”, which had been re-worked as a beautiful stripped down version for this tour. The energy for this show was more energised and it was here that I met some amazing Bowie fans from England who were happy to let me stay with them in their hotel and also provided me with a lift in their hire car to Lyon, the venue for the next show on November 15.
Due to time constraints I was unable to explore Lyon as a city. Between the hotel, concert venue and departure early the next morning I can’t tell you much about Lyon other than the brilliant food sold outside the venue and that of the dodgy taxi drivers who seem to enjoy making life for tourists difficult.
The show, once more a 23 song set list at Halle Tony Garnier was another belter with Bowie’s vocals the best I had heard them since arriving in France. The vibe from the concert itself continue well after outside the venue with a carnival atmosphere provided by the merchandise sellers, food retailers and stall holders playing various Bowie albums at high volumes along the main stretch of road. Our hotel was right by the concert hall which made for an easy stroll home. What wasn’t so easy was to follow in the early hours of the next morning.
During the early hours of the next morning I made my way to what I thought was the correct train station for my connecting bus to Saint Etienne airport to take my flight over to London. Unfortunately my taxi driver got lost in translation and despite being given specific directions by the concierge at the hotel he still managed to take me to the wrong station. After a stressful train ride to Saint Etienne and expensive cab ride our the middle of nowhere I missed my flight by a matter of minutes. Thankfully a British couple had also missed the flight, the only one to depart from said airport on a Sunday. We drove back into Lyon where I was stung some 400 Euro’s for a train ride to London via Paris though thankfully I would be able to make it to Manchester by the next day for another Bowie gig.
As far as English gigs go, Manchester was a let down. The crowd seemed uninterested in Bowie playing his newer material and to my surprise some concert goers even began phone calls to friends during the quiet numbers. Outside the venue there were many seedy men, mostly middle aged trying to sell poorly manufactured Bootlegs of previous shows from the tour for £30 a pop! To make matters worse they were pressed on cheap CD-R discs!
With that gig out of the way it was time to move on. Birmingham would be the next stop with shows on November 19 and 20.
The first gig on November 20th provided us with a stretched set list of 28 numbers. The following night we were greeted with 29 songs if you include his rendition of “happy birthday” to Gail Anne Dorsey and it seemed as though Bowie was now well and truly over his throat infection and ready to blow his audience away once more. The inclusions of “Days” “Fall Dog Bombs The Moon” and “Fantastic Voyage” to the set list were definite highlights for me. It was safe to say these two nights in Birmingham were the best so far. Next stop Dublin!
Another double header awaited fans in Dublin. What few of us knew before the gigs was that both nights would be filmed in preparation for a new tour DVD that was to be released and with it we were treated to a couple of gigs that made Birmingham pale in comparison. On the first night Bowie treated us to no less than 28 numbers. The following evening he extended that to a massive 35 songs! This could have been enough to make up for two gigs by most other bands. However with a cannon of music as impressive and diverse as that held by Bowie he could have hit 50 songs on the second night and we still would have been left wanting more!
I remember “Sister Midnight” being the major highlight of the second Dublin show. On top of that “Slip Away” and “Bring Me The Disco King” also stuck out in my mind as highlights from an impressive evening. The crowd on both nights also helped to make the atmosphere something special. These two nights in Dublin are up there with any gigs from the past 40 years of Bowie tours. Despite a quality release on DVD nothing could beat being in the crowd over those two amazing nights! The only downside was a local Irish girl wandering around with a few drinks too many in her system making things a little uncomfortable for some of the concert goers. That minor blemish aside these two nights in Dublin are shows that will live long in my memory.
The last stop on tour for me was to be the first night in London on November 25th at the Wembley Arena. The set list dropped back to a respectable 25 numbers for this show though despite my best efforts I was not able to enjoy this show as much as I had the previous four concerts in Birmingham and Dublin. London can also be a bit hit and miss for concert goers and this show had the feel of a deflated balloon with a subdued audience that failed to get into proceedings the way previous concert goers in recent weeks had.
The temptation of another London gig and and the final night of the European tour in Glasgow were on offer but by now I had reached my limits of hostels and travel by coach and train every second day. And what’s more how could I top the previous three weeks from being on the road with Bowie?
If you ever have the chance to follow an artist or band you admire over a series of shows then I urge you do it! There is something special about taking in multiple shows through numerous cities whilst meeting new friends and building astonishing memories.