One Night With Bowie

July 25, 2017

Here in our continuing series, Jonathan Markwood recounts a night that changed his life...



Schooly School


It is 1981. I'm a callow youth. Your average know-it-all schooly school boy entering my first hopelessly insecure years as a teenager. We'd a Royal Wedding and Bucks Fizz win the Eurovision. But more importantly we and the music world still reel from the passing of John Lennon outside his home, Manhattan, NY, in December the previous year. 


Then I get this incredible opportunity. October half term I'm going to New York!


My father, at the time, works in the clothing industry. The company are looking for kids to model their clothes. But they don't want to pay top bucks. Could any of their own children do it instead...?


And so it is that I find myself, at thirteen years old, sitting on a plane with an uber cool photographer, an advertising guy and a fellow imposter model. Wow!


New York, New York.


A frightening, beautiful, brutal, loud city. Cold as. Salt toasted Pretzel aromas burn my nose, sold hot from steel carts on the streets. As we enter by cab from JFK airport, traffic is bad. It's always bad. But this time - so our driver says - because the President's motorcade is coming through. Can it be true? The President is here too! What a welcome!


If it really is him (my fellow travellers are sceptical) he's in stellar company. Another more mercurial but no less illustrious personality is also in town. A talent of a man. His show the hot ticket here. The show is The Elephant Man. The man is David Bowie.


Broadway Bound


At this time, I've lived a rather sheltered life. Bowie is a distant figure to me. Not really on my radar. I see him on TOTP but I listen to The Police, marvel at Dylan and admire Talking Heads. But in reality, I worship absolutely at the altar of The Beatles. Bowie's not for me. 'Too weird' I'll think in my tea cosied and pimply -pompous adolescence.. 


News comes we get standing room to the show, The show.  I'm ashamed to say I'm not excited (we never know when we're well off) 

Two reasons: my youthful spirits had got a sharp clip round the ear on the plane over. The photographer (he of uber trendy scruff coolness, English charmed and amber cigarette holdered) had tried to buy me a beer. Apparently beer isn't given to newly teengaged boys. So said the unfeasibly beautiful air goddess before us. She offered a soft drink as a suitable alternative. Grumpily, embarrassingly, I sipped my coke. Hey - at least it had ice...


Second reason: SNAP! - what's that pop in my ears?


As we land I realise something is wrong. I can vaguely hear people, noises, but when I speak it's like I'm speaking through a kazoo. Amplified by a megaphone around my head. Later, back in England, I'm diagnosed with an ear infection. Again. My childhood seemed plagued by them. Tonsils, adenoids duly removed. Most things are back then.


Back in New York we go for burgers. In a dark wooded joint. The mouth watering smell from what they called 'broiling' and the chopped steak used to create the burgers is something from out of this world. Just the most delicious aroma I've ever known. Wimpy's never like this!


Ear Today


But nothing can lift my spirits tonight. My ears hurt. I can't hear properly. This fantastic new world muffled and muddy. I'm miserable. I childishly miss my parents. The three cool grown up guys itching to enjoy what this open-all-night city has to offer three cool guys like them. More enticing than baby sitting the dumb kid with the ear problem I think. Yep, we never know when we're well off...


We get to the theatre - a few blocks away, we walk. Taking in the wall of noise. The smells. The heart pumping pace of the city terrifies. The chill from the ice of the October evening burns.


Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St. More dark wood. But so many excited people. I wake up.




It begins. Treves describing the tear jerking physical condition of John Merrick.


The gauze lifts to reveal Bowie in loin cloth. Standing straight. Facing us. Then, magically, as Treves' lecture continues to impart each of Merrick's deformities, the incredible Mr Bowie transforms before my eyes into the Elephant Man. It's breathtaking. It's alchemy. No make up. No prosthetics. Just this extraordinary man.


This man has an aura around him. You can't look away. You have to watch him. We all do. None of us in the audience look away for a second. His body held contorted for over two brilliant hours. It's an absorbing, astonishing performance.


The air is charged.


I'm a fan. 


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© 2019 Jonathan Markwood's Hoo-Hah Conspiracy

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‘Hear the sound beat down the door and revel in the appreciation that someone else thinks like you’

- Liverpool Sound & Vision 8.5/10

'Absolutely brilliant !'

Adam Crowther

BBC Music Introducing

'Track after track of catchy tunes...If you are a fan of Bowie or Talking Heads or Peter Gabriel, 10cc or George Martin's work with the Beatles, then this album will be a perfect addition to your collection.'

Krimson Collective Magazine

'Soaring choruses...a festival kilter, edgy with mainstream feel of Dodgy, Squeeze, Beck & Eels. We owe Hoo-Hah Conspiracy a big thank you for their trouble’

Express & Star Newspaper