Monday, April 18, 2011

David Bowie crowns the May Queens

Last Thurday's South East London Folklore Society event on May Day in London went well, with a packed room upstairs in the Old King's Head off Borough High Street. I gave a talk, based on the research for my May Days in South London pamphlet, followed by a film made of the Deptford Jack in the Green procession in 2006, accompanied by a great live music performance with a band put together for the event featuring David Aylward, Tom Scott-Kendrick, Richard Sanderson and others.

As always when you've just finished writing something, somebody tells you a fact that you'd wished you'd known before. In this case, Alan B. from Southwark Cyclists pointed me in the direction of this great 1966 clipping reproduced in Any Day Now: David Bowie - The London Years 1947 - 1974 by Kevin Cann (click on it to enlarge):

The caption reads: 'In glorious sunshine on Saturday eight Bromley May queens were crowned by local pop singer David Bowie, at Bromley Football Club ground in Hayes-lane. They were (left to right) Anne Button (Bickley), Christine Baker (Hayes Common), Carol Sharp (Pickhurst Park), Linda Dutton (Sundridge Park), Rosemary Reynolds (Bromley), Jacqueline Mann (Shortlands), Yvonne Lomax (Bromley Common), and Sandra Cousins (Southborough). About 500 people watched the event, at the end of the day's football match.

Before the ceremony the May queens and their attendants walked in procession down Bromley High Street, starting from Queens Garden, on their way to the football ground, accompanied by the 13th Company, Bromley Boys Brigade band, and that of the 1st St Mary Cray Girls Life Brigade. The queens and their contingents will take part in the crowning of the London May queen on Hayes Common on May 14'.

Last week's SELFS was the last organised by Scott Wood, who has done a great job in developing the monthly event. As was mentioned last week, SELFS started off as pretty much a front organisation for South London pagans who invented the name back in the 1990s in order to be able to book a room at Charlton House without drawing too much attention to themselves. Under Scott's direction it has gradually turned into what it says on the tin - a genuine folklore event appealing to sceptics, forteans and folklorists alike but with plenty of high strangeness to keep it interesting. Nigel of Bermondsey is now taking over, so Dr Who style, the role of Dr Selfs will be renewed in who knows what direction.

More Bowie

But wait there's more Bowie South London madness... Also last Thursday, someone told me the tale of Bowie rehearsing during the Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust period at Underhill studio at 1-3 Blackheath Hill. This has been mentioned at Transpontine before, but the new element I was unaware of was that Iggy Pop and Lou Reed rehearsed there too.

Today it was great to hear Deptford's own Danny Baker back on BBC London after serious illness, starting out with the genius touch of playing Stanley Holloway's 'My word you do look queer'. He also referred to this episode in Kevin Cann's book, mentioning that the studio was in the basement of a chemist opposite his old school, a fact unknown to him at the time, but making sense of the incident in his school days when a boy was ridiculed for claiming that he had seen David Bowie at the bus stop.

Bowie's Underhill Studio years are also mentioned in (Greenwich resident) Paul Trynka's new Bowie book Starman: The Definitive Biography. He states that Iggy and Lou Reed used the space to rehearse for British tours, and that later The Only Ones used it too. The chemist, Gee Pharm as it is now called, is still there on the corner of South Street. There's a man in Deptford who has implied that he supplied some er... non-pharmaceutical chemicals... to musicians in the studio, including Mr Bowie who claimed that 'it's not for me, it's for the band'. Will have to pump him for some more stories.


Paul T said...

Great that Danny's back.

Incidentally it was Peter Perrett's earlier band who rehearsed at Underhill, England's Glory.

David and Angie were pretty familiar with Greenwich. He recorded the demo Space Oddity video at Clarence Studios, which I believe was by the Creek, on the Deptford side And he was known to have disappeared to stay with costume designer Natasha Korniloff (a long term resident of the Ashburnam Triangle), much to the distress of Lindsay Kemp.

Oh, and the tune for Life On Mars arrived on the bus to Lewisham.

Transpontine said...

Thanks Paul, I feel a Bowie readathon coming on with yours and Kevin's books. The Bowie SE London stuff is reasonably familiar to me - but clearly there's loads more detail to be had - but being able to weave Iggy and Lou Reed into the SE London mythos takes it all to another level.