New musical about Bowie’s image-maker Freddie Burretti

Paul J Macdonald, Chrysalis Theatre, Bletchley, The Man Who Sewed The World, Freddie Burretti, Lee Scriven, musical, theatre,
Poster for Lee Scriven’s new stage musical

A forthcoming musical about Freddie Burretti is due to open for a limited three-day run next month in Milton Keynes. One of the unsung designers, Burretti was responsible for some of the bold glamour that launched Bowie and his Ziggy creation into the zeitgeist. Based on the rarely seen documentary film, Starman: The Man Who Sewed The World this new live show will hopefully add more texture to one of the British fashion creatives. His collaboration with Bowie must be one of the most successful in rock music and one that resonates with fans worldwide especially since Bowie’s death.

The predictable surge in  media interest celebrating Bowie’s  lasting legacy, his multi-faceted style has seen many of Burretti’s costumes back in the spotlight. Hipster skateboard sneaker company Vans just last week released their limited-edition range of Bowie-inspired footwear line (that includes a few T-shirts and caps), amongst them the Hunky Dory/Ziggy sneakers. The voracious appetite of social media platforms led by Instagram have pushed Bowie’s trademark looks into the millennials’  feeds no  doubt offering some inspiration along the way. Few however will probably have heard of Burretti which is a shame, his work ignited the imagination and gave us the prettiest star. As a reminder, here’s my review of Lee Scriven’s biopic when I reviewed it after a preview screening in November 2015 …


Starman: The Man Who Sewed The World gives a fascinating insight into the relatively unknown life of fashion future legend Freddie Burretti. This working-class lad had a creative mind able to absorb everything he loved about Mod fashion, having taught himself to make his own clothes at an early age. With enough dedication and focus to learn tailoring as well as the youthful dynamics of the dancefloor, he was obviously adept at observing styles and reworking looks to his own vision.

A chance meeting at the disco lead to the serendipitous collaboration with Bowie and the singer’s as yet not fully realised Ziggy Stardust wardrobe. These bold textured prints and coloured jumpsuits were, and are, extraordinary for capturing Bowie’s otherness at that time. Aladdin Sane prints that looked like Liberty worn by the androgynous male rock star blew our tiny minds back then.

pop music, David Bowie, pop music, Freddie Burretti, costume, designer,Daniella Parmar
Bowie’s designer Freddie and It-girl Daniella Parmar in about 1971: striking a pose that David and Angie came to emulate

What I loved about the movie was seeing the genesis of Freddie’s glamour vision in a mundanely drab landscape played out with the innocence of his mainly, it appears, female friends notably Wendy bf and Daniella protégée. Wonderful to hear their counterpoint stories of that inner circle involved in Bowie’s creation of Ziggy with Freddie’s ascendant talent and confidence.

The pairing of Freddie and Daniella wearing his clothes is groundbreaking. Looking at those photos we see the androgynous beauty of Freddie (like a still from James Bidgood’s 1971 cult movie Pink Narcissus) teamed with Daniella’s Asian complexion and short spiky blonde crop. They had already created David and Angie’s classic image before the rest of the world saw it!

Curious magazine, 1971: Bowie wears his Michael Fish “man-dress” and plans to create a band called The Arnold Corns to showcase Freddie as “the next Mick Jagger”. In the studio, it turned out that Freddie couldn’t sing

In fact, Daniella also anticipates Ava Cherry singing with Bowie in Young Americans several years later when we note the similar styling – how did that happen?

From my own black perspective, a brown or black face was something I would immediately zone in on, seeing someone like you up there on a stage and hanging out with the stars. Marc Bolan having the black Gloria Jones as his wife was a big bloody deal to some black kids, for sure.

Freddie’s whole look seems to have been adopted wholesale by David Johansen of the New York Dolls, so the influence of this young British designer can today be recognised rippling out into the wider pop culture although it probably wasn’t acknowledged at the time. Maybe a parallel could be drawn between Freddie and Alexander McQueen – both gay and from working-class backgrounds – though McQueen came to work with Bowie as an established star, whereas Freddie created an image that made Bowie a star. Today it is unreal to imagine any designer could achieve such pivotal pop success without a massive team behind them.

* Burretti: The Man Who Sewed The World runs at the Chrysalis Theatre, Milton Keynes MK15 9JY on May 16–18, 2019. Tickets cost £15 by calling 0333 666 3366 or by booking online here


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David Byrne triumphantly rewrites the rules for a rock concert

David Byrne, live concert, 'American Utopia', rock music, musicians,choreography
Live on-stage: David Byrne playing guitar at the centre of his barefoot ‘American Utopia’ musicians. Photographed by Ben Stas

Last time that I saw the legendary Talking Heads was over thirty years ago at London’s Hammersmith Palais. It was the ‘Remain In Light’ tour, a landmark album for the band with the creative production of Brian Eno and live with Bernie Worrell from Funkadelic augmenting the line-up.  So the glowing five-star international reviews for David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ tour 2018 meant there was genuine and palpable anticipation surging through the 4,000-strong audience packed into the Brighton Centre this week.

The set opened with a vast empty stage, only a small table and chair with a grey-haired casually suited Byrne seated and singing to a plastic brain which he held aloft. He looked like the coolest science teacher explaining its merits, albeit barefoot and to a much more appreciative adult education class. He was joined onstage by similarly attired backing vocalists Chris Giarmo and Tendayi Kuumba who we quickly realised, along with the rest of the 11-piece band, were agile in their dual role as musicians and dancers. It was the realisation that with Annie-B Parson’s sophisticated and at times elaborate choreography (especially for the backing vocalists) this was far from standard fare.  I then remembered the work Byrne did with dancer Twyla Tharp in the eighties, and realised this show has become a logical next step in the imaginative presentation of his eclectic catalogue.

We moved uptempo with ‘Lazy’, the breezy solo club hit that resulted when Byrne guested as vocalist with X Press 2, and this buoyed the crowd with its almost aerobic glee. This was followed by the first Talking Heads gem ‘I Zimbra’ (Fear of Music) when we saw everyone – especially the impressive six-piece percussion section – play and dance a combination of street carnival panache and those joyous college brass bands in the US.

David Byrne, live concert, tour, 'American Utopia' ,poster
David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ 2018 tour poster

From here on we were treated to almost two hours of frenetic then thoughtful funky reworkings of Talking Heads material and cuts from David Byrne’s prodigious solo material including the current release ‘American Utopia’ which reflects on the dire current US political climate with a sense of hope. The standouts were many but the surreal when released ‘Once In A Lifetime’ crackled with almost evangelical zeal as Byrne flung himself around on-stage… Against giant dancing shadows like a Busby Berkeley musical number, ‘Blind’ was given brassy punch and brought energetic solos from its talented percussionist pool… The opening guitar chords of ‘Burning Down the House’ did exactly what it said on the label… ‘Everybody’s Coming To My House’ exuded an inclusive party feel which Byrne explained was also matched by his band’s origins from all around the world. Personally I loved  ‘Born Under Punches’ and ‘The Great Curve’ because ‘Remain in Light’ is one of my favourite albums.

The incredibly talented and tight band were unencumbered by cables and the usual stage furniture so were free to inhabit the space and relish their obvious camaraderie. Their sense of fun was immediately reflected in the audience enthusiasm which elevated this evening to an experience more aligned with modern theatre than Brighton’s bland conference venue.

The show didn’t end with the classic ‘Psycho Killer’ but a more unexpected cover of Janelle Monae’s ‘Hell You Talmbout’, a song whose communally chanted names of people are the grim list of victims who inspired Black Lives Matter, killed in the most dreadful circumstances, and including Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray amongst others. Before the song Byrne suggested the audience google their names if they were unaware who they were. It echoed the themes of ‘American Utopia’ and his involvement in voter registration for the mid-term elections and possibility of change.

This was a triumphant show and one that will be remembered for setting a new benchmark in creativity. I can think of ‘Wire’ at London’s Jeanette Cochrane theatre and Grace Jones’s ‘One Man Show’ at Drury Lane among the few that I can remember that successfully pulled off originality with such aplomb. Now who, I wonder, made those two-piece grey suits?

David Byrne, live concert, 'American Utopia' ,musicians,choreography
Look, no wires: David Byrne amid his eleven musicians all playing live yet free to roam the stage

David Byrne’s year-long ‘American Utopia’ tour 2018 continues via Europe to Australia

All about David Byrne

1984, George Orwell and the BBC Top of the Pops

BBC4, Top of the Pops, 1980s, Animal Nightlife, jazz, soul, pop music, Andy Polaris,
June 2017: Me, Andy P as talking head on the Top of the Pops Story of 1984 (Pic: BBC)

Catch up with me talking about the exuberant pop scene of 1984
on the latest TV documentary analysing the hits of that year as aired on Top of the Pops, the BBC’s flagship weekly music show

Add your own comments at Twitter . . . And at Instagram

I remember vividly reading George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 as a teenager at school, not under duress as part of English literature but because I had a fascination for sci fiction and future worlds.

George Orwell, 1984, books literature, To me the book is a masterpiece and has received a recent surge of interest when it reached the number one spot on the online retailer Amazon best-sellers list in January. This was due to Donald Trump’s press star discussing “alternative facts” and the curious new world of American politics. I had daydreamed what the world would be like both in 2001 which seemed light years away and the closer 1984. The world was changing fast and my path had taken me from London, the suburbs, the countryside and back to the city again.

The year of 1984 had found me fronting the MK II version of Animal Nightlife, slimmed-down to a six-piece. We had released three singles. Love is Just The Great Pretender, Mighty Hands of Love and Native Boy. That year we released our fourth, the uptempo Mr Solitaire on Island Records which gave us our debut on the BBC’s legendary Top of The Pops, its weekly review of the UK charts. This was a teenage fantasy realised, although I will admit it was daydream. I never really thought it was possible while living in Essex and enjoying the show through my early teens. I had more mundane things to think about like racism, dealing with a care order and trying to concentrate at school.

Top of the Pops, 1980s, Animal Nightlife, jazz, soul, pop music, Andy Polaris,
September 1984: Animal Nightlife’s Top of the Pops debut with Mr Solitaire (Pic: BBC)

Top of the Pops, along with the chart rundown on a Sunday, actually forged musical tastes and purchases especially in the decade of T.Rex, The Sweet, Cockney Rebel, Sparks and Roxy Music all becoming bands whose singles I would devour. Their alternative brand of male glamour swanned across a rather clunky (by today’s standards) television set and into my teenage consciousness. Everything was about escaping.

By 1984, thanks to our fans, live shows and the support of our radio cheerleaders Tony Blackburn (Radio London) and Gary Crowley (Capital), Mr Solitaire had slowly clambered into the top 40.

On 27/9/1984 the Top of the Pops line up was:
UB40 – If It Happens Again PA
Shakin Stevens – A Letter To You, promo
Sade – Smooth Operator PA
U2 – In the Name of Love, promo
Animal Nightlife – Mr Solitaire PA
Stephanie Mills – The Medicine Song, promo
Big Country – East of Eden
Prince – Purple Rain, promo
Stevie Wonder – I Just Called To Say I Love You

So not much competition really. Interesting that all four British bands performing were multi-racial line-ups. We were friends with Sade who went stratospheric and her guitarist-saxophonist Stuart Matthewman should be on the documentary tonight along with Chris Sullivan from Blue Rondo. And while this year represented a healthy musical mish-mash, tonight’s documentary lineup is virtually a definitive showcase of all the key new British bands of the early 1980s who were invading the US and world charts – Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, Bananarama, Bronski Beat, Howard Jones, Scritti Politti, Matt Bianco, Depeche Mode, OMD, The Special AKA, Nik Kershaw, Wham! and the Band Aid Christmas Number One which for years held the record as the biggest-selling UK single ever.

We in Animal Nightlife may not have been part of that armada, just one of the myriad new artists who made a smaller splash which, like all music, continues to ripple out from its earliest impact.

The Story of 1984: 9pm, Friday 2 June 2017 on BBC4 (repeated at 00:30) – and then for a month on the iPlayer: “1984 sees Top of the Pops at the height of its 80s pomp – the year of big hair and big tunes.”

Followed at 10pm, 2 June 2017 by Top of the Pops: 1984 Big Hits (repeated at 01:30) – and then for a month on the iPlayer: includes stylish performances by The Smiths, Bananarama, Sade, Alison Moyet, Echo and the Bunnymen, Wham! and George Michael solo.

Heres a nice audio remix of our song:

Previously at A Polaris View, all about Animal Nightlife’s album Shangri-la

David Bowie: First anniversary of his death and my teenage love is undimmed

glam rock, David Bowie, ambiguous, man-dress, Marlene Dietrich,sexuality, kHunky Dory,
Bowie in his Hunky Dory phase, 1971: long hair à la Marlene Dietrich as he emphasised sexual ambiguity

We have now reached the first anniversary of the unexpected and shocking death of David Bowie and can expect solemn tributes from worldwide fans who still feel heartbroken. He has gone like we imagined him to join the immortals, thanks to his constant role in our lives, if not the world stage in recent years.

Andy Polaris, Bowie Night, Billy's Club, Soho
1978: “Within weeks, the Billy’s magic transformed me into an alternative me.” Andy Polaris photographed here with Sue by Derek Ridgers

The surprise announcement of a new Bowie album The Next Day on his birthday in 2013 astonished fans who thought that he had gone into retirement after an earlier reported heart attack. This album in fact proved a stunning return to form with the singles the poignant Where Are We Now? and the flashy The Stars Are Out Tonight, each with very contrasting videos pushing him back in the limelight to critical acclaim. Blackstar in 2016 was even more perplexing but offered some of the joy of deciphering both imagery, sound and lyrics like fans had done when pivotal soundscape albums such as Low and “Heroes” were originally released. This apparent renaissance  was particularly pleasing to long-standing fans, some of whom like myself had followed him since a teenager.

Living in Seventies suburbia as an ethnic sexually confused teenager, there were few role models you could look up to, who you felt understood your alienation. Being confined to a children’s home from an early age added to that feeling of isolation.

Click on pix to enlarge them:

T. Rex’s Telegram Sam and David Bowie’s Starman came out the same year, blazing a trail on Top of The Pops, while Roxy Music also released their first album that year. Much has been written about Bowie’s Starman performance in 1972. I had begun a fascination with his image a little earlier after the Melody Maker interview, thanks to an older teenager who also had the album, Hunky Dory.

I began to spend the little pocket money I had on buying all the magazines and music papers that featured him, especially on the cover. Fab 208, PopSwop, Music Star, Music Scene and Jackie thankfully were relatively cheap and I began my scrapbook collection. Ziggy Stardust with his bold make-up and glamorous wardrobe (courtesy of Freddie Burretti and Kansai Yamamoto) was unlike anything seen before and blurred the line between sexes. This beautiful creature offered a world of possibilities to this youth already bored with football and the teenybop fandom that dominated our era. Clothes, style, identity – normal teenage rites of passage – all took on a greater importance over the next few years but now helped define a more alternative journey.

Seeking out Bowie’s references in lyrics opened a new door to imagination. His creative output  eased my inner void of loneliness and probably kick-started my interest in science-fiction. Humdrum suburbia was replaced by the magical worlds of Alfred Bester, Philip K Dick, George Orwell and Robert Heinlein to a soundtrack of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs.

Bowie and a new look for 1976 when he became the Man Who Fell to Earth, here in a Haywain shirt. Photographed by Steve Schapiro and published on the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine

Scissors, Pritt Stick or Gloy Gum and a large desk were my 1970s iPad, and all that was needed, as I lovingly read and then pasted articles onto A4 note paper into a hard grey binder. This became a ritual that continued for my teenage life. I never liked to create collages because I hated cutting up articles too much and words were equally important. What Bowie was saying or what people were saying about him seemed as important as the visuals. That shape-shifting style (musically and visually) meant I never got bored and felt that I evolved along with him, my anticipation becoming almost tangible with news of a new release or a TV appearance.

His video clips were dazzling on ToTP for Life on Mars? and the Jean Genie, while for appearances on Russell Harty he sported Burretti’s creations plus diamante chandelier earrings! Two pivotal programmes were the 1975 BBC documentary Cracked Actor – the Radio Times did an interview showing pictures of him creating face masks. The second was a satellite linkup interview with a sleek, slicked-back, flame-haired Bowie showing him wearing a demob suit, performing the disco-rock of Golden Years on Soul Train in the States.

The following year after much subterfuge and negotiating I managed to see my hero live as part of his Station To Station tour 1976. Looking around outside Wembley Arena that warm summer evening and seeing kindred spirits and other freaks, I realized I was no longer alone.

Within a few years Bowie’s children found a home at the short-lived Billy’s club in Soho, his fan base galvanized by his art to inspire their own creative dreams. We were inventing nightclubbing to our own musical tastes and no middle-aged doorman was going to turn us away for being inappropriately dressed. This coterie of hard-core fans moved onto the Blitz Club in 1979 where the underground eventually emerged into the glare of the mainstream. A catherine wheel of future stars in fashion and music began spinning furiously, all inspired directly by David Bowie.

His influence then and now and in the future remains the one constant in my life.

Visit my review of the movie about Freddie Burretti,
Starman: The Man Who Sewed The World






Animal Nightlife releases hit 80s album Shangri-la on CD for the first time

I am pleased to announce that the Animal Nightlife album Shangri-la, published only on vinyl in 1985, has been released for the
first time as a deluxe double CD (with one disc of
inspired re-mixes) on Cherry Pop Records

Animal Nightlife, jazz, soul, pop music, Shangri-la, Andy Polaris, CD, Cherry Pop Records


+++Animal Nightlife, jazz, soul, pop music, Shangri-la, Andy Polaris, CD, Deluxe Edition, Cherry Pop Records, Leonardo Chignoli, Paul Waller, Steve Brown, Billy Chapman


The vinyl album has long been deleted and this year’s newly remastered digital Deluxe Edition consists of the album in its original form, plus a second CD containing other singles and extended remixes that were originally available only on 12-inch, including a favourite remix of Native Boy by reggae producer Dennis Bovell. Providing backing vocals on Mr Solitaire, which was recorded in London, is Paul Weller (ex-Jam and later leader of The Style Council), along with David Joseph (Hi Tension, one of the early Brit Soul bands to enjoy chart success). Sadly, a vocal arrangement by Whitney’s mother Cissy Houston on the track Preacher Preacher has not been included and was a joyous sound. (This appeared in its orginal mix only on the European vinyl release.) The Deluxe Edition CDs come with a 16-page booklet with exclusive early live photos and a perceptive biographical interview written by Lois Wilson from Mojo magazine.




2. MR SOLITAIRE (12″ version)
4. LOVE IS JUST THE GREAT PRETENDER ’85 (Undressing Remix)
6. BASIC INGREDIENTS (12″ version)
8. NATIVE BOY ’83 (Dennis Bovell Remix)
9. MR. SOLITAIRE (Panther Remix)

Animal Nightlife, jazz, soul, pop music, Shangri-la
Animal Nightlife’s Shangri-la lineup in 1985: Leonardo Chignoli (bass), Steve Brown (guitar), Andy Polaris (vocals), Billy Chapman (saxophone) and Paul Waller (drums)


Shapers of the 80s
Lois Wilson supplies some nicely informed sleeve notes identifying Animal Nightlife’s role as innovators when the UK’s thriving underground changed the face of nightclubbing. Animal Nightlife’s swing sound with an electronic twist enjoyed its moment as the hippest trend in music while Polaris penned his own brand of torch song.

Shangri-la in its entirety is possibly one of the easiest listens of the entire decade, sharing both a political and musical ethos with Paul Weller’s band of the time, The Style Council. Indeed, Weller himself was a fan, and even provided backing vocals on their biggest hit.

Three Amazon customers
* Most underrated band of the 80s.

* Three instrumental tracks give us full-on blasts of jazz… Kick off with Disc 2, Track 4: L-O-V-E. Swoon to Andy’s slinky voice, thrill to Billy’s sax and take lessons in syncopation from Paul, Leonardo and Steve. Then get down and dirty with stand-out Track 6, Basic Ingredients.

* With gems such as Preacher Preacher and Native Boy, this is a fantastic package with the music sounding great.


Buy Shangri-la direct from Cherry Pop Records in time for Christmas

Buy Shangri-la from a competitive selection of retailers via Amazon


Ground Control to Major Disappointment – Lazarus, the Bowie musical reviewed

The Man Who Fell to Earth, David Bowie , Candy Clark
In the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth: David Bowie as Thomas Newton and Candy Clark as Mary Lou
Lazarus, musical,Michael C Hall
Lazarus the musical, 2015-16: Michael C Hall plays Thomas Newton, here with Sophia Anne Caruso as the Girl

The early 70s had ushered in some great science-fiction cinema including The Omega Man, Westworld, Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, Dark Star and Logan’s Run. Later we would get Demon Seed, Stepford Wives, Futureworld  and the blockbuster Star Wars.

Andy Polaris, Shangri-la, CD, singer,Animal Nightlife,

As a teenager I bought the paperback of Walter Tevis’s The Man Who Fell to Earth when it was the tie-in to its dazzling 1976 film adaptation directed by Nicolas Roeg that starred David Bowie. It turned out to have an original line compared with the well-worn “they came from outer space” clichés of science-fiction.

In the book the humanoid alien Thomas Jerome Newton arrives in a deserted American landscape in a quest to save his dying planet and family. Armed with his planet’s superior technology, he amasses a fortune with his patents and inventions. This includes a self-developing film that revolutionises photography and finances his own corporation, World Enterprises which crushes Kodak. His extraordinary rise however attracts suspicions from both government sources and rival conglomerates and soon his identity is revealed and his plans are thwarted, leaving him a wealthy recluse trapped on Earth.

Walter Tevis, books, Nicolas Roeg, films, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie
The Man Who Fell to Earth: book by Walter Tevis, film directed by Nicolas Roeg

A musical titled Lazarus was devised and written by David Bowie and the Irish playwright Enda Walsh and opened for a successful limited run at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2015. It was to be Bowie’s final completed project before his untimely passing this year and so that much eager anticipation awaited the American production when it started previewing in London last week at the King’s Cross Theatre South.

Although billed as a sequel to the film, the play does not indicate how many years have passed, and we do not see any identifiable technologies from the past four decades that might give us a clue, unless that giant screen at centre-stage is supposed to be plasma. Are we still in 1976 or in 2015?

Michael C Hall plays Mr Newton with world-weary resignation as he paces around his large apartment, frustrated at his doomed and isolated existence with only alcohol and television to pass the time. The plot however does not appear to have moved far. With Newton seemingly ageless and his only real human connection in the film, Mary Lou, long gone (presumed dead), his sadness is amplified by the prospect of returning home seeming no closer.

paperback, Walter Tevis,The Man Who Fell to EarthWe are left with the large minimal stage that features a bed, refrigerator and a huge television screen which serves also to project some of the characters’ inner machinations. The threadbare plot could have done with a contemporary upgrade to the pre-digital age and compared Newton’s lifestyle inventions with the likes of, say, Steve Jobs and his game-changing computers, iPods and iPhones which have transformed our lives and created a global behemoth out of Apple.

In the book Newton’s inventions and patents fuel a successful business empire. In Lazarus the musical, no real attempt is made to explore the dark side of fame – the almost impossible hope a rich man has for a private life, while the hunger of 24-hour news and social media put a bounty on his head to help expose his secrets. Conglomerates, business rivals and foreign governments would have courted, spied or stolen anything to gain access to his brilliant but frazzled mind. The alien rumours would have been splashed on covers of the National Enquirer and become internet click-bait. Gossip gawkers would have tracked down Mary Lou to see if she was alive and offered her vast sums to recollect her relationship since she was the only human he really connected with on Earth – almost a substitute for his abandoned wife and child we briefly glimpse in the film.

The other main characters appear to be his unhappy maid, her husband, a childlike female who may or not be Newton’s imagination and Valentine, a malevolent character who springs from Bowie’s 2013 album The Next Day. Newton interacts with these characters but the dialogue is less than thrilling and between the musical interludes driving us forward the play feels sluggish. The musicians are exemplary although the Bowie songs included are sometimes perplexing, and the vocal stage versions of Life On Mars and All The Young Dudes pale in comparison to the original Bowie performances.

Man Who Fell to Earth,Thomas newton, David Bowie, films, Michael Hall, lazarus, musicals
The Man Who: Newton as played by David Bowie in the 1976 film and Michael Hall onstage in Lazarus, 2015-16

In New York, the musical introduced four new Bowie songs: Lazarus, No Plan, Killing a Little Time and When I Met You. For his fans, the unique strength of David Bowie’s existing repertoire lies in its deeply etched memories, and to hear other people singing his songs often jars the listener. Michael C Hall (who also appeared in the vastly superior musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch) performs with aplomb especially on the poignant Where Are We Now, but also on It’s No Game and the duets of Absolute Beginners and When I Met You. The title track – in which Lazarus looks down in death on the unknowing listener – becomes one of Bowie’s personal gifts to his audience. The refreshed electronic arrangement of The Man Who Sold The World is also a definite highlight, adding a more contemporary sound to this classic. (Interestingly this is one song that has lent itself to some sympathetic versions, notably Lulu’s and Nirvana’s different approaches).

Almost by surprise, the show assumes an unsettling power. Thanks to the musicianship of the eight-man band, the legacy of this musical event is a growing realisation that we would never again hear David Bowie singing these songs live and it is this truth which elicits the greatest personal emotion of the evening.

The biggest criticism however must go to the theatre’s extremely poor seating which means that a good half of the audience has to crane our necks due to the poor slope, which means you spend the whole play avoiding the heads of the people in front of you. They were moving also and a lot of the action involves the actors on the floor where they are not visible unless you stand up, which is impossible. Ticket prices, which are very expensive to see such a restricted view, are a scandal and not something experienced in the New York debut. All this has a huge impact on attempting to enjoy the play and so be warned.

Loving the alien, yes. The play, not so much.

Lazarus runs at the King’s Cross Theatre South until 22 Jan 2017


The Lazarus (Original Cast) album, including the three new David Bowie compositions, made its debut in the UK top 10 album chart.

Trailer for this year’s 4K restoration to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Man Who Fell to Earth – at The Guardian.

Lazarus makes Time magazine top 10 plays of 2015

David Bowie’s Lazarus is surrealistic tour de force – Rolling Stone

Save Me From Suburbia – BBC film about Boy George and the 70s

Earlier this year I was asked to participate in a documentary for BBC TV, part of a series of hour-long films examining different decades of British social history. Set against the background of popular music from that decade, each is based around a music artist of that time and so tells personal stories from different backgrounds.

BBC Music’s My Generation season continues this week by examining the 70s as experienced by the charismatic singer Boy George in his teenage years. Save Me From Suburbia examines influences creatively during his teenage years that formed a desire to project his personal style into what initially was a startled suburbia. Our paths would cross in the second half of the decade and a lot of his story has been well documented in his two autobiographies, Take It Like A Man and Straight.

A group of  creative people who also emerged from that London scene are also interviewed, including nightclub host and promoter Philip Sallon, androgynous singer Marilyn, It Girl Princess Julia and clothes designer Martin Degville. All our lives would intertwine  through our adventures in London’s emerging punk scene and the nightclubbing that followed.

London, Billy's , Andy Polaris, nightclubs
Billy’s nightclub about 1978: me sporting soul-boy chic. Photo by Nicola Tyson

More photos by Nicola Tyson of the Bowie Nights at Billy’s in Soho

Pivotal moments in my 1970s

1976 First major concert by David Bowie: Station To Station at Wembley Arena


1977 Punk explosion seeing literally as many bands as possible from Wire, The Clash, The Damned, Buzzcocks to X Ray Spex, The Slits, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Appearing briefly in the Wolfgang Büld 1977 documentary Punk In London (below).

1978 Billy’s Bowie Night opens in London and I appear in a centre-page feature (below) about club and style in the UK national newspaper the Daily Mail.


It’s currently Black History Month in the UK and one thing that hasn’t really changed since the seventies is finding our lives reflected on screen in a meaningful way. There is a need to see the black experiences and cultural creative input being recognized when that story or period of history is being told. I was glad to have the opportunity to provide my perspective because race, gender and sexuality tend to have completely different journeys to navigate through teenage life and beyond.

I will eventually expand this into a more detailed look at life for a mixed-race, sexually confused teenager living in suburbia and alienated in the seventies. Not here, now but hopefully in the near future.

The Save Me From Suburbia film is available to UK viewers on BBC iPlayer for 28 days from transmission on Saturday 8 Oct.

Press/ Reviews

From Boy George to Bowie – rock ’n’ roll was born in the suburbs – Stuart Maconie’s review

BBC Music’s My Generation year-long season is telling the story of popular music, and launched with the 1950s back in April – Radio Times feature.

More from Nicola Tyson and her clubbing photography at The Guardian

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