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In Their Own Words

Wayne Hemingway - The Bowie Gig That Changed My Life
Alice Vincent , July 22nd, 2011 05:06

Fashion designer and Red Or Dead founder Wayne Hemingway recalls the turning point in his adolescence which switched him onto youth culture, the nightclubs of Blackburn, and style. Interview by Alice Vincent

I was just shy of my 13th birthday and I went to see David Bowie at the King George's Hall in Blackburn. The first thing I remember things was how grown up it all felt, that I'd been allowed to go to a gig by myself. I'd always dressed up and made my own clothes, so I went out a bit dressed up – I was probably always a little more fashionable than anybody else in my school.

But when I got there, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The first thing was the crowd; I'd never seen anything like it in Blackburn before. For the first time, the coolest people were copying pop stars: boys and girls. They had all dyed their hair, put make up on. There was eye candy everywhere. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Then he came on stage, with the shock of red hair in a feather cut. The thing that sticks with me is that by the end of the concert he was up there in a big pair of platforms, a white loincloth around his midriff and nothing else apart from his makeup and a streak of hair. The whole place went absolutely wild. It felt like you were seeing something that had never happened before, and you certainly were – there had never been a time in music before where straight men could wear women's clothes and women's makeup and girls would fancy him. That had just not happened before. And, well, witnessing that, I just thought – this is for me.

Bowie was singing things like 'Rebel Rebel' and all the songs about space, 'Ground Control to Major Tom' and 'Space Odyssey' and he looked like a spaceman. He looked like he had dropped from another planet. It was like watching a human greyhound on stage. The great thing about it was that it was performance art but it was amazing music that kind of took you and shook you.

The next day Lancashire Evening Telegraph came out. The front page was a real attack on what had happened; they had printed a censored picture of Bowie, saying he was semi-naked on stage, when he was dressed like a bloke in a pair of trunks on the beach. Blackburn Council banned him from appearing again. And I thought, how fantastic; if that's rebellion I want to be a rebel. So I went out, and I bought the album, and I got my hair cut, and I dyed it red and I remember buying a yellow jumper with brown stars on it from a shop called Clobber in Blackburn, and a big pair of flares and a pair of platforms. That was, without a doubt, the start of me being obsessed with music and fashion.

From there Blackburn became a real hotspot for Roxy Music and Bowie. There was a club called Lodestar, and the place became a Mecca for Roxy and Bowie-ites. I was going to the Roxy and Bowie night on Saturday from 13. It was an over 18s night but back then you didn't need ID. Within a year I had started going to Wing Casino, and they were all-nighters, drug addled all nighters. I didn't do drugs but I just got hooked into club culture, and by the time I was 14 I was hitting the clubs two or three nights a week.

It was an immersion into the cutting edge of what creative youth culture was all about. Back then, in Blackburn, the entire scene was very small. When something musical or fashionable happened it happened underground and it stayed underground for a long time. There was no internet, so there were was no blogging culture, and we only had three TV channels. Like everybody else into music at that time, I heard about the new thing by falling asleep to Radio Luxemburg. I'd attach it to a reel-to-reel tape and listen to the show the next day. But everything was very small; when you went to a club it was exactly the same people every single time, every single night. There was no concept of a gig selling out, you just went. I was once one of eight people at a Sex Pistols gig.

Without a doubt Bowie was epoch making. For a start, where did he come from? What he was doing wasn't hippy. It wasn't related to mod, or rock and roll, it wasn't related to jazz or anything. This was pop which was sublime, and yet also got on Top of the Pops. Normally uncool things were on Top of the Pops but here was something that was totally cool and was dominating the charts as well. Nobody knew what was going on.

If you look at the number of people who came out of that movement and are successful today, whether its Vivianne Westwood, Robert Elms or Boy George, Dylan Jones, I assume that if you asked them, almost all would agree that Bowie meant that much to them too. So would the people who formed i-D and The Face, the people who changed youth culture. You wouldn't get anyone who would say he wasn't influential. A whole generation of creative thoughts were influenced by him.

Hemingway is curating the Vintage Festival at the London South Bank Centre, London, 29-31 July. For more information, go here