Life was truly hunky dory on tour with David Bowie
PUBLISHED: 10:06 12 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:47 07 September 2010
Maida Vale collaborator Geoff MacCormack reveals the Thin White Duke s delightfully silly side in his photographic memoir of a 70s world tour, writes David Gavan Back in January 1973, Geoff MacCormack was headhunted in the most spectacular way. A teleph
Maida Vale collaborator Geoff MacCormack reveals the Thin White Duke's delightfully silly side in his photographic memoir of a 70s world tour, writes David Gavan
Back in January 1973, Geoff MacCormack was headhunted in the most spectacular way. A telephone caller told him ("forget being asked") that he was to join Ziggy Stardust's band, The Spiders From Mars, for a world tour providing backing vocals and percussion.
The voice on the phone belonged to David Bowie. By the end of the month, MacCormack (and his camera) boarded the opulently appointed SS Canberra with his new employer and a ticket for New York.
"If that wasn't cool enough," recalls the Maida Vale resident, "David wasn't keen to fly, so we travelled to America, Japan and Russia by road, sea and rail, which was an absolute bonus."
Nice work, if you can get it. Mind you, MacCormack and Bowie and Dave went back a long way together, attending the same Bromley primary school as eight-year-olds and singing in the local church choir. Less angelically, their private musical tastes included Fats Domino, Elvis and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. As Bowie recently recalled, he always knew MacCormack had a great voice.
In the late 60s, while Bowie searched for an artistic identity, MacCormack found work with jive-spouting DJ, Emperor Roscoe, singing jingles and driving his Roadshow bus. Later, he contributed backing vocals to his pal's Aladdin Sane album.
"That's right. I also sang on Hunky Dory, but I can't remember much about that, except it was fun. It was more a karaoke party move than a career move! But with the tour, the joke was that I ended up staying with David for three years."
The ensuing adventures, which are captured in MacCormack's amusing photographic travelogue, From Station To Station, read like a Monty Python-scripted version of Around The World In 80 Days. The opulently packaged volume is nicely set off by Bowie's droll introduction ("will you actually be able to get this stuff published, do you think?") and features MacCormack's uniquely intimate photographs. Now Rockarchive, purveyors of limited edition rock 'n' roll prints, have expertly scanned 12 of the images for public consumption.
Although MacCormack describes his Mr Ben-esque holiday from reality as a non-stop party with the odd celebrity guest, he also made notable artistic contributions. He's credited (under the Tolstoyian stage name, Warren Peace) on the Diamond Dogs album as co-writer of Rock 'n' Roll With Me. Subsequently, he would help Iggy Pop write the stand out track on his Lust For Life album, Turn Blue. Warren Peace's parting shot was to provide backing vocals and ideas to the legendary Station To Station album. Oh, and there was a highly unfeasible stint as a Bowie body double during the filming of The Man Who Fell To Earth in New Mexico. Eventually, a homesick MacCormack returned to London, while Bowie took time out to paint.
"I have to say I never proffered my services as a collaborator," laughs MacCormack, "that was always a happy accident. I didn't even think of myself as a songwriter back then." A perception he was forced to revise when, after his foray into rock, MacCormack launched a company which provided music adverts and films. Always one to branch out, he later had a unique glass-fronted house built in Maida Vale. These days his journalistic, photographic and musical interests find expression in the recently-launched Anglomania magazine.
And for someone who doesn't consider himself a writer, he has managed to write a warm and witty memoir. But what may surprise readers is The Thin White Duke's jokey, relaxed demeanour throughout the book. The opening section describes the week-long cruise to New York, during which MacCormack and Bowie impersonate Oscar Wilde and Bosie and get blotto while hobnobbing with some decidedly eccentric shipmates. The unfolding story takes in a scrape with an undercover drugs squad, romance in Japan and an episode with a crazed railway porter in East Germany. There's even a proto Fawlty Towers skit which the pair perform for fans, featuring David as the buttoned up English diner and Geoff as the incompetent waiter. It's all an antidote to the tabloid revelation stuff that normally gets written about Bowie, which probably explains the old shape changer's delight with the book.
"Well, I've never liked that gossipy approach: it's so reductive and gives little sense of the reality of someone's being. David's very astute and a good businessman, so he will use his wiles to avoid being misrepresented in the press. But he's also great fun and has a delightfully silly side. Our relationship is one of warmth - almost like family. I'm sorry I can't say anything controversial, but that really is the truth."
Station To Station: Travels With Bowie 1973-1976 by Geoff MacCormack is a limited edition of 2,000 individually numbered, signed and hand-bound copies. To purchase, call 01483 540970 or log on to www.genesis-publications.com.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ham&High. Click the link in the orange box above for details.