The photographic link to this episode of my blog is slight, but the history in it is topical right now.
I spent most of my formative childhood years at Flat D, 22 Foxgrove Road, in Beckenham, in South East London, It was on the top floor of one of a number of big, rambling Victorian “town villas” along a road which was (and remained until 1970) an “unadopted”, massively pot-holed stony track. These days, it’s in quite a sought after area. It was hardly that in 1959 when we moved there. Nevertheless, it’s where I spent my part of the “Swinging Sixties”, such as they were.
In early 1969 I was a very musically aware 14 year-old, self-financing my music habit by what was later, officially, regarded as the longest paper-round in London, and a Saturday and school holiday job at the local branch of Sainsburys. We were a poorly-off family, too. Running a greengrocers in Lewisham was never going to bring in riches, and my mother also did cleaning work in few local houses in the neighbourhood.
One of these was in a ground-floor flat next door, at number 24, part of an eccentric, probably late-19th century building. Her employer for this was a journalist named Mary Finnegan, who lived in the flat with her two young children, and a husband who was sometimes there, sometimes not. Mother told me one day that Mary had taken in a lodger, named Davey, who wanted to be a pop star. I saw him occasionally in and around Foxgrove Road. He dressed like most “hip” young adults of the time. I thought him friendly and a decent bloke, who usually nodded in recognition or said hi when one met him in the street.
I’ve recently read quite a lot of what I think is bollocks about David Bowie’s (for it was he) time in Foxgrove Road. I think I’d have remembered “fans mobbing his house” and “hippie orgies in the garden”. After a few months, Davey left. He’d moved in to part of a really run-down big old house about five minutes walk away in Southend Road, an upstairs flat in which was home to a guy I’d been friends with at primary school. I don’t recall anyone calling the place “Haddon Hall” at the time, but history now has that as its name. Frankly, it was a bit of a slum. Like our house, and number 24 in Foxgrove Road, it was demolished in the early 1970s.
One of the portering and cleaning staff at Sainsburys who I got on with very well was an outgoing, eccentric chap called Dave Hewett. One evening in the school summer holidays after my 15th birthday, Dave and I went to the music venue that had recently opened at the Three Tuns pub, just up the road from Sainsburys. It was a Sunday, I think. I was under age, but Dave was several years older, and knew many of the people there. No questions were asked at the door. Admission was something like one and sixpence, and I recall drinking a Pepsi. Part of the stage act was my neighbour, Davey. I simply cannot recall whether he played “Space Oddity”. It’s likely, because it apparently came out as a single that July, but my memory is a blank.
A few weeks later, because Sainsburys wanted me to work on the following Monday (when Sainsburys stores were traditionally closed for re-stocking, at that time) I had a rare August Saturday off, and stopped by the “free pop festival” in Beckenham Recreation Ground, in Croydon Road. I thought the whole event was a bit of a shambles. Several school friends were there. A curly-haired version of the figure now more widely known as David Bowie played acoustic guitar, and a long-haired, skinny girl called Bridget did a set of songs (she was Bridget St John). I don’t recall staying more than a few hours. Where it was held has become a bit of a place of pilgrimage for Bowie fans. I struggle to understand why.
Bowie married Angie, his first wife, not very long after that. You couldn’t miss Angie in the High Street. I recall her dressed in a bright yellow outfit, with guys walking down the street after her while making chicken noises. The Bowies occasionally bought shopping in Sainsburys. It was one of the last branches to go self-service. When I worked there, all the fresh produce was sold over the marble counters. I was “butcher’s boy” for most of my time there. The assistant manager was a strange Irish guy named Slattery. Strange maybe, but with a cutting sense of humour I quite liked. Bowie and Angie came in to the shop one day (probably in summer 1970). He was wearing some kind of smock-like outfit. He was stopped just in front of the counter I was working on, by assistant manager Slattery, who asked “Can we help you, Miss?” The comment was certainly addressed to David, not Angie.
I never became a Bowie fan. By the time of his real early fame, I was living in deepest Kent, and had become a folkie. The Sweet were the local glam rock band to where I lived, and I loathed their output.
Still, sad to hear Bowie had died. A couple of days later, I was out with my camera, and I’d swear the sky was trying to produce a Bowie “Ziggy” motif to mark his passing.