Des Henly's Rock Years

DES HENLY “ON THE ROAD” with DAVID BOWIE

Fumble had just played a concert in Nottingham on 27th December 1972, and we arrived at our hotel to find a message asking us to contact our manager John Sherry in London urgently. He told us David Bowie’s manager had asked if Fumble could join in David’s short UK tour, which had already started in London a week earlier; we had been asked to perform with him the very next day at the Hard Rock concert venue in Manchester. David’s current support act was “Stealers Wheel”, but David had seen Fumble perform on BBC 2’s Old Grey Whistle Test just a week before on 19th December, and had decided that Fumble would be an ideal complement to his show.

Fumble did have a full tour schedule for January 1973, and so a decision had to be made. Although we had heard of David Bowie through articles in the music press, we weren’t that familiar with his music. However an opportunity to play five prestigious concert venues, Manchester’s Hard Rock, Glasgow’s Greens Playhouse (now the Apollo), The Empire in Edinburgh, Newcastle’s famous City Hall, and Preston’s Guildhall was a chance not to be missed.

After our performance in Manchester we settled back to watch David’s show. His “stage appearance” in those early days of 197New Musial Express, January 19733 was, to say the least, a little “weird”. It brought a smile to our faces when this “twig” bounced onto the stage with a red carrot topped hairdo, rouge painted cheeks, a green leotard and no eyebrows. Despite being taken somewhat aback at this, as he played out his set as “Ziggy Stardust” with his “Spiders from Mars”, we started to warm to his music. It was a great short tour, which culminated in Preston on 9th January 1973, when David invited us to join him on his forthcoming coast to coast tour of America in February and March.

There was no decision to make this time……
…………. “Oh yes pleeeeeeease !!!”

Record Mirror ArticleITEM FROM RECORD MIRROR 10th February 1973  - “FUMBLE JOIN BOWIE”
Fumble have been asked by David Bowie to join him on his forthcoming tour of America. This news follows Fumble's success on Bowie's last British tour. The band will record tracks for a single which will be rushed released in America to coincide with the U.S. dates. The tour is scheduled to start in Philadelphia 16th, 17th & 18th February. Then Nashville 23rd, Memphis 25th, March 1st Detroit, 4th Chicago, 10th L.A.

US-Tour – Feb / March 1973:
16 Feb 73 Philadelphia Tower Theatre
17 Feb 73 Philadelphia Tower Theatre
18 Feb 73 Philadelphia Tower Theatre
19 Feb 73 Philadelphia Tower Theatre
23 Feb 73 Nashville War Memorial
25 Feb 73 Memphis Ellis Auditorium
1 Mar 73 Detroit Masonic Auditorium
4 Mar 73 Chicago Aragon Ballroom
10 Mar 73 Los Angeles Long Beach Arena
12 Mar 73 Hollywood Hollywood Palladium

We touched down at Philadelphia International Airport in the afternoon of 16th February 1973, where we were met by our road manager Ian “Tubs” Turner, who told us there was no time to go to the hotel and that we were to go directly to the Tower Theatre for the first show. David’s tour had had massive advance publicity, and he had already been perceived as a kind of gay alien character. To some less liberally minded Americans, this was, at the least offensive, and to others, a challenge to their “American Christian values”. We were to experience this depth of feeling later in the tour when we were told that David had received death threats in Tennessee. However that was not on our mind as four excited young Englishmen were soaking up the first few minutes of their American experience being driven from the airport to the concert venue in downtown Philadelphia.

En route, the friendly cab driver soon struck up a conversation, asking what we were doing there. We told him we were a rock ‘n roll band on tour, and supporting David Bowie. “Hey I read about that guy !, kinda weird ain’t he ?”  I said not really, what do you mean, to which he said “that bi-sexual thing”. He was friendly enough, but I wasn’t interested in pursuing this topic of conversation, so I passed it off as an image and rock ‘n roll thing, and that was that.

Three of us in the band smoked cigarettes, and liked the French brand Gauloise, but had not been able to buy any at Heathrow, so Barry quite innocently asked the driver “is there anyway we can get some French fags ?”.  The cabby fell unusually silent and in the rear view mirror we could see his eyes narrow as he studied us more carefully. After some deliberation, (presumably with the David Bowie image still in his mind, and the word “fag” having a very different meaning in America) he replied “Kinda fussy ain’t you ?”. Welcome to America Fumble, our tour had started !
After our first Philadelphia set, we bumped into David on his way to the stage. He was wearing what I can only describe as a massive deep sea diving suit (except that the trousers were flared!).  He smiled and welcomed us to the tour, apologising that he couldn’t shake hands as his out-stretched arms were held rigid by the inflexible garment. With his carrot topped head and rouge checks and no eyebrows emerging from the neck of the diving suit he quite honestly looked ridiculous ! I wanted to laugh but managed not to. As he waddled onto the stage, and took his position behind the curtain, the strains of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” were filling the auditorium. The curtains rose to reveal David in silhouette against the backlighting, in the crucifix position. As the music reached it’s crescendo, two of David’s female staff ripped off the diving suits arms, the suit came away in one, to reveal “Ziggy Stardust” in all his glory (and leotard !). He launched into his first number “Panic In Detroit” to huge roars from the audience. It was a stunning start to the show, (he no longer looked ridiculous), and his whole show was a triumph of rock ‘n roll meets theatre. Another high spot was the revolving glitter ball that sent moving stars all over the auditorium as he performed “Space Oddity”. We retired to our motel, tired from jet lag, but exhilarated from our experiences of our first day in America.

The greatest blessing of this American tour was that David refused to fly anywhere. So we hired a Chevrolet Impala and drove from Philadelphia on the East coast, through Nashville, Memphis, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Hollywood (and fulfilled a childhood ambition to travel the whole of route 66) in just 3 short weeks, and had the time of our lives. We performed 20 shows at 10 venues.

There are far too many stories to relate in a short article (perhaps for another day), but one that sticks in my mind is the day Sean & I acquired our Nashville Police Jackets. The security in Nashville was intense due to the threats on David’s life. We became friends with one of the officers assigned to our security, and having admired his police jacket he took us to R & R Uniforms in Nashville and presented Sean & I with one each, which we wore with relish. That evening we had been invited to join David and his entourage for drinks at their suite at the Memphis Holiday Inn. We arrived, still proudly sporting our new jackets and tapped on the door. In the darkened corridor we must have been difficult to recognise as the door was slammed shut far quicker than it had been opened. We then heard much commotion inside. The sound of running taps, flushing toilets and general panic. Eventually the door was opened again, this time we were recognised, and with a huge sigh of “Oh No !” we were let in. It was only then that we realised that we had been mistaken for the police, and were the cause of various substances having been disposed off in great haste. The partygoers clearly didn’t want to spend more time in America than they had originally planned. Ah Well, that’s rock ’n roll !

We were to see David on several occasions after the American tour and relive some of the memories. In fact while Fumble were appearing in the West End musical Elvis four years later, David “borrowed” our pianist Sean to do a world tour, and to record two albums with him, “Stage” and “Lodger”.

The 1973 David  Bowie tour of America is a treasured memory of travelling and performing with a truly great artist, and I will remember it for the rest of my life….Cheers David. Des Henly.