‘Oh god. All I can say is, round about two hours ago, DAVID BOWIE SMILED AT ME!’
Welcome, one and all, to the tale of the best night of my life.
It was time for my third gig on my A Reality tour adventure. My original ticket for this show was actually in block E, right at the back of the standing area, but having had such an amazing time close to the front at the first Birmingham gig, I couldn’t resist a little peruse of the website to see if there were better tickets. From my diary:
‘I was at this internet station in one of the shopping centres in the morning, checking out reviews of the 19th. Then I idled on over to the NEC website, as I’d overheard some fans the night before saying the box office had very recently had front block tickets on offer. Of course it would be foolish to get another ticket. I just wanted to see if it was true. Well. They had block B, row G. Even closer than I’d been the night before!‘ There was nothing for it – I had to get myself a new ticket so that I could be close to the great man once again. And that turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
So I went in a little early to the venue to pick up my new ticket, and asked if they could resell my old one. ‘No, I was told, the only thing I could do was sell it myself, and she indicated to the touts outside. Basically encouraging me to become a tout. How useful. So I turned to go, thinking my old ticket would be wasted, when the guy behind me suddenly offered to buy it! So not only was I now 30 or so rows closer, I got my money back for the old ticket!‘
Elated at my excellent luck I went into the arena, ‘smirking at block E row M as I passed it, and got to my glorious new seat. The Dandies were fantastic as ever, and there were clearly many fans in the audience as a few people engaged Courtney in a lively chat about when they were touring Australia and would they play “You Were The Last High”? Which of course they did.‘
After the Dandy Warhols had finished their support set, it was strategy time. ‘I knew it would be pointless to try and get up front, so I stood and waited for that moment when spaces would appear in block B. And just before Bowie was due to come on I started to clamber over the chairs, making it two rows up before the lights dimmed and that cartoon appeared. Now here is where my next major stroke of luck occurred: I’d found myself next to a fellow usurper of seats in my quest towards the stage, and we chatted a little. And as the pre-Bowie tune played, he slipped forward through the seats, only to turn back and get me through as well! With his help, I made it to in front of the front row! My gig saviour!‘
Gig Saviour, if you are reading this now and recognise yourself in this account, THANK YOU SO MUCH. Because of you, I had an experience like no other on this night.
So, in my new position I had two rows of people between me and the barrier, and was very close to centre as David took the stage. ‘The band launched into “Rebel Rebel”, this time beginning it with the traditional riff rather than the spacey chords, and it was a complete rush. To be so close to him was – I want to say unreal, but yet it was very, very real. From the first moment this gig was on another level. David was so into it, where the night before he had occasionally looked a bit tired. I have to say, I think that on Thursday I felt a little bit of what I might have felt at 14, had I found myself in the presence of HIM. It was just fantastic. Could not stay still, was utterly compelled to leap about and throw my arms in the air.’
It turned out we were in for some setlist surprises that night! ‘After “New Killer Star” David asked if anyone had been there the night before, and after the huge cheer in response he said, “There’ll be some changed tonight, and here’s the first one”. It was Iggy’s “Sister Midnight”. Not a song I’m overtly familiar with apart from the fact that it’s backing track is precisely the same as “Red Money”, but it was a fab dark and sinister tune.‘
“Reality”, “Fame” and “Cactus” followed, ‘all more intense and immediate than before. I just remember feeling so privileged, so lucky, to be so close to such greatness.’
“Fall Dog Bombs the Moon” was ‘a welcome addition‘ to the setlist, but the next song was another huge surprise and thrill. ‘Then David said: “who was it that rapped all night?” Bloody hell, it was only “All The Young Dudes”!!! Oh, god, what a moment, singing that chorus, “all the young duuudes carry the neeeews!!” etc, SUCH a fucking rush.‘
David was full of fun and cheeky banter that night. ‘Then, “I bet what you want now is a really slow, new song” jested Dave before doing “The Loneliest Guy”. “It’s not true, I really am the loneliest guy” he quipped at the end, prompting a barrage of “I love you David!” I have refrained from joining in thus far, but if I manage to get up close at Wembley, I may not be able to stop myself.’
Next we had ‘the usual brilliance of “The Man Who Sold The World”, magnified, again, followed by the untold genius of “Hallo Spaceboy”. Words cannot express how brilliant this song is live, like being suddenly transported to a dimension of deranged chaos.’
More japery followed with David engaging in some banter with Gail Ann Dorsey, whose birthday it was that day. ‘“Nice dress, Gail” says David after the exquisite “Sunday”, “must be a special occasion”. And after their duet of “Under Pressure”, he leads her to the front of the stage and presents her with a large cake before joining the entire crowd in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday”. “Sorry, God blew out all the candles” he then joked “because he’s a bitch”. How I love that man!’
“Life On Mars” was next. ‘I leaned back onto the front row of seats, just looking at him, singing it back, until the band kicked back in in the second verse and I had to get back on my feet and wave my arms in the air, as you do. The ovation following this song went on and on, as well it might.’
After “Ashes to Ashes” there was a song introduced as ‘“a song we really enjoy playing”. The thrashing drum’n’bass indicated that it was a song from “Earthling”, but to my shame I did not recognise which one until the chorus (well, I’m more of an “Outside” girl after all). It was fun to sing along with the demented “don’t you let my letter get you down!” chorus, even if I couldn’t sing any of the other lyrics (bad fan!)’
“Loving The Alien” was incredible again. ‘All I remember is, he was up at the very front of the stage, so very close, and I stared up at him, this wonderful man bathed in light, singing this achingly beautiful song. It was wonderful.’
There was more banter with the crowd as David said ‘something about wanting to keep on going all night, words to that effect, “but this place has a curfew!” The crowd responded with much assurance that we didn’t care about the breaking of curfews. “We’ll tell you when to stop!”’
The wonderful tunes continued apace. ‘We got “Days” then, all lovely, David sitting on a tall stool for a bit of a breather. And “Never Get Old” with its joyous “3! 2! 1! FOREVER!!!” and so on. “Changes” to mosh to, “I’m Afraid of Americans” to righteously punch the air to.’
And now, we get to That Moment, the one that has stayed so vibrant in my memory all these years.
‘Then, “Heroes”. For this song only, I had a spot in the second row. For some reason, most of the barrier crew were completely static, but I found it impossible not to move, hold my arms in the air, sing along with this most wonderful song, staring up at David just a few feet away from me. I can only imagine this is why, during the second verse, I caught his eye and he smiled down at me for a few seconds. It was an indescribable rush, such a brief connection, but to think, for a moment, just for one moment, he was singing “Heroes” to me. Directly to me. I could not have hoped for such a moment, but I got one.’
And then things got a little bit chaotic!
‘Well I was so ecstatic after that, and just then the song kicked into full throttle, so I had a bit of a leaping session until I suddenly felt a kick in the shins and nearly fell over! Of course, everyone near me laughed at me – and thank GOD David was no longer looking at me – for it must have looked like I’d become so hysterical after his smile that I lost the plot completely. It did dampen the moment slightly, but only for a second. My spirits were soaring beyond the stars as never before. And any creeping doubts that I had just imagined it were soon blown away when, as we were waiting for the encore, the chap behind me said to me “I bet you enjoyed your smile during “Heroes”! I was so shocked I had to hear it again. It was, then, very definitely real. How wonderful is that?’
And I’m happy to report that, when I look back on this memory now, all I remember is the sheer warmth and joy of David smiling at me – like being smiled at by the sun itself – and nothing of the strange moment afterwards.
It was time for the encore! ‘He returned with a pale blue jacket on and said “we’ve got a bit more time!” and gloriously, it’s “Fantastic Voyage”. I think I just swayed, sang along, everything was pretty heavenly, by that point. “Heathen (The Rays)” was next, much as the night before. “Five Years” was epic, I remember feeling engulfed by it, the air around me seemed charged. And yes! “Hang On To Yourself”! Again, what a rush. Perhaps even more so than “Suffragette City”.’
At this point in my diary entry I had to have a little moment of wonderment of how my life as a Bowie fan had changed so much so recently. ‘Can I just pause for a moment to revel in the fact that I am now in a position to contemplate the relative merits of various DB songs live?’
And then it was the end. ‘And “Ziggy Stardust” bade us all farewell, a perfect ending as ever. David thanked Birmingham for being so fab, “we’ve had a great time here,” a few group bows and off.’
I was somewhat overwhelmed, both physically and emotionally, by what I’d just experienced. ‘Staggering away, I got some odd looks, but whether it was due to the general spectacle I’d been making of myself for the previous two hours, or because I looked like I might pass out an any moment, I will never know. I did have to sit down and have a breather for a few moments (and fleetingly wondered whether, if I passed out, would I be taken backstage? Ha!). ‘
But I didn’t pass out, and finally I made it to the train, then to my hotel. As soon as I got to my room, I had to look in the mirror, ‘wondering what David had seen, when he looked at me.’
I hope he saw a young woman full of absolute joy and elation, and that he knew that it was all because of him. I hope, in that small moment when we smiled at each other, I was able to give him a tiny glimpse of how much he meant to me, and how his presence in the world had made my life an immeasurably better one. Because I know that to this day, whenever I feel down, or life gets too much, I have this one precious fact to spur me out of the doldrums: David Bowie smiled at me in Birmingham.