Plaque Unveiled at Historic David Bowie Site
The 40th anniversary of David Bowie‘s iconic and game-changing ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars’ was commemorated yesterday (March 27) when the Crown Estate unveiled a plaque which has been placed at 23 Heddon Street. The sign is just off from Regent Street, London, W1, and is where the album’s cover photo was actually taken. That fact was little-known, until now, of course. The plaque marks a significant location in British music lore and history.
David Shaw, head of the Regent Street Portfolio at The Crown Estate, said, “Regent Street is famous for many cultural firsts. Not only was the first British cinema opened in Regent Street but the seminal album that launched Ziggy Stardust’s arrival on planet Earth had its spiritual home in Heddon Street, which is now the food quarter to Regent Street. Regent Street is proud of the association with David Bowie, a true British cultural icon.”
At the plaque’s unveiling, Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp proclaimed, “Ziggy was the ultimate messianic rock star, and with him David Bowie successfully blurred the lines not just between boys and girls, but himself and his creation. Bowie was Ziggy come to save us–and I bought him hook, eyeliner and haircut. It seems right that it should be the job of a fan boy and I am very honored.”
A VIP breakfast was also held at the event, with Spiders From Mars members Mick Woodmansey and Trevor Bolden in attendance. Also there was Terry Pastor, the illustrator who created the album cover from the shot. Producer Ken Scott traveled from Los Angeles to attend.
Any rock fan worth his or her salt is aware of this image. The shot depicts Ziggy outside on a cold and wet January night, resting his foot outside of 23 Heddon Street. During the shoot, Bowie was persuaded to step outside, but the other band members thought it was too cold, thus declining to join him for the photo. “It was cold and it rained and I felt like an actor,” Bowie himself recalled. “We did the photographs outside on a rainy night and then upstairs in the studio we did the Clockwork Orange look-a-likes that became the inner album sleeve.”
So if you plan a walking tour of London anytime soon, and you are a rocker, make sure to hit this destination.
The text of Gary Kemp’s speech at the unveiling is as follows:
Thank you David and all who have worked to make this possible at the Crown Estate.
It’s strange that I used to be chased out of the street with my felt-tip pen for scrawling ‘Ziggy Woz Here’ and now I’m unveiling a plaque. I guess the Ziggy Stardust generation has really come of age.
On 13th January 1972, Ziggy Stardust was first spotted here and snapped by photographer Brian Ward. He was caught standing against this wall where we are now, underneath a sign for a furrier’s, holding what looked like a guitar but could easily have been a ray gun.
Ziggy appeared from the shadows of a much darker London than the one we know now, certainly no pedestrian walkways and alfresco dining; a much poorer, less glamorous London, still in the shadow of the Second World War. And that’s the important context.
He was the ultimate messianic rock star, and with him David Bowie successfully blurred the lines not just between boys and girls, but himself and his creation. Bowie was Ziggy come to save us–and I bought him hook, eyeliner and haircut.
Looking back to what we can now call the Golden age of Rock, this was a cultural highpoint of some significance. The album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars not only changed Bowie’s life forever, it also changed mine, allowing a generation of adolescents to find an escape from the ennui of existence and the hard times of the early seventies.
As a teenager any visit to the West End would have to involve a pilgrimage to here. We’d stare at the phone box that Ziggy had obviously teleported himself into, and then try to fathom the meaning behind the K. West sign. K West? Yes, Quest! It all made sense back then.
I believe that Ziggy is now one of London’s great fictional characters and stands alongside the likes of Dorian Gray and the Artful Dodger, as well as antiheroes such as Steerpike and of course Clockwork Orange’s Alex.
But it seems right that it should be the job of a fanboy, to have this honor; after all, Ziggy is no longer actually with us, killed off by his creator in 1973. And as for that creator, well he is currently nurturing his well-earned enigma in New York. In any case, as Ziggy once sang: ‘He’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’ll blow our minds.’
Before I unveil this I’d like to say how thrilled we are to have two of the Spiders here, Woody Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder, and also Terry Pastor whose hand tinting of the photograph added to its theatricality, giving it the look of a film-noir setting. And also choosing Ziggy’s blond hair, which added to his otherworldliness.
Can we also think of absent heroes–Ziggy’s faithful lieutenant and my favourite guitarist of all time, who rode shotgun throughout the album–Mick Ronson. And a special mention to the beautiful Freddie Burretti who created the clothes that Ziggy wore.
And finally, this plaque will make sure that no one forgets exactly where Ziggy first arrived.