When one considers the political landscape of our borough today and then rewinds the clock to the 1960s and early 70s when a young David Bowie lived here it is perhaps understandable that the borough has failed to capitalise on his association with Bromley generally and Beckenham in particular.
By 1969 the cultural shift led by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cilla Black, etc. had happened and was almost passing into history. It was the time of progressive rock bands such as Cream, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.
Against this backdrop the young energetic and charismatic David Jones as he was then, burst onto the local scene as a leading talent of the burgeoning glam rock genre of music which carried the 1960s pop revolution into the 1970s ahead of the punk rock era of the mid to late 70s.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture the good burghers of Bromley choking on their beluga canapés and spluttering into crystal glasses of claret over the arrival of some Johnny cum lately, Billy never heard of you, upstart from London. And not just any old London but Brixton of all places. A place of turbulence, immigration, mind altering substances and foment.
In truth judging by the mugshots on the Bromley Council web page it is possible that some of those who are councillors today were holders of office then too. Bromley in the 1960s would have needed a seismic jolt of prehistoric magnitude to take David Bowie to its heart. So it is hardly surprising that 50 years later it is not leafy semi suburban Bromley which is the focus of the tributes to Bowie’s life and talent, but exciting edgy Brixton.
To see Bromley’s councillors after all these years, trying catch the end of the wave by pledging to rebuild the bandstand in Croydon Road Recreation Ground in tribute to David Bowie would be worthy of comedy if wasn’t so utterly tragic. And it is to be noted that before his death David Bowie reportedly returned to his roots in England. To Brixton? No! But to Beckenham; there is no doubt that in his mind he was a son of our borough!
With such a backdrop it was therefore a bit presumptuous of me to declare the Wednesday Weekly Wander this week to be a David Bowie Tribute Ride. But hey! I’ve got at least as good a claim on his heritage as Bromley Council and its dodgy bandstand refurb.
The Wander was also an opportunity to say goodbye to Tessa on her final day as a Bromleyite as she departs for her new posh home near the banks of the River Thames to the West of London.
Six of us met at Bromley South and departed just after 7.30 heading through the back streets to Oakley Road where we paused outside Ravenswood School where there were floral tributes. In the late 60s this was Bromley Technical College where young Bowie was a student.
From here we cycled to Foxgrove Road in Beckenham where we were uncertain whether we identified the Bowie manse. There was no obvious tribute here.
We next visited Zizzi’s in Beckenham High Street which in the Bowie days was a Pub called the Three Tuns. I did not live in Bromley at that time so I can only comment on the Three Tons in the early 1980s when it had a reputation for drunkenness, violence and drugs. There were a few sad bunches of flowers here and a red plaque in his honour on the wall. I don’t know anything about red plaques, I really thought it ought to be blue.
Finally we cycled round the corner to the Croydon Road Rec. which was closed of course. Apparently Bromley’s canine inhabitants do not need to walk after dark – clever eh? We weren’t sure we could see the aforementioned bandstand through the railings so we could not assess the extent of the financial commitment that the council were preparing to invest for their newly discovered hero. I imagine they will contract out to a couple of Del and Rodney Trotter types to give it a lick of watered down white paint and then commission a grand opening for the local dignitaries, who will all declare their long and committed interest in our departed prodigy; and this blog-post has probably guaranteed that Bromley Cyclists won’t be on the guest list.
And so to the Bridge House Pub at Penge West. Here we found Tessa awaiting us and we were also joined by Andrew who we haven’t seen for a while. We whiled away a pleasant hour or so nattering and promising to keep in touch etc. I hope we live up tp these commitments; good luck Tess we are missing you already.