COUNTY NEWS: Bowie’s 70s soundman recalls his first meeting with the rock star

David Bowie pictured in 1970
David Bowie pictured in 1970

David Bowie’s soundman for 18 months in the 1970s – West Sussex-based songwriter/composer/producer Robin Mayhew - has spoken of his sadness at the great man’s death.

Robin was in charge of sound for all Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust concerts which included a gig at Chichester College on Wednesday, February 23 1972.

Robin SUS-161101-102628003

Robin SUS-161101-102628003

And if the fact that Bowie played Chichester College comes as a surprise, just remember, Robin says, that the first gig of the tour was in a pub with just ten people playing. The tour came just as Bowie’s fame was starting to take off.

“I am just absolutely stunned by the news,” Robin, who lives in Barnham, said.

“I first met him when I was working with a band called Tucky Buzzard, which was produced by Bill Wyman, signed to (pop music manager) Tony DeFries who had just signed David Bowie. That would have been 1971. DeFries arranged a small function to showcase some of David’s music he was working on at the time and which he would have been going to record.

“He said to Tucky Buzzard and me ‘You can do a little bit of a warm-up act.’ I was mixing the sound. Tucky Buzzard was in the vein of Deep Purple, but we had quite a unique PA system. We did our little set, and it would have been very loud, but it all worked perfectly. and then David Bowie went on with Mick Ronson and, I think, Rick Wakeman on piano, doing a semi-acoustic set. And their sound was terrible. There was awful feedback howl.

“We had remained there. We couldn’t leave until after the set. When David finished, Angie Bowie came up to me and said ‘David wants to talk to you.’ I went and sat down with him. He said ‘How the hell were you able to hear everything your singer sang with all the volume going on and yet my sound was appalling?’ He said he was putting a band together and wanting to tour. He asked if I would come to a rehearsal, at Beckenham Rugby Club.

“At the time we were playing, he looked how he did on the Hunky Dory album with long hair and flowing clothes. We got to Beckenham Rugby Club, and he had his mullet haircut. He had the Ziggy Stardust look. We did the rehearsal, and I did the sound, and he said ‘That’s just amazing!’ I ended up working with him for 18 months.

“I have to say it was fascinating. At that time, in the early 70s, technology was moving quite quickly. There were things coming in. There were effects pedals and so on, and David always wanted to be the first person to try out whatever it was. He was always trying new equipment.

“He was very human, and he was very amusing. We had a lot of laughs. When we did the east coast of the States, we did it all by Greyhound bus. We had some wonderful times. But really he was so innovative. That’s why he liked the PA system. I know it sounds boring, but he just loved trying new things.

“He was a normal bloke, but there was something magical about him. He was always wanting to experiment and be a bit different. He was aware that life is not just what you have got in front of you, that there must always be something just around the corner. I remember once we had an early video camera. He was looking at it, really astonished by the fact that you could video something and just play it right back on the television. He just loved things like that.”

Robin worked with him through to July 1973 and last saw him in 1976 when Bowie played incognito with Iggy Pop: “David came and sat with me, and we chatted about old times.”

As for that Chichester College gig, Robin admits - amid the succession of gigs both in this country and the States - he remembers, sadly, absolutely nothing about it.