A Dame of Thrones: Bowie weekender at the V&A Museum with Charles Shaar Murray and Barry Miles

My birthday celebrations (30th April, if you really must buy me a drink) got off to a cracking start on Saturday with the Bowie weekender and two days of mostly free events at the V&A museum augmenting their stunning Bowie Is exhibition.

Charles Shaar Murray and Barry Miles gave four talks on the 1960s counter-culture of which David Bowie was a part in Soho in London.

Miles (he’s mainly known by his last name) ran the legendary Indica Gallery and bookshop and was one of the major players in the underground scene. In 1966 the gallery hosted newcomer Fluxus artist Yoko Ono’s first exhibitionsIntruction Pieces and Cut Piece — where she famously ran into a certain musician named John Lennon.

Miles said, “We didn’t know we were in this thing called ‘the Sixties’, it was just us and we thought it was just the way things were.” Soho was the centre of the vibrant post-war cultural world with its plethora of clubs, cafés, recording studios and cheap eats. Carnaby Street was the centre of the wholesale schmatte trade where young designers created fantasy clothes and budding rock stars would go hunting for the latest floral frillies and flared strides.

“All that artistic activity was able to come about because conditions allowed it,” he explained.

Ah, there’s that cultural superstructure emerging out of the economic base, again.

“Rents in central London were affordable and you could easily get work. I came out of art school and wandered up Charing Cross Road and within an hour I had a job in a bookshop.” And he never looked back.

Charles Shaar Murray said that everyone was a busy bee in those heady days. “Bowie was absorbing 1960s counter culture while Marc Bolan was collecting phone numbers.”

Bolan was the first of the glam-rockers to gain success but Bowie soon overtook him. Why, premature death in a Barnes car crash notwithstanding, did that happen?

“Bowie championed the power of the imagination, left Bolan in his backwash. Bolan was John the Baptist to Bowie’s JC but made same record over and over.” David, as we know, was a magpie: he observed everything, experimented, read loads and refracted the whole gamut through himself.

I’ve been around the exhibition three times and I’ve discovered something new on each visit — don’t miss his tiny coke spoon. It’s definitely one to savour as there’s so much. It’s so rich, I just don’t see how anyone can do it in the 45 minutes estimated by the museum, so allow for a good 1-2 hours if you want to suck it dry.

I’m going to start calling writer Paul Morley Tungsten Nuts because he must have an ego of steel.

Over Saturday and Sunday, Morley became an installation in the V&A’s Grand Entrance (what else!?), writing a book about Bowie, inspired by cards filled in by the visitors. Look how he’s captured the gen-yew-ine orfenticity of yer average wordsmiff’s desk clutter. But the most cruel and unusual aspect was that his computer screen was projected immediately behind him, revealing every keystroke, idea, rethink, deletion and amendment like a champion squealer grassing him up to his audience.

There was a lot of staring at the screen — at times it was like having Jack Torrence in the building. And with Paul Morley, you never know … I look forward to seeing what he got out of the experience.

Elsewhere, poet Jeremy Reed read from his collection, Piccadilly Bongo; the grand piano rang out Bowie songs in the restaurant; DJs played Bowie-related music; face-painting got done with the Aladdin Sane lightning flash being popular; and loads, LOADS more.

The cherry on the icing on the cake of my weekend was being joined by mates Gary Lammin (Bermondsey Joyriders), Hi Ching and Deborah Evan-Stickland. Hotshot bluesman Stephen Dale Petit (whose groovy new album Cracking the Code is out in weeks), found the rhino horny.

Sorry that my friends Paul Anderson, Steve and Denise Ingamells, and post-punk Piaf, the Duchess of Brooklyn Patti Palladin, had to pull out at the last minute. Dammit, guys, I really wanted you there.

Previously unseen pix of David Bowie by Brian Duffy.

I’ll be performing at the Morning Star Revolutionary Sounds event on May Day in Kilburn.

Madam Miaow says … visit Anna Chen’s website here:


Anna’s food blog here:

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