Taped! When Ziggy played guitar on TV for the first time
Unearthed recording of Bowie on ITV show a month before his groundbreaking ‘Top of the Pops’ debut
David Bowie’s Top of the Pops appearance as Ziggy Stardust in July 1972 is regarded as a seminal moment in music history. But few people remember that Bowie actually made his television debut as Ziggy a month earlier, singing Starman on an ITV teatime show called Lift Off with Ayshea. The performance was believed lost to history when the tapes were accidentally wiped.
Almost half a century on, a recording of that first appearance has been unearthed. A member of the public came forward to say they had captured the show on computer tape, a forerunner of VHS.
It is now being restored with the aim of showing it in a forthcoming BBC documentary, David Bowie: Finding Fame.
“For fans, it is something of a Holy Grail,” said Francis Whately, the filmmaker. “It would fall apart if we played it, so it’s had to be very carefully restored. It will be a real coup if it comes off.”
The tape has degraded and is being slowly “baked” – incubated at 130°C to extract moisture that has built up over the decades and rendered the footage unplayable.
Still photographs of the Lift Off appearance do exist, showing Bowie wearing the same Ziggy jumpsuit as he would later wear on Top of the Pops. He appeared alongside The Spiders from Mars in an episode broadcast on June 15 1972.
The pop show ran from 1969-74 and was hosted by Ayshea Brough. It is said that Granada Television had sent 144 tapes to be transferred to digital, a handful of which were marked with an “x” meaning they could be safely deleted because they featured duplicate content.
Instead, a technician misunderstood the instructions and thought only the marked tapes were to be transferred, deleting the rest. While the Top of the Pops performance of Starman lives on in the archive, garnering millions of views online and regularly featuring on television, the song’s television debut has been all but forgotten.
In an interview with Record Collector magazine, Brough said: “He wiped years of my life and performances, and everybody else’s performances. It’s a terrible thing.” Some musicians do remember the impact of the Lift Off performance. Nick Rhodes, the Duran Duran keyboardist, said in a recent Bowie biography, Dylan Jones’s David Bowie: A Life: “He was a phenomenon, in the same way the Sex Pistols were a few years later. At school the next day, nobody talked about anything else.”
Marc Riley, the BBC broadcaster and former member of The Fall, told another biographer, David Buckley: “I will never forget the moment [when] on came this thing with his weird mates. I was absolutely gobsmacked. My gran was shouting insults at the TV, which she usually saved for Labour Party political broadcasts. And I just sat there agog. I was experiencing a life-changing moment. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it really did knock me for six.”
The BBC documentary, which will be broadcast next month, is the final part of Whately’s trilogy of films about Bowie. It explores the star’s early years and includes contributions from one of his first girlfriends, actress and model Hermione Farthingale, and a cousin, Kristina Amadeus, who has never spoken publicly about him before.
– © The Daily Telegraph