News Column

Have you been watching? ; David Bowie - Five Years (BBC2, Saturday)

June 1, 2013

YellowBrix

FRANCIS Whately's dazzling 90-minute documentary (rockumentary?) is the first to take an in-depth look at the most gifted and innovative solo performer British pop music has ever produced, a colossus rivalled only by The Beatles in rock's UK hall of fame.

Which is odd. Bowie, one of the most visually orientated performers of all time. is hardly lacking interesting clips.

Then again, Whately's film, on which Nottingham-bred Bowie encyclopaedist Nicholas Pegg was a consultant, showed us a lot we'd never seen - Bowie orchestrating the complicated backing vocals for Right from the Young Americans album was a real eye-opener, to take just one of countless examples - as it highlighted five crucial (non- consecutive) years of his career.

Key albums like Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Young Americans, Station To Station, Low, Heroes, Scary Monsters and Let's Dance were covered and we heard archive quotes from the Thin White Duke himself (who's now apparently decided he's never doing another interview) plus freshly filmed interviews with his collaborators.

So we had 2013 clips of Trevor Bolder (interviewed shortly before his death from cancer at 62 a week or two back) and Woody Woodmansey from the Spiders Of Mars to back up the archive chat with the great Mick Ronson. We had crusty old Rick Wakeman, telling us how he came to play that lush classical piano on Life On Mars, and using its chord structure to demonstrate exactly why Bowie was so great. There was rhythm guitar ace Carlos Alomar, the legendary sideman who steered Bowie's bands for 20 years. There was Nile Rodgers, telling us how Let's Dance came about, while Brian Eno and scabrously entertaining King Crimson guitar legend Robert Fripp joined forces with producer Tony Visconti to talk up the Berlin era. Even brilliant former Bowie and Stevie Wonder drummer Dennis Davis showed up - and I've never seen him interviewed anywhere.

It was a real crash course for the ravers. The songs, the characters, the bands, the shocking changes in direction and shining innovations all flew by - while the man at the centre of it all remained as unknowable as ever, his voice on the archive clips changing as often as his haircut.

Musically, the depth of his achievement was revealed by what was left out. Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Lodger? All unmentioned, as was the great late resurgence of Outside, Heathen and surprise new album The Next Day.

At the very end, we caught a glimpse of him in one of this year's triumphant comeback videos, prompting the notion that 2013 should have been one of the five years. Brilliant work, but now can we have the other 40-odd years, please? SEAN HEWITT

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.


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