As the world reels from the news of David Bowie’s passing, we asked ourselves how best to reflect on the life and career of one of the great artists of the last century? Peerless in his endeavours, Bowie’s impact on the world of music, art, fashion and popular culture across the 20th and 21st century is unrivalled.
In 2004, David Bowie played what was to be his last ever live show in the UK, closing the final night of the Isle of Wight Festival at Seaclose Park, Newport as part of his ‘A Reality Tour’. We spoke today to the man behind the booking, festival chief John Giddings, about the performance and his memories of the man himself.
Getting David Bowie to play the Isle of Wight Festival must have always been a dream booking, when did you think that dream might actually become a reality?
I think it was probably December or January. Getting The Who to play the Saturday night was one of the things that helped seal it, because Pete Townshend is one of David’s ultimate heroes and he covered ‘Pictures of Lily’. David was very into other singers and songwriters from the same generation. He was a great admirer of Syd Barrett and after playing alongside The Who, we actually talked about possibly doing a tour of America with The Who and David together but it never happened.
What are your memories now, more than a decade on, of the day and David Bowie’s performance?
I remember him wandering around backstage during the afternoon on the cricket green, talking to people left, right and centre. Because when you’re an artist you don’t want to be trapped in a dressing room for four or five hours, you want to find out what else is going on and who else is there.
I got a text from a guy who was driving one of our buses this morning actually, saying ‘it was the magic moment in my life when David came into my office and we sat there and chatted for ten minutes’. Which I’d completely forgotten about actually.
I do remember introducing him to The Charlatans, he really liked them.
As a Bowie fan, I thought the setlist was near faultless. Was there a particular highlight for you?
It was just the beginning bit, the shiver it sent down the spine.
Stupidly - and I’d never do this again - I’d put the Euro 2004 game on the main screen as England were playing Germany (Editor’s note: it was in fact Portugal). When I went to the dressing room to get David, England were one nil up. Then, by the time he’d got to the stage, they were two one down so they lost. You had 50,000 people in a field and there were very few people who could have got them going again and that was David Bowie. He came and sung ‘Rebel Rebel’ and that was it, we were off to the races.
You kept in touch with David after that performance and last year were quoted as saying he’d never tour again. Was that always the case?
I was actually misquoted then. It was just every time I’d seen him in the last ten years, before I got the chance to speak he would say ‘I’m not touring’, and I would say ‘I’m not asking, I’m just saying hello’.
It was never discussed, about doing another tour, but I always thought there was a chance to do one or two one-off shows. I’d hope against hope that he would come back again in the future and play the Isle of Wight, or he would play the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall. You’d always wish that you could make these things happen.
Knowing his Isle of Wight Festival 2004 performance will now officially be known as his last ever on UK soil, that must be both a proud and sad distinction to have recognised?
It’s now put it up against Hendrix and The Doors, sadly.
How would you sum David Bowie up as a person?
He was a true perfectionist, he was very intelligent, intellectual, good fun to hang out with, had a great sense of humour. He was very amusing. As a performer he was incredible, it [Isle of Wight Festival 2004] was one of the best set lists you’d ever heard but he was also a good guy to be with. He wasn’t just a pop star, he was at the cutting edge of fashion, photography and film. He was really interesting and he was interested in you what you were doing and what was going on in the world. He could sit and chat about other artists and what they were up to, it wasn’t all about him.
We often discuss how and where we might find the next crop of festival headliners. Do you think in the future anyone will be able to match David Bowie and have his impact?
Who the hell could we ever get to be comparable to that, with that musical heritage? He’s up there with Beethoven as one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time, with Hendrix and Lennon. I honestly don’t know who in 20 or 30 years time will be headlining the Isle of Wight Festival of that kind of calibre. It’s a sad, sad loss to the world and it’s too early.
Finally, have you had any thoughts on paying a special tribute to Bowie at this year’s festival?
People keep asking me that but it’s just too early to say. We’ve got Queen on the Sunday night and obviously they play ‘Under Pressure’. Maybe David and Freddie are singing it together upstairs as we speak, I don’t know.
I honestly haven’t thought that far ahead, it’s a day of mourning.
David Bowie at Isle of Wight Festival 2004 setlist
New Killer Star
Cactus (Pixies cover)
Sister Midnight (Iggy Pop cover)
All the Young Dudes
The Man Who Sold the World
The Loneliest Guy
Ashes to Ashes
Station to Station
I’m Afraid of Americans
Heathen (The Rays)
- Click here to read our Isle of Wight Festival 2004 review.
- Click here to read more about the show from www.davidbowie.com
Isle of Wight Festival returns to Seaclose Park this June, 15 years since the festival brand was first revived by Giddings back in 2002. Queen with Adam Lambert, Stereophonics, Faithless, Iggy Pop, The Corrs, Adam Ant, The Family Rain, Pendulum and The Damned are all scheduled to play the weekend festival this summer.
Visit www.isleofwightfestival.com for more information.