Thursday 29 September 2016

When Bowie was the 'special' boy-next-door in Beckenham

Published 11/01/2016 | 10:56

David Bowie in 1970
David Bowie in 1970

David Bowie's "special and sophisticated" style was apparent from his earliest days, according to his former lover and landlady.

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Journalist Mary Finnigan invited the then upcoming singer to live in her flat in Beckenham, south-east London, in 1969 after overhearing his music coming from a neighbour's home.

They formed a relationship and Bowie grew close to her two children while penning his second album Space Oddity.

Ms Finnigan, now 77 and living in Bristol, gives her account of this time in her newly published biography Psychedelic Suburbia.

In an interview with BBC Radio London last week, she described how Bowie had stood out from the crowd from the moment they met.

Describing overhearing him play, she said: "I knew it was not your average folkie or your wannabe. This was something really sophisticated and special.

"I said 'Who's playing?' and this head popped out through the window.

"It was a pale face with a halo of curly blond hair and he said 'I'm David, who are you?'"

The pair struck up an instant rapport and within 24 hours the single mother had invited him to share Flat 1, 24 Foxgrove Road with her and her two young children.

They agreed a "theoretical" rent of £5 a week but this was never paid, she added.

"He told me he needed his kit but I had no idea what that would entail," Ms Finnigan said.

"By the time his friend had unloaded it all, it completely blocked the passageway between the children's room and the loo.

"My daughter was already late for school so I had to pick my way through this jungle of speakers and bettered mic stands and everything else."

This kit was initially moved into Bowie's bedroom but he could not get to his bed so the dining room was converted to become a music room.

The pair started a folk club in Beckenham and organised a music festival.

Ms Finnigan said: "In the early stages I saw how focused he was and how absolutely determined he was to follow his path as a musician.

"His music, you couldn't pigeon-hole it even in those days, it was absolutely original."

Their relationship ended as it became clear he was seeing other people, she said. They last met at a party in 1973.

"He put his arm around me and escorted me to the door and he said 'You're a wonderful woman. Mary Finnigan, I'll never forget you'."

Bromley Council pledged to "redouble" its efforts to make the renovated Beckenham bandstand a "fitting and enduring tribute" to Bowie's memory. The bandstand was "indelibly linked" to the singer after he performed there in 1969, Councillor Colin Smith said.

He said Bowie was at the "absolute cutting edge" of an inspirational generation.

Mr Smith added: "Those of us in our 50s and 60s in particular I suspect but many, many, more as well, have long since been very proud of our adopted Beckenham (and Bromley) boy's roots and what he went on to achieve and like multitudes of others, now mourn his passing with great sadness.

"He may be gone, but his music and legend will live on."

The Beckenham Recreation Ground was left unlocked tonight to allow for mourners to lay flowers and gather to pay their respects.

Press Association

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