From ‘second class’ to superstar - David Bowie’s unpromising gig in Southsea 50 years ago

David Bowie pictured in 1970
David Bowie pictured in 1970
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HE MAY have gone on to be one of the most iconic figures in popular music, but when David Bowie played a gig in Southsea more than 50 years ago there was little sign of what he would become.

For more than 40 years Bowie, who has died aged 69, released a string of trailblazing albums, which often saw him radically change his musical style and appearance, from Ziggy Stardust, to his acclaimed Berlin trilogy, his commercial peak with Let’s Dance in the ’80s, as well as dabbling in electronic music and heavy metal.

While I am very sad that he’s died, I’m more happy that he lived because of what he gave us

Dave Allen, Pompey Pop historian

He had released his 26th album, Black Star on Friday – his birthday.

But when he appeared at The Bird Cage on Saturday, October 30, 1965 with his band, The Lower Third, it wasn’t the most memorable of gigs.

Pompey Pop historian Dave Allen was at the show and recalls: ‘He was this cockney-sounding bloke. They were a bit blues, a bit Who – second-class bands tended that way back then, and no one took much notice.

‘It was a real soul weekend there – Ben E King was there on Thursday, Jimmy James and The Vagabonds on the Friday, who were very popular in Portsmouth at the time, and then David.

‘They were great days.’

Although Bowie didn’t impress that night, Dave now looks rather more fondly on Bowie’s place in the musical firmament: ‘He’s just one of those great figures, like Jimi Hendrix, there aren’t lots of people who are obviously influenced by him. If you tried to imitate him, he had moved on to something else.

‘While I am very sad that he’s died, I’m more happy that he lived because of what he gave us.

‘He had virtually 70 years and he gave us more than 100 other people will give us combined.’

Bowie didn’t return to The Bird Cage before the Eastney club closed in 1967, but he came back to Portsmouth to play South Parade Pier in 1972 at the start of his Ziggy Stardust period.

And he performed one of his last ever shows headlining the Isle of Wight Festival in 2004. Later that year he retired from live performance after a heart scare required emergency surgery.

He had largely retreated from the public eye until the sudden and unexpected release of his The Next Day album in 2013, but he never returned to live performance.