The Beckenham Bandstand, dubbed over the years by fans as ‘The Bowie Bandstand’, has been Grade II listed. The iconic iron structure became the venue for the historic Growth festival in Beckenham on August 16, 1969. At the time, Bowie had not yet evolved into a global phenomenon, playing to a couple hundred people in the Croydon Road Recreation Ground. The small festival was held in a fund raising bid for the Beckenham Art Labs project at the Three Tuns pub, a project overseen by Bowie and his landlady at the time, Mary Finnigan.
The bandstand, standing since 1905, some 114 years old, is set to be renovated, after the monument to the ‘Starman’ singer became forgotten and fell into disrepair. An annual festival and a local council are combining funds for the restoration of the bandstand, where it is thought that Bowie wrote lyrics for the 1971 hit, ‘Life On Mars’. The festival also served as inspiration for the single, ‘Memory of a Free Festival’, lifted from Bowie’s second album, ‘Space Oddity’.
On Saturday 17, the festival, known as Bowie’s Beckenham Oddity Festival, marks the 50th anniversary milestone of it’s first concert, with some of the original line up set to return. Among them will be Keith Christmas, who appeared on Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ album, playing acoustic, as well as Bridget St John, David Cousins and Amory Kane. The proceeds raised from the gig will go toward the Bandstand Restoration and Plaque Fund.
Keith said of the original 1969 festival. “But I remember the bandstand. And in those days we perched on these high stools. If you look at some of the photos you can see that there is a large bar stool. It was meant to look cool. But you couldn’t get comfortable. You’ve got one leg stuck out, one leg stuck in, and you can’t keep time with your foot properly.”
The Bowie’s Beckenham Oddity festival organiser, Wendy Faulkner spoke of the late singer, who died in January 2016 to cancer, saying, “In 2013, on his last trip over to the UK, he took his wife and daughter around certain parts of Bromley and London, to places which were special to him. And he came back to the bandstand,”
She added. “His career started to take shape in Beckenham. And he started to write his song Life on Mars from the very steps of that bandstand.”