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David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ demo tape sells for £50,000

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2019-03-11

Bowie's early demo of Starman wa recorded in 1971, and has remained unheard until now
Bowie's early demo of Starman wa recorded in 1971, and has remained unheard until now (Image: Omega Auctions)

An early David Bowie demo tape featuring possibly the first recording of his classic song ‘Starman’ has sold at auction in the U.K for £50,000.

The reel-to-reel rehearsal tape dated from 1971, and also featured previously unheard recordings of ‘Moonage Daydream’ and ‘Hang Onto Yourself’.

The tape had spent the past 48 years packed away in the attic of Kevin Hutchinson, who was given it as a teenager by Bowie’s guitarist and musical collaborator Mick Ronson.

Having been forgotten about for almost half a century, the tape went up for sale at Omega Auctions on March 12 where it sold for £50,430 ($67,000), five times its initial estimate.

Released in April 1972, ‘Starman’ was a major breakthrough for David Bowie and gave him his first hit single since ‘Space Oddity’ in 1969.

His appearance performing the song as Ziggy Stardust on the TV show Top of the Pops, backed by his band The Spiders From Mars, proved to be a landmark moment in his career, and perhaps the launching point for his subsequent superstardom.

The rehearsal tape is believed to be one of the earliest, if not the very first, recording of the song Bowie ever made.

The reel-to-reel tape also includes unheard versions of Bowie's classic songs 'Moonage Daydream' and 'Hang Onto Yourself'
The reel-to-reel tape also includes unheard versions of Bowie’s classic songs ‘Moonage Daydream’ and ‘Hang Onto Yourself’ (Image: Omega Auctions)

Towards the end of the track, Mick Ronson can be heard attempting to stop the tape – to which Bowie complains that he hadn’t finished yet.

The song wasn’t even intended to appear on Bowie’s seminal 1972 album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’, and was a late inclusion after an RCA executive heard the demo and suggested it would make a great single.

The reel-to-reel tape, which runs to 44 minutes, also includes versions of album tracks such as ‘Five Years’, ‘Rock & Roll Suicide’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’, and ‘Lady Stardust’, along with out-takes of Bowie chatting in-between songs.

Ronson kept the tape, and gave it to his neighbour Kevin Hutchinson who was an aspiring musician, suggesting he learned to play some of the songs.

Hutchinson marked the box “David Bowie Rehearsal Tape”, then packed it away and forgot about it for the next four decades.

It was only in 2017, after watching a documentary on Bowie following his death, that he remembered its existence – and now the piece of musical history has been snapped up for a five-figure sum.

The demo tape isn’t the first early Bowie recording to surface at auction in recent months.

Back in September 2018 the same auction house offered the very first tape Bowie ever recorded with his teenage band The Konrads.

Although he joined the group in 1963 as a saxophone player, he was quickly promoted to lead vocal duties, and sang two songs on the band’s demo for Decca Records.

Bowie left the band when the demo was rejected, and the tape then lay hidden in the attic of Konrads guitarist David Hadfield for 55 years.

After it was rediscovered tucked inside an old breadbin, it hit the auction block and was snapped up for just over $50,000.


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