Use our guide to follow in the footsteps of the London legend, David Bowie.
hen David Bowie died a year ago, suddenly and shockingly, his illness having been kept secret from all but his closest friends and family, there was an outpouring of grief in London not seen since the death of Princess Diana.
Public mourning was concentrated in Brixton in south London, where Bowie was born and spent the first six years of his life. Flowers piled up by a Bowie mural opposite Brixton Tube station. Impromptu singalongs were held among those who, day and night for many weeks after, came to pay tribute to their fallen Starman.
I was one of them. Bowie was the only pop star whose face I hung upon my wall as a teenager; the only one who visited me in my dreams. I loved all his albums, but Ziggy Stardust had a special place in my heart and on my turntable for a two-year period, and I made a point of playing the record, in its entirety, every day.
How can people now comprehend just how radical and different he was to us in the early 1970s? Merely dyeing his hair marked him out as a freak, let alone posing in a dress on his album cover (a version soon suppressed by his record label), dressing in bodysuits by an avant-garde Japanese designer, or sticking an alien rosette on his forehead or a lightning bolt across his cheek. His defining movie role, out of the dozens he was to star in, was TheManWhoFell toEarth in 1976, in which he played an alien. It felt like type-casting.
Bowie was to change the face of music not just once, but several times. He was the figurehead of Glam Rock, influenced punk and the New Romantics, and was still releasing challenging, relevant music five decades after he began.
I finally got the chance to interview Bowie in 1995, on the eve of the release of Outside, a concept album set in a dystopian near-future involving art and serial killing, with many of the lyrics jumbled up and reassembled using a randomising program on his computer.
‘There’s an emotional engine created by the juxtaposition of the musical texture and the lyrics,’ he explained, when I told him I’d found the lyrics themselves hard to fathom, but hugely evocative when set to music. ‘But that’s probably what art does best,’ he continued. ‘It manifests that which is impossible to articulate.’ It’s hard to imagine that there has been or will ever be another pop star so articulate, so well read, so restlessly inquisitive.
Bowie’s final act was to co-write a ‘play with music’, Lazarus, which incorporates some of his huge catalogue of hits within a typically baffling plot, and which is on in King’s Cross until 22 January. At the time of writing, tickets are selling fast. The V&A’s BowieIs exhibition has also become the most popular touring exhibition in the museum’s history, attracting more than 1½ million visitors so far in eight venues around the world.
In many ways, Bowie defines London. Fashion-forward, outward-looking, pluralistic, inquisitive, experimental, creative, unconventional – he was all these things, and it is all of these attributes that make this capital city great. So in this anniversary month of Bowie’s passing, by all means pay your respects to rock’s ever-ch-ch-changing chameleon in the following places. Or just look around you. Bowie is London. And London is Bowie.
No Beatles fan’s visit to London is complete without taking a photo on the pedestrian crossing immortalised on the AbbeyRoad album. The iconic studio is still very much operational, and you can visit it virtually in an immersive VR experience recently released by Google. While you’re there, visit the gift shop, which sells music memorabilia from instruments to records. 3 Abbey Rd, NW8 9AY
HANDEL & HENDRIX FLAT
After a two-year restoration, the Mayfair flat that Jimi Hendrix decorated himself and described as ‘the first real home of my own’ opened to the public last year. The flat is in the same building in which classical musician George Frideric Handel lived 200 years earlier – so you can enjoy two musical greats at once inside this lovely building. 25 Brook St, W1K 4HB
At Madame Tussauds, you can see and take a selfie with wax sculptures of iconic music stars from Madonna and Miley Cyrus to Freddie Mercury and One Direction. While David Bowie no longer exists here, a wax figure of him launched at Madame Tussauds in 1983, and a lock of his hair taken at the time by wigmaker Wendy Farrier recently sold at auction for £14,000. Marylebone Rd, NW1 5LR