Rock superstar David Bowie’s North East shows as biopic Stardust premiers

The recent biopics focusing on the colourful lives of rock superstars Freddie Mercury (Bohemian Rhapsody) and Elton John (Rocketman) have both attracted critical acclaim and commercial success.

But it seems that a new film examining the early career of another rock titan, David Bowie, is receiving a distinctly lukewarm initial reaction.

Stardust, starring Johnny Flynn, premiered this week at the Raindance Film Festival in London. The movie recalls the star’s infamous 1971 tour of the United States and the creation of his Ziggy Stardust persona.

But NME reports how many fans have given Stardust the thumbs-down on social media and quotes one, Sam Shins, declaring on Twitter: “Nope. Just no. You can’t have an accent that bad, a film that looks like an American soap opera and you certainly can’t have a Bowie film without his music. Probs shouldn’t have bothered guys.”

David Bowie‘s death from cancer in 2016 at the age of 69 left music fans around the world in mourning.

But many of us will be thankful that we were able to see the unique talent performing in concert here in the North East when he was at the peak of his powers.

As Ziggy Stardust, Bowie played landmark gigs at Newcastle City Hall in 1972 and 1973, returning for a trio of celebrated shows at the same venue in June 1978.

Later he would grace Newcastle Mayfair in 1991, Newcastle Riverside in 1997, and he was the first major artist to appear at the newly-opened Newcastle Arena in 1995.

But it was his concert at Roker Park, the then home of Sunderland FC, on June 23, 1987 which attracted his biggest ever North East crowd.

More than 36,000 fans descended for the show on a day which began with sunshine, but ended with torrential rain.

Bowie, in fact, might have performed at Newcastle United‘s St James’ Park had a Chronicle story from March 1983 come to fruition.

David Bowie performing with his band Tin Machine at The Mayfair, Newcastle, November 5, 1991
David Bowie performing with his band Tin Machine at The Mayfair, Newcastle, November 5, 1991
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

We reported how promoter Harvey Goldsmith was considering promoting a summer show at the stadium following the success of the Rolling Stones concert a year earlier – but the plan was scrapped.

It wasn’t until April 1987 that the Chronicle reported Bowie would be returning to the region for the first time in nearly a decade.

The 40-year-old star – resident in Geneva, Switzerland at the time – would appear at Roker Park on his 100-city worldwide Glass Spider tour.

It would be the first, but not last, major rock show hosted by Sunderland football club.

Ticket sales were brisk, and with a 40,000 crowd expected, we told how special car and coach parks would be set up, and late night train services extended. The support acts were confirmed as Big Country and the Screaming Blue Messiahs.

But, come the big day, the show was not without its problems. With Bowie’s Boeing 747 aircraft temporarily grounded in London, the thousands of fans in the ground “were blissfully unaware of last-minute delays”.

Then came the show, with our reviewer reporting: “Bowie descended from the arms of a giant glass spider looking like an ageing teddy boy.

“He took on the role of a circus impresario in charge of a multi-national band and team of wild dancers.

“But the significance of a great deal of the show was lost on much of the crowd…”

The start of the show also saw the singer address the crowd in a now notorious gaffe when he declared: “Good evening, Newcastle.” Oops!

If the stage show was undoubtedly stunning, our reviewer reckoned “the music seemed to leave the fans wanting”.

Bowie had chosen to play a sizable chunk of new and more obscure material, but “when the audience was treated to some of the star’s hits – Heroes, Fame, Absolute Beginners and China Girl – they went down a storm.”

Towards the end of the show, the superstar again put his foot in it, announcing: “You didn’t let it rain. It’s so nice not to play in the rain.”

Cue a downpour which soaked the large outdoor crowd.

Nevertheless, the show came to a memorable climax when Bowie played Let’s Dance and Modern Love.

Our review concluded: “The crowds danced and sang with gusto – and I got an impression of what a great night it could have been.”

And with that, David Bowie was gone, leaving behind a churned-up football pitch, thousands of discarded beer bottles, complaints about volume levels, but a host of mixed memories for fans at the show.

Chronicle Live – Sunderland