Aladdin Sane: 50 Years at the Southbank

❉ Ange Chan on a weekend celebrating the 50th anniversary of Aladdin Sane.

My weekend of celebrating David Bowie and more specifically, the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark album with Bowie’s most iconic image, Aladdin Sane at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s popular Southbank, was all I hope it would be.

The weekend started on Friday night, as all good weekends do, in attendance at a musical celebration, Aladdin Sane: Live with the Nu Civilisation Orchestra providing the music, and five unique and diverse artists providing the vocals, celebrating the tracks from the album in tribute to how David Bowie shaped their musical careers.

The proceedings began with Jake Shears (ex-Scissor Sisters) bounding onto the stage to perform Watch that Man. He gave a spirited performance which left the audience in anticipation of what was to follow. Amy Lame then came on the stage to introduce us to the evening’s schedule, wearing a colourful pleated rainbow dress. She spoke about Bowie’s long-standing association with the Royal Festival Hall dating back to his first ‘disappointing’ show in 1969. Disappointing from Bowie’s point of view because there were no press in attendance. However, after his huge hit Starman, there were plenty of press in attendance at ensuing appearances!

The next act was Tawaih with The Prettiest Star which answered my internal question ‘would they perform the album in its original running order? The placing of this track confirmed that that wouldn’t be the case! I’ve never heard of Tawaih but the girl has got some lungs on her, and she gave a strong performance of her favourite Bowie song.

Next, we experienced Lynks performing Cracked Actor. We were sat in the upper circle I couldn’t make out Lynks’ face to begin with and then realised he was wearing a mask as well as having a broken right arm in a sling. That however didn’t stop him from jumping around the stage, on top of the speaker decks and generally giving me concerns that he was going to break his other arm!

We then had another new-to-me artist, Roxanne Tataei who gave a fabulous rendition of one of my favourite songs from Aladdin Sane, Panic in Detroit. The first half ended with one of my favourite artists, Anna Calvi singing Lady Grinning Soul. That song was ‘made’ for Anna to sing it and she gave a heartwarming, soulful rendition of it.

After the interval, Jake returned to the stage to give a performance of Let’s Spend the Night Together that would have given Mick Jagger a run for his money! He was wearing a replica of the knitted colourful half jumpsuit made famous during Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust alterego phase. Anna Calvi took to the stage to perform Time, and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra performed a rendition of 1984, with a strong performance by the backing singers taking the lead vocals.

Lynks then returned in full Bowie regalia wearing the Japanese Kansai Yakamoto iconic black shaped suit, to give his performance of Jean Genie. This song got the crowd cheering and dancing and the momentum continued with Roxanne Tataei’s rendition of the album title track, Aladdin Sane. The ultimate track of the evening’s setlist involved all of the artists back onstage singing Rebel Rebel, which of course isn’t on Aladdin Sane, but it underlined the diversity, queerness, and uniqueness which Bowie suffused and was the overall theme of the evening. It was the correct David Bowie song to end the evening on.

My Bowie-fest continued on Sunday, meeting three friends to attend the Aladdin Sane:50 Years exhibition, again at the Southbank Centre. The exhibition surpassed my expectations, as it didn’t overly glorify the album or Bowie, instead it was more factual in nature and placing Aladdin Sane within the context of its historical timeline. The exhibition showed contemporary album covers of the day, various newsworthy headlines, and blurbs about how the Aladdin Sane album came about. Many people incorrectly call the iconic dual coloured zigzag on Bowie’s face as ‘Ziggy Stardust’. That is however, not a completely factual interpretation of it. The Aladdin Sane character was “Ziggy goes to America” and the songs on the album go hand in hand with that persona (Panic in Detroit, Drive-In Saturday etc).

The exhibition contained a number of studio photographs from the Aladdin Sane album cover sessions, a section of Brian Duffy and his association with Bowie including some of his other iconic photographs including subjects such as Jean Shrimpton, Mary Quant, and Angie Bowie. There were red and blue beanbags where you could sit and relax, listing to the album being piped into the space which felt extremely nostalgic for me, reminding me of the times in my youth when I did exactly the same thing as a teenager, listening to Bowie albums sat on my beanbag.

At the end of the exhibition there were a number of quotations set on hanging silver foils with red/blue lighting which gave a surreal yet effective aura. It took a good forty minutes to complete the tour which was succinct, and educational. If you’re in London, I’d recommend any fan of David Bowie’s music to take the tour, which is a mere fiver and runs at the Southbank Centre until 28th May 2023.

❉ Aladdin Sane: 50 Years opened 6 April 2023 and runs until 28 May 2023 at London’s Southbank Centre.

 A lifelong lover of music and prominent contributor to Me and the Starman (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon), Ange Chan is a Freelance Writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry.


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