Thursday, 27 May 2021

Then We Were Ziggy’s Band - On the Road with David Bowie and the JSD Band

by Stuart Penney and Mikey G

“I don’t think we’ve ever worked with a better group.  I think the JSD Band are fantastic, I really do” – David Bowie, Kingston Polytechnic, May 6, 1972

Those of us of a certain age will remember exactly where we were on the early evening of July 6, 1972.  We were watching Top Of The Pops on BBC TV, just like we did every Thursday.  But this night it was a little different.  This was the night when we saw David Bowie performing “Starman”.  

Strumming a bright blue 12-string guitar and sporting an orange mullet, white nail polish, red patent leather knee-high boots and a close-fitting two-piece quilted suit, Bowie looked lean, handsome and simply fabulous.  He and his band also looked like no one else who had ever appeared on the show.  And when, at a little over 1 min 30 seconds, Bowie fixed his gaze on the camera, pointed a finger down the lens and sang, “I had to phone someone, so I picked on you-oo, oo”, it was (as we would learn to say a decade or more later) Game Over.  As if to seal the deal Bowie then gave a look of studied insouciance and draped an arm around his peroxide blonde wingman, guitarist Mick Ronson.  Dads across the country may have spluttered their disapproval at this point, but their kids were already well and truly hooked.  Glam rock was still in its infancy in mid-1972, but before too long TOTP would be filled with like-minded wannabes dolled-up to the nines.  On that July night, however, David Bowie had inadvertently set the bar impossibly high for all who would follow him.

Of course, it didn’t just fall into place quite as simply as those four memorable minutes of TV would have us believe.  Earlier in 1972 Bowie had engaged high-powered music biz lawyer Tony Defries as his manager and between them they cooked up a publicity and artistic plan that would prove to be one of the most successful of the decade.  With the slow burning delights of Bowie's fourth album Hunky Dory still looking for the audience it deserved (and would eventually get) and a critically acclaimed new record The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars ready to hit the shelves, there was nothing else to do but put a band together and get the music out on the road and into every corner of the land.  The Ziggy Stardust Tour would eventually stretch to 19 months, totaling 191 shows in the UK, America and Japan.  The final dates even overlapped the release of Aladdin Sane, which many view as Bowie's American Ziggy album, as it finally launched the man, his alter ego and his band in the States.

*The final Bowie/JSD show was at Friars Club, Aylesbury, July 15, 1972

So far, so well-documented rock history.  There is, however, a little-told story of what became an important part of one of the most memorable tours of the 70s.  After some early pub dates with earnest folk duo the Sutherland Brothers as support (this was prior to their partnership with Quiver) Bowie sought a more upbeat alternative.  After a chance meeting, a young Scottish folk rock group called the JSD Band was invited to be the support act for a large chunk of the first leg of the UK tour, playing their first show with Bowie just 12 days before the Ziggy Stardust album was released.  “Who are the JSD Band?” I hear you ask.  As luck would have it, this blog ran into Sean O’Rourke, vocalist and a founder member.  It seemed rude not to ask how it all fell into place. 

How on earth did a Scottish Folk Rock band end up on the road with Ziggy Stardust?

We met when the JSD Band played on the same bill as Bowie at Kingston Polytechnic (now Kingston University, May 6, 1972) in London.  David liked what he heard and publicly complimented us from the stage during his own set.  He then invited us to join him as support on his upcoming British Tour.  We started at Preston Public Hall (June 4, 1972), replacing the Sutherland Brothers, who had been the support act up to that point.  Bowie seemingly thought we could do a better job of warming up the audiences for him.

I believe the tour got off to a slow start

We were a bit disappointed by the audience numbers initially but thoroughly enjoyed the benefits of doing a major tour in large venues with good stage and dressing room facilities and so on.  We also learned from the professionalism of the PA and lighting crews with their attention to detail as well as the Spiders’ effort and consistency of performance including their stagecraft, clothes and make up etc.  Although the JSD Band didn't go as far as adopting make up! 

Most dates were quite sparsely attended until the final gig in London (Royal Festival Hall, July 8, 1972).  But no matter the size of the audience, Bowie and the Spiders gave it 100% at every show and over the course of the tour reviews were generally positive.  The music press focused solely on the performances and no mention was made of the small audience numbers.  With the good reviews, Bowie’s album sales began to increase, as did the audiences.  The Royal Festival Hall show was packed, no doubt helped by the distribution of complementary tickets to industry figures.  Aside from us, Marmalade and Lou Reed were also on the bill and Kenny Everett was the compere.

The next morning Ziggy Stardust was on the front page of all the British music papers and the big time was beckoning.  We only did one other gig with Bowie, at the Friars’ Club, Aylesbury (July 15, 1972).  Massive queues formed well before the start with many fans dressed in full Ziggy Stardust clothes, make-up and hair.

How did the audiences react to Bowie and his new image?

His appearance was obviously very striking.  He was extremely slim and sported a shock of flaming red hair, which drew a lot of attention, not all of it positive.  As a result, he had to be accompanied by Stuart George, a very muscular member of the crew whose appearance was enough to put off any would-be antagonists.  

Ziggy and the Spiders came onstage to the music of Walter (now Wendy) Carlos’s “Ode To Joy,” from the film A Clockwork Orange.  Stu would stand in the wings and encourage the audience to shout for encores at the end of their set.  On one occasion the lighting crew, as a joke, turned the spotlight on Stu, much to his embarrassment and annoyance.

How were you treated, as the support band?

Throughout the tour David was friendly and positive.  He seemed very interested in people and everything around him as if he was observing and absorbing whatever he came into contact with.  He asked me and Lindsay Scott (JSD Band fiddler) to play on some of his recordings.  Lindsay played on the single “John I'm Only Dancing” but logistics were such that I couldn't get the time to record with him.

I understand Bowie tried to get you guys interested in the Glam scene.  How did that go down with the band?

At one point David tried to impress on us the advantages of wearing eye make-up, to enhance our features and expressions.  He told us it would make our eyes stand out more when we were on stage.  We were a bunch of young guys from the mean streets of Glasgow so, as you can imagine, his suggestion was met with disdain, in fact it was a complete non-starter! 

Clothes, make-up and visual image generally were never a priority for us.  We never even thought about it.  The band members just wore whatever we felt like wearing with no thought of image or colour co-ordination etc, so you can imagine our reaction to Bowie's tips regarding wearing eye make-up.  However, later in the tour we did start playing around with the various hairsprays the Spiders were using, much to Bowie's amusement.

Bowie, being a visual person, was fascinated by our fiddler Lindsay Scott's face.  One day David said "Hasn't he got an amazing face?".  The band's collective reply was that he had a "baw-heid" (Scottish slang for a round or chubby face), again much to Bowie's amusement.

Did you cross paths with Angie Bowie?

Occasionally Angie attended the gigs.  She was exactly the loud and brash American you would have expected her to be, although she was always warm and engaging with anyone in her company.  She was very much in control of David’s image and was heavily involved in his stage appearance as well, both his clothes and the make-up.  They would both wear floppy hats and impossibly big flares when travelling between gigs.  

Angie was much braver than David when it came to handling fans and journalists, which is probably why she got a reputation for being difficult.  We have to remember that Bowie was a very non-confrontational guy which, when you were given to wearing ladies’ clothes and make-up in the early 70s, meant you got a lot of unwanted attention and abuse from guys, particularly out in the provinces away from the cosmopolitan streets of London. 

Angie was effectively his first line of defence.  As the tour went on and the press coverage surrounding Bowie’s stage persona grew, it became apparent he needed a bodyguard to fend off any unwanted attention, hence the recruitment of Stuart George, a bouncer from Hull and good friend of Mick, Trevor & Woody.

I suppose Bowie’s soft approach and camp image never caused him any problems in the future as he was cosseted by security people for the rest of his life.  Getting back to Angie, she was very lively, friendly, positive and interested in people.  A force to be reckoned with. 


Speaking of Mick, Trevor and Woody, how did you get along with them?

They were salt of the earth, Yorkshire lads from Hull.  They got on with us like a house on fire and their friendliness and generosity extended to the JSD Band staying at Trevor's parents’ house in Hull on a few occasions.  Mick Ronson even offered to help produce our band but unfortunately, logistics didn't make this possible.  If only we knew then what we know now, we would have jumped at the chance to have Ronson produce us.

How familiar were you with Bowie’s Music before the tour?

Someone in Bowie's crew gave us a cassette tape of the Ziggy Stardust album, which we would listen to in the van travelling between gigs.  So, we got to know every track, arrangement and lyric on it.  Along with the music Bowie had a set of choreography moves that he performed every night, and the Spiders did this too.  I've already mentioned Trevor's ill-fated forward rush and backward run (see below).  During sound checks Des (Coffield, JSD guitarist), who was the comedian in the band, took to aping Bowie's pre-planned moves, which caused Stu and the crew to go into hysterics.  Des's height and build didn't exactly lend itself to an elegant performance!

Did you encounter Bowie’s high-powered manager Tony Defries? 

Defries was only on the tour sporadically and he didn't really interact with us, as we had our own management company.  I recall he was fairly quiet, reasonably friendly but an extremely business-like bloke.  We could tell there was a lot of work going on in the background, as the amount of press and music industry people who turned up, even at the remotest provincial gigs, ensured that every show got a review of some kind in the local press.  I suppose you would expect nothing less from an Allen Klein protégé.

Any Spinal Tap moments during the tour?

We played a show at a glass pavilion in Liverpool where the electricity cut out halfway through (Liverpool Stadium, June 3, 1972).  We were able to carry on by switching to our acoustic instruments and then wandering through the audience, but Bowie and the Spiders had no choice but to vacate the stage and then resume where they had left off when power was restored.  

Then there was the time at the Colston Hall, Bristol where Trevor Bolder fell over his amp while doing his choreography moves, involving a backwards walk.  This was probably aided by the alcoholic refreshment both bands had been imbibing beforehand.  Speaking of Trevor, I recall how his famous sideburns took on a life of their own during the tour, growing ever longer.  He made a point of spraying them silver before every gig! 

But just about every gig on the tour was a highlight.  Barring the power cut in Liverpool and the lack of numbers at the initial gigs there were no real lowlights.

How did life change for you after the tour?

After the tour was over it was business as usual for us, playing venues all over the country.  No discernible change was obvious, although having witnessed first-hand Bowie’s success this inspired us and increased our ambition.  We would have appreciated a bit more press coverage during the tour as we thought we went down just as well as the headliners.  But, at the same time, we realised that this was David Bowie’s tour and his management company had put a lot of effort, belief and money into making him a success.

The JSD Band appears to have fallen off the radar in 1974

After the tour we brought Chuck Fleming back in on fiddle and completed the third album Travelling Days (1973) which, despite critical acclaim, didn’t sell as well as the “Black Album” (JSD Band 1972).  We also toured America for the first time, although the tour was cut short due to Chuck's flying phobia. 

Around this time Cube Records wanted us to aim at the pop charts and, although we had started a fourth album at Rockfield studios in Wales, they decided to concentrate on us becoming more commercial by putting out singles for the first time. 

In early 1974 we headlined our own British tour, playing major halls and venues supported by Randy Pie (a German band featuring ex-members of the Rattles).  The tour was quite disappointing numbers-wise and fissures which had already started appearing became more apparent within the band in relation to the music genre and style we should be playing. 

Then the all-too-common musical differences appeared, and the tour came to an abrupt end with the sudden departure of Chuck Fleming, which made it virtually impossible for us to reproduce live what we had just recorded and were supposed to be promoting.  With no immediate replacement available there was no choice but to end the tour prematurely.  After Chuck quit, I decided to leave the band permanently to pursue other interests.


The band continued for a few months as “The New JSD Band” without Chuck and Sean and with the addition of a new member Ian Lyons on lead guitar.  Under this name they changed their style from folk-rock to pursue a more pop-rock musical style, playing original material mostly written by guitarist Des Coffield.  Their new direction didn't go down well with their existing fanbase as it was so different from the music they had recorded previously, and it also failed to gain many new fans.  They had wanted to change the band name to reflect this, but were dissuaded from doing so by their management.  After about six months the whole thing collapsed, and the band members went their separate ways.  

Over the years the JSD Band have had several reunion gigs and they produced a couple of albums in the 90s - For the Record (1997) and Pastures of Plenty (1998).  They still get together on a regular basis for occasional gigs, musical sessions and various social events.

*Sheet Music

JSD Band – The History

The JSD band started out as a trio comprising Jim Divers, Sean O'Rourke and Des Coffield, naming the band after the first letter of their forenames.  They hailed from Rutherglen, near Glasgow and all of them went to St Marks primary school in 1957.  Their roadie, Colin Finn was originally the drummer/percussionist.  He also came from Rutherglen and went to the same school as the other three, albeit a year earlier.  

The fiddle players Chuck Fleming and Lindsay Scott came from Loanhead, Midlothian and Hawick respectively.  Chuck was about five years older than the original three and had classical training on violin but in his teens got involved with the nascent Edinburgh folk scene of the sixties.  Lindsay was a few years younger and, like Chuck, had violin lessons as a youngster and was also well steeped in traditional music, his grandfather being Willie Scott the renowned traditional singer/shepherd from the Hawick area.

The four from Rutherglen began performing together when they were around 14 or 15, playing popular music of the day including material by the Beatles, Kinks, Who, Rolling Stones etc, plus some light classical music instrumentals.  After rehearsing in Jim's dad's garage they played local youth club dances, plus the occasional wedding and birthday party.

Around that time Jim, Des and Colin, together with a girl singer named Betty Little, began performing in lounge bars in the local area playing popular, mainstream material of the day.  Sean started busking with his friends from high school in Glasgow and Edinburgh with his guitar and a banjo bought for him by his dad, playing the music of Bob Dylan, the Incredible String Band and other folk and blues material.  Sean also got a few pointers on banjo playing from fellow Ruglonian (as those from Rutherglen are known) and future JSD collaborator Rab Mears, who also taught Billy Connolly some banjo tunes. 

Des’s sister then returned from America armed with a collection of folk albums including LPs by the Clancy Brothers, Dubliners and Journeymen, among others.  Jim, Sean and Des started to learn this traditional folk material, much of which they were already familiar with due to their family backgrounds.  Jim acquired a double bass, Sean already had his banjo and an acoustic guitar and Des bought a 12-string guitar and so the JSD trio was born. 

With this line-up and the new material, they quickly found places to play in the local area.  Their floor singing spots in local folk clubs got a good reception and this led to more and more offers to play.  At the same time they listened to a broad range of other music including Doc Watson, Pentangle, Margaret Barry and Michael Gorman among others.  Jim was the band’s researcher, picking up all sorts of unusual albums, mostly sourced from the famous Glasgow market the “Barras”.

The instrumentation was expanded with Des playing tenor banjo and mandolin, while Sean took up the fiddle and flute.  Meanwhile Colin, aside from his roadie duties, was gradually introduced into the band playing assorted percussion, turning the trio into a quartet.

As the JSD Band they played local folk clubs and the occasional concert, one of which was with the Humblebums (Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty and Tam Harvey) and Barbara Dickson.  An impressed Billy Connolly invited them to support the Humblebums at the Glasgow City Halls.  Encouraged by the audience reaction, the four decided to quit their jobs and pursue music full time. 

They gigged all over Scotland and also into the Newcastle area where they met the fiddler, Chuck Fleming, who soon came on board.  At that time, the band stayed in Tynemouth near Newcastle and, after playing a private party at the request of the local CID, they landed a residency at the North Shields Police Club.


In 1970 they won the Scottish Folk Group Championships and, as part of the prize, were awarded a recording contract with EMI's newly re-booted Regal Zonophone label.  Their first album was recorded at Craighall studios, Edinburgh and its 1971 release brought them attention from various management companies, record producers and DJ John Peel, who played tracks from the debut album Country of the Blind on his BBC's Radio 1 show.  With a new management deal the band became busy playing across Britain and eventually in Europe and USA.

After many gigs and widespread travelling the band’s popularity grew and they were subsequently offered a recording deal from Cube records.  Cube was the successor to Fly Records and became home to several artists who had also recorded for Regal Zonophone, including T.Rex, Joe Cocker, Procol Harum, The Move etc.

They made two albums for Cube: JSD Band and Travelling Days and recorded three singles “Sarah Jane”, “Sunshine Life” and “Hayes and Harlington Blues”.  These were recorded in various studios including Island, Trident and Rockfield as well as Cube’s own studio with producers Roger Bain (Black Sabbath) and Phil Wainman (The Sweet). An Old Grey Whistle Test appearance was filmed in 1974.

*7" Picture Sleeves from the UK & France


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