A county in mourning for rock legend David Bowie whose success owed much to Yorkshire

Music fans across Yorkshire are mourning the death of David Bowie, the rock legend who has died following an 18-month battle with cancer.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 11th January 2016, 8:29 am
Updated Monday, 11th January 2016, 1:54 pm
David Bowie in Leeds in 1973.
David Bowie in Leeds in 1973.

The sad news was announced in a statement on the singer’s Facebook page earlier today which read: “ David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer.

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“While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”

His son, film director Duncan Jones tweeted: “Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all.”

Bowie was 69 last week and had released his latest album, Blackstar, just three days ago to critical acclaim.

David Bowie. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

His death brings to an end an exciting chapter in the history of popular music: Bowie was an inspirational figure in the rock world for five decades and recorded some of the most influential, and definitive records in music history.

Born in Brixton, Bowie - real name David Jones - had strong Yorkshire roots through his father, Heywood ‘John’ Jones, who was born in Doncaster, and owed much of his success to a ground-breaking collaboration with a group of musicians from Hull.

Mr Jones Senior was oprhaned at around the age of five and was brought up by relatives in Doncaster until he was 21, before moving to London and eventually becoming a publicity officer for Barnardo’s. He lost touch with his Doncaster roots, though returned in the 1960s to open a Barnardo’s home.

The late Mick Ronson, a former grave-digger, linked up with Bowie in 1970 and played guitar on a series of world tours, including many concerts in Yorkshire. More importantly he worked closely with the singer on the arrangement of the ground-breaking albums Hunky Dory and The Man Who Saved The World.

David Bowie.

It was Ronson and his fellow Yorkshire musicians John Cambridge and John Hutchinson who formed the nucleus of Bowie’s backing band The Spiders from Mars, and who helped Bowie court controversy - and enjoy yet more success - as the character Ziggy Stardust.

Ronson’s daughter Lisa was stunned by today’s news. She said : “He’s an incredible man, an incredible artist. He influenced multiple generations, changed the landscape completely for music and entertainment. I’m in complete shock. He is one of the living legends. It is too soon.”

Bowie returned to Doncaster twice to play sell out concerts in the South Yorkshire town at the Top Rank Suite on September 1, 1972 and June 27, 1973.

His most famous gig in Yorkshire came in Leeds two days later when he treated the teenagers of the city to their first ever sighting of – a man in a leotard.

David Bowie in Leeds in 1973.

An article which appeared in The Yorkshire Evening Post on the 40th anniversary of the gig reported that “David Bowie was in town, and he was being Ziggy Stardust. What’s more, he was being Ziggy Stardust in the unlikely setting of Kirkstall Rolarena, a former ice-rink on Kirkstall Road that had been converted to roller-skating.

“Everything about this concert was strange and exciting. For a start, it was cancelled. Twice. The show had been intended to happen at Leeds University a few weeks earlier, but it had been called off – just three hours before Bowie was due on stage – because ‘the stage was too small’.

“This was probably news to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Pink Floyd, who had all played there without mishap but, hey-ho, David Bowie was a proper artist.

“Bowie made it to the city eventually, four weeks and one more cancellation later, to perform two shows in one day, so many in Leeds saw superstar Bowie as a matinee performance. Tickets were £1.25 each.”

Stars from the world of showbiz and entertainment have summoned the words of Bowie to pay tribute to the rock star.

The 69-year-old - known for hits such as Changes, Ashes To Ashes and Starman - left a legacy created by pioneering musicianship and ground-breaking lyrics dating back almost half a century.

David Bowie live in Leeds at the "Town & Country".

Australian actor Russell Crowe, referencing one of Bowie’s better known singles which featured on covers album Pin Ups 1973, wrote: “RIP David. I loved your music. I loved you. One of the greatest performance artists to have ever lived. #sorrow”

Rock guitarist Joel Madden, quoting Changes, simply added: “Turn and face the strange.”

Actor Mark Ruffalo wrote: “Rip Father of all us freaks. Sad sad day. Love always Legendary singer David Bowie dies at 69.”

While comedian and writer Eddie Izzard said: “Very sad to hear about the death of David Bowie but through his music he will live forever.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme he became a Bowie fan during the singer’s early rise to prominence.

He said: “I’m very, very saddened to hear of his death.

“I remember sitting listening to his songs endlessly in the ‘70s particularly and always really relishing what he was, what he did, the impact he had.

“Extraordinary person.”

And Prime Minister David Cameron, whose musical tastes are well documented, also offered his condolences.

He said: “I grew up listening to and watching the pop genius David Bowie. He was a master of re-invention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss.”

Paying tribute to the singer on Twitter, comedian and actor Ricky Gervais, who convinced his long-time idol to star as himself - and ridicule Gervais - in an episode of 2006 sitcom Extras, wrote simply: “I just lost a hero. RIP David Bowie.”

He also uploaded an image of himself from the late 1990s dressed as Bowie’s famous alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, taken from the comedian’s 30-minute Comedy Lab episode in which Gervais played the part of a Bowie impersonator.

Radio DJ Fearne Cotton wrote on Instagram: “Devastated. There will only ever be one David Bowie.

“A pioneer, a maverick and a visionary. I’ve been so inspired by him and his intent on doing what he wants without thought of judgment and views of others. RIP to one of the last icons.”

Former Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn wrote: “So sorry to hear of the death of David Bowie at only 69. A man who really was a giant in the world of music R.I.P.”

BBC 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne said: “Still in shock, this is a huge loss to everyone who loves music. We’ll be on air at 10. Tell us what you want to hear and we’ll do our best.”

Rapper Kanye West said: “David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”

Television presenter Phillip Schofield said: “We just lost one of the coolest guys on the planet. RIP David Bowie.”

Politicians, led by Mr Cameron, also shared their memories of the Heroes singer.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale wrote: “Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of David Bowie: a unique and extraordinary talent whose influence was felt around the world.”

Business Secretary Savid Javid said: “David Bowie brought great joy to me and many millions across the world. An iconic British artist that will be sorely missed. RIP.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson said: “Terrible news to hear Brixton-born David Bowie has died. No-one in our age has better deserved to be called a genius.”

Chancellor George Osborne said: “So sad to hear about the great David Bowie - his music was a backdrop to my life. An incredible icon of British creativity who made us proud.”

Former Number 10 spin doctor Alastair Campbell tweeted a memory about Bowie and a former Prime Minister.

He said: “Only two times I saw Tony Blair star struck were when he met David Bowie at Brits and Barbra Streisand in a make up room. Star goes out RIP.”

Bowie collaborator Rick Wakeman credited the star as having been the greatest influence on his career.

He wrote on Twitter: “As I’m sure you can imagine I’m gutted hearing of David’s passing. He was the biggest influence & encouragement I could ever have wished for.”

In an interview with the Telegraph in 2014, Wakeman said Bowie had advised him to “be your own man and don’t listen to people who don’t know a hatchet from a crotchet and try to fulfil their own ideas through you because they haven’t got any”.

American musician and performer Pharrell Williams, a long-time Bowie fan, described the late performer as “a true innovator, a true creative”, while Leicester rockers Kasabian described themselves as “devastated”.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, quoting Bowie’s Eight Line Poem from 1971’s Hunky Dory, added: “But the key to the city is in the sun that pins the branches to the sky...”

Comic writer David Baddiel wrote on Twitter: “Not just upset by Bowie’s death but disorientated: like I’ve woken up and the world is out of joint. I think I assumed he was immortal.”

Britain’s other “star man”, astronaut Tim Peake, tweeted from the International Space Station: “Saddened to hear David Bowie has lost his battle with cancer - his music was an inspiration to many.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that Bowie was a “great musician, great entertainer”.

“As soon as I heard of his death, very, very sad, Life On Mars comes flowing back into my mind. Wonderful song, wonderful guy.”

One Direction singer Louis Tomlinson described Bowie as “a music legend”.

Rock pioneers Pixies tweeted an undated picture featuring the late musician sitting around a sofa joined by the likes of Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl, Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan and The Cure’s Robert Smith.

The caption read: “A true Inspiration”.

British actor Simon Pegg wrote: “If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”

Stand-up comedian John Bishop added: “Very sad news about David Bowie. Few people leave the world a better place and inspire so many people in so many ways.”

Scottish singer-songwriter Midge Ure paid tribute on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, saying he and other musicians had seen Bowie as a role model.

He said: “I think if you spoke to any musician who has been around in the last 30, 40 years, we all have benchmarks that we try and emulate, we all have benchmarks that we put our feeble efforts next to, and somewhere along the line you do think, ‘well, what would David Bowie do here?’.

“Because he wasn’t just a brilliant songwriter and an amazing creator, he excelled at everything. He gave us the point to run towards, we are all still trying to run towards that, everyone.

“We are all swimming in his wake, so I don’t think you could top on creativity, and consistent creativity, I don’t think you could top, anyone could top, David Bowie in the UK musical history.”

On Bowie’s illness, Ure said: “I think people within the industry had heard rumours about cancer, we’d heard rumours about him not being well.

“We all knew something was amiss but this is more than just turning on your phone in the morning or turning on the television and finding out that another celebrity has passed on.

“I’m standing here, my hands are shaking, I feel as though I’ve lost something, I’ve lost something incredibly important today.”

Friend and collaborator Iggy Pop said on social media: “David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is.”

Glastonbury Festival’s Facebook page carried images of the superstar - who performed there in 1971 and 2010 - with the message: “Thank you David Bowie for all the magic and memories.”

Founder Michael Eavis told the BBC of Bowie’s maiden appearance at the Somerset festival: “He had lovely long flowing hair, a right hippie-looking lad. Fantastically beautiful he looked, actually.

“Nobody knew who he was, he played at 4 in the morning at sunrise, songs we’d never heard before.

“He’s one of the three greatest in the world, ever - Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and David Bowie. There’s no one else even close.”

He said organisers had been told to “stop ringing” Bowie several years ago because he had retired from performing.


David Bowie. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
David Bowie.
David Bowie in Leeds in 1973.
David Bowie live in Leeds at the "Town & Country".