Date: 26th November 2001
From: Cliff Watkins (CCARA)
The south London suburb of Beckenham may not conjure up visions of youthful exuberance and rock music - but on Thursday, 6 December, hundreds of people will make a nostalgic pilgrimage to The Three Tuns pub (now The Rat and Parrot) in the High St. to celebrate David Bowie - Beckenham's most famous former resident - and the legacy of the Arts Laboratory he co-founded at the pub.
At the start of 1969 David was at a low point in his career. Through his friends Christina Ostrom and Barry Jackson, he met Mary Finnigan and moved into her flat as a lodger. Friendship flourished and the four of them decided to organise a Folk Club at the Three Tuns. It was an immediate success and soon developed into an Arts Laboratory - attracting talent from all over London and the south east. Musicians who played at the Arts Lab included Peter Frampton, Steve Harley, Dave Cousins and the Strawbs, Rick Wakeman, Tony Visconti and Mick Ronson. Lionel Bart gave a dazzling performance.
There was a lot more than music at the Beckenham Arts Lab. Visual artists created original works, poets gave readings, there were light shows, street theatre, dance - and Brian Moore's unforgettable puppets. Between 1969 and 1973 The Beckenham Arts Lab was a crucible for artistic talent and the launch pad for David Bowie's rise to stardom. His anthem to the 1960's 'Space Oddity' became a hit in the autumn of 1969. Many other Arts Lab enthusiasts became established artists - including George Underwood and Christina Ostrom.
On 6 December:
Mary Finnigan and Christina Ostrom will unveil a plaque at the Rat & Parrot at 12 noon.
Steve Harley will give a live performance after the plaque ceremony.
From 7pm there will be a live tribute concert performed by musicians including Little Wonder, Rob Storm and Paul Henderson. A set of previously unseen photographs donated by Stephen Roberts and other memorabilia will be on sale to raise money for the Chernobyl Children Life Line charity.
The event is organised by Cliff Watkins from the local resident's association. He discovered David Bowie's Beckenham connection while researching a photographic CD of the area and its history.
"Liverpool has The Beatles and Beckenham has David Bowie", he says, "so it's about time more people knew about this."
And David's personal message for 6 December?
"I send warm greetings for a wonderful evening from our home in New York."
For further information contact:
The Rat & Parrot is now part of the Noble House Pub Company who recognise the international importance of the pub and its original name and are supporting the celebrations.
David Bowie spent the best part of five years in Beckenham: firstly in Foxgrove Road before moving into a Victorian Gothic mansion called Haddon Hall, in Southend Road. In Haddon Hall, David was joined by other members of his rock group like Tony Visconti and Mick Ronson, other musicians and people from the recording recording and promotion business. David held court in Haddon Hall for four marvellous years.
As well as David himself, many other Arts Lab performers and enthusiasts became established figures in their chosen careers: rock stars Mick Ronson and Steve Harley; artists - George Underwood [http://www.georgeunderwood.com] and Christina Ostrom; David Bebbington is a professional photographer and Mary Finnigan is a journalist.
As well as 'Space Oddity', the mega hit album created during David's Beckenham Years was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Ziggy's red cockade hairstyle was created by local hair stylist Suzi Fussey, who worked opposite the Three Tuns in the Evelyn Paget (now Gigante) hair salon.
David says: "The Ziggy hair came lock, stock and curler, from the cover of a magazine ('Honey' or the like) and was sported by a model doing a shoot for Kansai Yamamoto's first London show. I couldn't afford the clothes but I could get the hair. Suzi did a straight forward copy. The cut and colour were both Kansai's - Schwartzkopf red was the colour.
"I had her cut my hair short in early January 1972. No dye. Layed flatish. I believe that it went red and stood up between the 20th and 25th of January 1972, therefore that's when the Kansai show must have been given maximum press."
Suzi became David's and the group's full-time hairdresser and wardrobe assistant on the Ziggy Stardust tours. She then went on to become Mick Ronson's personal assistant and later married him. One of the guests attending on 6th December was a close friend of Suzi.
Mary and Christina will be introduced by the Mayor of Bromley, John Holbrook. As well as Beckenham's MP Jacqui Lait and many other leading Beckenham figures, fans from all over the country will be present at the unveiling, Mary and Christina are travelling up from the west of the country.
After Mary Finnigan and Christia Ostrom have unveiled the plaque at 12 noon, Steve Harley will give a special live performance for some of the expected 300 guests attending from all over the country and abroad.
In addition to the evening's live tribute concert performed by musicians including Little Wonder [http://www.little-wonder.com], Rob Storm [http://www.alternativebowie.mainpage.net] and Paul Henderson, there is also the distinct possibility of several musicians performing who originally played at The Arts Lab.
Bowie fans will be able to swop memories and view memorabilia on show, which includes a set of previously unseen photographs presented to the pub by Stephen Roberts to help raise money for the Chernobyl Children Life Line charity [http://www.chernobylchildlifeline.org].
David Bowie's official website [http://www.davidbowie.com] has kindly donated several items of memorabilia, which are to be raffled with all monies raised going directly to the charity.
David and Tony Visconti have also kindly offered to both sign several enlargements of the newly discovered photographs from The Three Tuns which will be auctioned at the event and on the internet, with all proceeds raised going directly to the childrens charity. Christina Ostrom has kindly donated one of her painted signed horses and there will be a few more surprises on the way.
The event is organised by Cliff Watkins from the local resident's association (CCARA - Copers Cope Area Residents Association). He discovered David Bowie's Beckenham connection while researching a photographic CD of the area and its history for BPS (Beckenham Photographic Society) [http://www.beckenham.net/bps]. Cliff has been a Beckenham resident for 36 years, with the past 6 months being completely pre-occupied with the arrangements for this salute to David Bowie.
Today's young rock stars namecheck Bowie as the greatest influence on their careers - David Bowie ranks alongside John Lennon as one of the all time greats.
"Liverpool has The Beatles and Beckenham has David Bowie," says Cliff. "So it's about time more people knew about this. The Beatles contribute enormously to the economy of Liverpool which has 25,000 visitors a year employing several thousand people."
Beckenham is bracing itself for a media frenzy.
For further information please contact:
on behalf of Beckenham's CCARA (Copers Cope Area Residents' Association)
Alan Hughes (landlord) / The Noble House Pub Company
The Rat & Parrot, 157 High Street, Beckenham, Kent BR3 1AE.
Tel: (020) 8658 9618
For ticket information and further details please visit