It was 1963, and a 16-year-old named David Jones was in the studio to make a demo tape, singing with his band, The Konrads. The song was “I Never Dreamed.” The verdict from Decca Records? No, thanks. But thankfully for pop music, that evaluation of the singer’s talent didn’t stand.
The singer became David Bowie, and his recording is set to be auctioned off later this year –it’s Bowie’s first known recorded singing performance.
“The recording is part of a collection of memorabilia being sold by former band drummer David Hadfield,” reports Variety. “He found the tape in a ‘bread bin,’ according to the BBC, during a move in the 1990s and kept its existence quiet until the auction listing was posted today.”
Omega Auctions in the UK said that in addition to the tape, up for sale is a historical collection illustrating Bowie’s early career, including letters, bills, booking forms, photographs, and promotional sketches.
“Bowie left the band later that year, but it would be a further six years before his career would take off,” said Omega.
Auctioneer Paul Fairweather said, “For Bowie collectors this really is a significant recording, completely unique and of great historical interest, being the earliest studio recording of a fledgling musician who would go on to superstardom.”
Decades after the recording was made, Hadfield found his copy of the demo in a breadbasket. It is expected to sell for at least $13,000.
Hadfield recalled: “Our agent, Eric Easton, who also managed The Rolling Stones, asked us to do a demo so he could try and get us an auction at Decca. So in early 1963, I booked into R. G. Jones small studio in Morden. In preparation for the demo David and our guitarist, Neville Wills wrote 2/3 songs. We had decided that we would do a couple of guitar instrumentals and one original song.”
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Hadfield continued, “I chose ‘I Never Dreamed’ as it was the strongest, the other two were a bit weak! I also decided that David was the best person to sing it and give the right interpretation. So this became the very first recording of David Jones (Bowie) singing 55 years ago! There is no other recording featuring David as lead in existence. Decca initially turned us down, but when they eventually gave us an audition later that year, vocalist Roger Ferris was the lead voice and David sang backing harmonies.”
This was clearly a period of time when Bowie was uncertain of the path he wanted to pursue. His voice in the recording is very high.
“The recording captures Bowie, later known as one of music’s great experimentalists, at a time when he remained unsure of his musical direction,” wrote the BBC.
Six years later he would begin his career as a solo artist, when he had changed his name because The Monkees’ Davy Jones was so famous. Bowie signed to Mercury Records and recorded Space Oddity. His breakthrough was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.
David Bowie died of cancer in January 2016, two days after the release on his 69th birthday of his album Blackstar.
A new BBC documentary, set to be released next year, is set to explore the Brixton-born artist’s early career, according to the fan site David Bowie News.
Titled The First Five Years, it’s to be a companion film to Five Years, which was released in 2013, and David Bowie: The Last Five Years, which appeared in 2017.
According to the site ultimateclassicrock, “While no production details were made available, it’s likely the subject matter will be the era from 1962-67, for much of which Bowie was still known as Davie Jones. During that period, he left school after telling his parents he decided to be a pop star, worked as an electrician and proceeded through early bands the Konrads, the King Bees, the Manish Boys, the Lower Third and the Buzz.”
Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers for Touchstone Books. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com.