'Bowie Bandstand' in Beckenham Listed on Festival’s 50th Anniversary
The historic bandstand in south London where David Bowie performed at the Growth Summer Festival on 16 August 50 years ago has been listed at Grade II by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.
Memory of a free festival
David Bowie was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, with a career spanning nearly 50 years. Although born in Brixton, at eight years old Bowie moved to Bromley with his family and as an adult he lodged on Foxgrove Road in nearby Beckenham with Mary Finnigan, his landlady and later his lover.
Soon after his first hit single 'Space Oddity', Bowie and friends organised the iconic Growth Summer Festival in August 1969.
The hope was to raise money for a permanent base for his and Finnigan’s Beckenham Arts Lab project, which began life as a folk club in the backroom of the nearby Three Tuns pub.
Where Bowie penned 'Life on Mars'?
The one day festival was free, emulating Woodstock’s style and feel with its emphasis on freedom of expression for artists and musicians. The bandstand was the centrepiece of the day and the stage from which the young Bowie performed to an audience of a few hundred people.
Thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, the festival inspired Bowie to write 'Memory of a Free Festival', a seven minute song for his second album released later that same year, in homage to the day.
Bowie spent some of his most creative early years in Beckenham, with his landlady Mary Finnigan claiming he composed many songs whilst living under her roof.
It has even been suggested that Bowie may have penned the lyrics to 'Life on Mars' from the steps of the bandstand. Today it is known and loved locally as the Bowie Bandstand.
David Bowie is a cultural icon and 50 years on from his performance at the ‘Bowie Bandstand’ in Beckenham it is right that we remember his influence on music and culture in this way. Our country's music industry is a huge success story and artists like David Bowie will always play an important role in how the rest of the world views the UK, helping us to attract millions of visitors each year to experience and enjoy our rich history and culture.
Walking past this typical yet characterful bandstand, you probably wouldn’t expect it was once the stage for a young man who would become one of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century. It is a rare survival from a historic iron foundry in its own right, but its significance as a site that inspired David Bowie shows us how powerful our historic places can be and how important it is that we protect them so they will continue to inspire people for years to come.
A musical focus for over a century
The first bandstands in England were built in the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens in Kensington, London, which opened in 1861. They were built to be a focus for music, serving as the venue for regular concerts, and became widespread by the end of the 19th century.
Croydon Road Recreation Ground in Beckenham opened in 1891 following a local campaign to secure public open space for the area’s growing population.
It has long been a place for local festivities, witnessing regular celebrations for coronations, Jubilees, May Queen festivals and commemoration services for soldiers who fought in the First and Second World Wars.
The bandstand itself was built in 1905, to the design of the McCallum and Hope Iron Foundry and is thought to be the only bandstand from this foundry still standing in Britain.