We used to live at the Hammy-O in the Eighties. Night after night, hanging out at the back of the crumbling Art Deco, ghost-crammed cavern, behind the sound desk, backs to the wall, beer bottles in hand, the mouldy carpet sticking to the soles of our boots, the dank corridors, the shabby backstage, the unthinkable bogs (they still are). I must have seen a thousand gigs in what was once the Gaumont Palace, everyone from Kid Creole and the Coconuts to Blondie to Hot Chocolate to Michael Schenker to Duran Duran to Kylie to Bruce to Elton to Mott the Hoople to Japan to Billy Idol to Depeche Mode to KISS to Asia to Pink Floyd to Quo to Genesis to Dire Straits to Ian Dury to Aha to Queen to Kate Bush to Michael Ball to Riverdance. The rest escape me. Labatt's brewers nabbed and Apollo'd it in the early Nineties. By the time it had been bought by Carling, I was tucked up at home with three kids, remembering.
There were owners and deals and renovations and glorifications to come. Not just for me, ha, but for that majestic venue too. Whatever they tried to make of it, it was always the Hammy-O. Now that most of London's good old live music venues have bitten the dust, it is more precious than ever. Where else do we have? The Borderline Soho, Ronnie's at a pinch, or a trek out to Greenwich Peninsular. The acoustics at the Indigo 02 good. But it's car park turmoil come the end.
I have longed to be old enough to have witnessed Buddy Holly's UK shows at the Hammy-O in 1958; shows that turned out to be his last here. Or to have experienced Ella Fitzgerald and the Duke, Tony Bennett and the Count, or Louis Armstrong. Or a boy named Sue, how do you do. Or Simon Napier-Bell’s prototype Yardbirds, with Eric. Or one of the Fabs' thirty-eight gigs across twenty-one nights there, 1964 to '65. I know a few who did. Those old snaps inside the Who's Quadrophenia album tell a little of it.
Last night, I remembered my first night. 3rd July 1973. Neat schoolgirls jumping a train from net-curtained suburbs, discarding navy pinafores and maroon-and-white-striped ties behind closed carriage doors, emerging in jewel velvet loons and studded platforms and make-up. 'What do you know about make-up, you're only a girl ...' There we were, up on screen, streaming-faced and glitter-weeping, at least versions of us, screeching 'David! David!', a damp, desperate choir, longing to be as one with the one on our bedroom walls.
Consumed by the madness, in life-threatening need of relief and self-reinvention, Bowie extinguished Ziggy and the Spiders that night. Our innocence died too. We had invested so much, had compromised ourselves, had been a laughing stock in the playground after swearing allegiance to weird, androgynous, beautiful, thin him. It was over.
It's in my book, 'Hero: David Bowie'. There was no story back then, that night, that desperate ending. There was bereavement.