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"The Retirement Gig" Hammersmith Odeon
(3 July 1973)

Featured Concerts Index
See also: ZIGGY STARDUST: THE MOTION PICTURE (1983) (Soundtrack)
See also: Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars: The Motion Picture (1983) (Movie/Video/DVD)
See also: ZIGGY STARDUST: THE MOTION PICTURE Re-release (2002)

David Bowie's final concert appearance as Ziggy Stardust was at the Hammersmith Odeon Theatre, London on the 3rd July 1973. The concert was the 60th of 40 dates (matinees included) and last of the 3rd UK Ziggy Stardust Tour. It has since become known as "The Retirement Gig." The two Hammersmith Odeon concerts (2nd & 3rd July) were designed to take place of the cancelled second show at Earl's Court.

Today the Hammersmith Odeon Theatre has been renamed the Hammersmith Apollo, and the stage extended at the front, but otherwise it remains the same 3,500-capacity theatre in which Bowie made his fateful Ziggy Stardust retirement announcement:

"This show will stay the longest in our memories, not just because it is the end of the tour but because it is the last show we'll ever do."

By July 1973, Bowie had been touring and promoting his albums for nearly a year without a break. Tony DeFries plan was for a Ziggy Stardust tour of Europe to follow the 3rd UK Tour, then a 3rd US Tour with 38 confirmed concerts beginning on 1 September 1973 at the Toronto Maple Leaf and ending on the 31st October 1973 at San Antonio, Texas.

DeFries had hoped that the number of concerts on "US Tour III" could be expanded to seventy and Bowie himself at one stage talked of continuing the Ziggy Stardust tours to include China and the USSR in 1974. However, David Bowie used this final Hammersmith Odeon concert to announce the retirement of the Ziggy Stardust character and to put any live touring plans on hold. In retrospect this concert was to be the last public airing of Ziggy Stardust, apart from the exclusive 1980 Floor Show of August 18-20 1973.

It was likely that the retirement gave Bowie a well deserved rest but it may also have been forced on Bowie and his management by RCA. It was rumoured that RCA were not willing to underwrite the high-cost of booking the large US and Canadian stadiums (Bowie's albums were still to provide an adequate return on investment for RCA) and Bowie, himself, had already booked studio time for his next album PINUPS (1973). Many years later Bowie revealed his attitude at the time:

"I wanted the whole MainMan thing away from me. It was circusy. I was never much of an entourage person - I hated all of that. It's a relief for all these years ... not have a constant stream of people following me around to the point where, when I sat down, fifteen other people sat down. It was unbearable. I think Tony [DeFries] saw himself as a Svengali type, but I think I would have done okay anyway. Now, I look back on it with amusement more than anything else. Everybody was always going to get their teeth done or something, brand new people appearing in the office, having changed their appearance completely from the day before, and so forth." - Bowie

Lulu (left) and Angie Bowie outside Hammersmith Odeon

The retirement announcement at the end of the concert thus came as a major shock to fans, the majority of the music press (some such as Charles Shaar Murray, however, had advance warning) and the Spiders From Mars. It later transpired that Bowie had only told DeFries and Mick Ronson of his plans to retire Ziggy Stardust. Even Angie, his wife, did not know. While Mick Ronson was to be promoted by De Fries as a solo star in his own right, the announcement was essentially the end for the other Spiders as Bowie band members.

"When Bowie retired Ziggy at Hammersmith Odeon in the summer of '73, I was the one who got the tip-off, thereby enabling NME to have it's "Bowie: That's It, I Quit" cover story rolling off the presses before Bowie had made the onstage announcement" - Charles Shaar Murray (1993)

Bowie arriving at the Retirement Gig

This concert was also unique because it featured Jeff Beck - one of Mick Ronson's guitar heroes. He appeared towards the end of the concert and played on "The Jean Genie-Love Me Do" (augmented by Bowie on harmonica) and "Round and Round", but unfortunately these songs are not included in either the official concert album nor the video/film/DVD of the event (ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS: THE MOTION PICTURE).  Tony Visconti has revealed that prior to the official release of the concert album in 1983 Jeff Beck was not satisfied with his guitar solo in the film, and was allowed to rerecord his solo -- only for Visconti and Bowie to find out later that it was really his bell-bottom trousers he objected to, and he was trying to find a way to get himself cut out of the film!

The original concert songs and speeches from the Hammersmith Odeon concert on 3 July 1973 were as follows.  However, those shown in red do not appear on the official film or soundtrack.  Little known is the fact that Mike Garson opened the show on solo piano:

Link to mp3 (9.6 megabytes) - Recorded live at the desk by sound engineer Robin Mayhew

"The Hammersmith gig itself was phenomenal. I was pissed off though because Tony DeFries had come over and made me sign something before the show.  I think I made $52 from that performance, the soundtrack album and the rights of the movie and that didn't seem fair!  What people don't know about that gig is that I opened the show on solo piano.  David asked me to be his opening act. So for just fifteen minutes I took some of his hits, "Changes", "Life On Mars?" and "Ziggy", and made a medley for the gig [Ed: Medley wasactually  Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust, John, I'm Only Dancing & Life on Mars].  I came out to do the spot and I was scared to death.  So was Bowie.  He told me backstage that he was more frightened for me that night than for him!" - Mike Garson (1999)

The original concert songs and speeches from the Hammersmith Odeon concert on 3 July 1973 were as follows.  However, those shown in red do not appear on the official film or soundtrack: The order is as follows (note that the film and soundtrack listings are different)

Main Title (Video/DVD - Index 1)
Clockwork Orange Theme
(Video/DVD - Index 2 - labelled Beethoven Ninth Symphony)
Introduction - Mike Garson medley
Hang Onto Yourself (Video/DVD - Index 3) (Soundtrack 1)
Ziggy Stardust (Video/DVD - Index 4) (Soundtrack 2)
Watch That Man (Video/DVD - Index 5) (Soundtrack 3)
Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Video/DVD - Index 6) (Soundtrack 4) - All The Young Dudes (Video/DVD - Index 7) - Oh You Pretty Things (Video/DVD - Index 8) (Soundtrack 5)
Moonage Daydream (Video/DVD - Index 9) (Soundtrack 6)
Changes (Video/DVD - Index 10) (Soundtrack 12)
Space Oddity (Video/DVD - Index 11) (Soundtrack 7)
My Death (Video/DVD - Index 12) (Soundtrack 8)
Cracked Actor (Video/DVD - Index 13) (Soundtrack 9)
Time (Video/DVD - Index 14) (Soundtrack 10)
The Width Of A Circle (Video/DVD - Index 15) (Soundtrack 11)
Band introduction
Let's Spend The Night Together (Video/DVD - Index 16) (Soundtrack 13)
Suffragette City (Video/DVD - Index 17) (Soundtrack 14)
White Light-White Heat (Video/DVD - Index 18) (Soundtrack 15)
Jean Genie-Love Me Do
Round and Round

Farewell Speech (complete)
Rock 'n' Roll Suicide (Video/DVD - Index 19) (Soundtrack 16)
Pomp And Circumstance (Video/DVD - Index 20)

The following is a compilation of what happened at the concert as seen and heard on the full-length bootleg film of the concert. As such some descriptions will not apply to the official film/video.

The film begins with Bowie in his dressing room being given a telex to read from Cherry [Vanilla] to Tony [DeFries]. Bowie reads it, but cannot understand it - "It's all in code" he says, "I didn’t know we did business in code." The next scene shows pre-concert preparation with the stage piano being tuned and strobe lights tested. Outside, the crowd (including many fans wearing high-heeled shoes and glitter) wait for the concert to begin. Angie is shown arriving in a Rolls Royce and signing autographs. A shot of the theatre frontage reveals the words:

FROM 8PM: WE'RE ALL WORKING WITH DAVID BOWIE

Back-stage, Bowie tells the makeup crew that his mother saw her first spaceship the night before. Applying the make-up is Pierre La Roche, who created the astral sphere or sun that Bowie wore painted/glued on his forehead for many 1973 concerts. However, Bowie does not wear it on this occasion. Angie comes into the dressing room to wish Bowie luck and is praised for her new makeup style, although La Roche does not like the black lines applied around her lipstick - "You're just a girl, what do you know about make-up" jokes Bowie as she leaves.

The blond Melanie McDonald [Tony De Fries's girlfriend] and the brunette Suzy Fussey [creator of the Ziggy haircut and later to marry Mick Ronson] help Bowie into his first costume for the night, the Kansai Yamamoto designed blue & red bow-legged costume, which hides another beneath it. Bowie paces nervously, whistling the introductory Clockwork Orange Theme, which can be heard playing over the PA system. "Have a good one David" says Melanie as he leaves for the stage.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, straight from his fantastically successful world tour, including the United States of America ... Japan ... now his home country... for the last time... David Bowie...." - Announcer

The strobe lights illuminate Bowie, the Spiders From Mars and the front rows of the audience as they begin the first song "Hang Onto Yourself." The stage backdrop is three lightning bolt flashes within white circles. Bowie and Ronson are front stage, Woody Woodmansey with his drum set is at the rear and Trevor Bolder and the other supporting musicians are situated on the flanks and rear.

At the beginning of "Ziggy Stardust" - Bowie's costume is pulled apart to reveal a white kimono worn with lace-up white boots. "Watch That Man" is performed next, followed by the medley "Wild-Eyed Boy From FreeCloud, "All The Young Dudes" and "Oh, You Pretty Things". Interestingly, on both the video and CD, the sound quality increases dramatically at the beginning of "Wild-Eyed Boy From FreeCloud" - maybe due to microphone problems at the beginning of the concert and possibly this is why the album was not released in 1974, as originally planned. The next song is the superb "Moonage Daydream" which allows Bowie to change costume, while Mick Ronson performs his classic extended solo.

Backstage, Bowie with help from Melanie and Suzy wiggles into a green striped costume. "Its going well David, isn't the audience lovely, beautiful audience..." says Melanie. For "Changes" & "Space Oddity" Bowie accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. For the latter song, hanging globe mirrors reflect light over the audience and a number of crying fans are shown listening to the demise of Major Tom with outstretched hands.

Bowie first speaks before "My Death":

"This is a quiet song ... this is something that we used to do a long, long, long, long time ago, and we thought, as its the last show, we'd like to do it tonight..."

Bowie is then shown back stage talking with Ringo Starr. His next costume is a leotard. He covers this with a full length Japanese robe which he wears while singing "Cracked Actor." For the next song "Time", the robe is stripped away revealing the leotard. For "The Width of A Circle" he wears the woodlands animal costume. After "Width of A Circle" and its extended mime sequence, he introduces the band and dedicates the next song - "Lets Spend the Night Together" to Mick Jagger:

"Ah...let me introduce you to the Spiders, on bass guitar we got Trevor Bolder, and on percussion and drums Woody Woodmansey. No...no...its not Suzie Quattro, on lead guitar we got Mick Ronson...This is for Mick...."

After "Suffragette City" he says: "Thank-you ... good night"

While the audience clap for the expected encore, Bowie changes into his final costume, the see-through brown top and black trousers. Before "White Light-White Heat" he says:

"This was writ by a guy who tonight is in London somewhere, making an album and I think he's a friend of mine - well anyway, he's one of the best songwriters around today and he's called Lou Reed, and this is one of his best songs and its called White Light, White Heat"

After this song, Bowie again retires before returning for the final encore:

"Being the last show we thought that we would do something that would nice for you so we invited a friend of ours to join us and do a couple of numbers ... I know what kind of welcome you're gonna give to ... Jeff Beck!"

This segment is missing from the official releases, but bootleg videos show Beck and Ronson dueling during "The Jean Genie" and Bowie singing a few bars of the Beatles "Love Me Do", before a long jam by Beck (he plays the guitar behind his head at one stage and adds a few notes from the song "Over, Under, Sideways, Down"). Bowie then introduces "Round & Round" which Beck also plays on:

"This song comes from a little further back...this probably comes from about 1938 (laughing)"

After Jeff Beck has left the stage, Bowie steps up to the mike and famously announces:

"Everybody ... this has been one of the greatest tours of our lives. I would like to thank the band ... I would like to thank our road crew ... I would like to thank our lighting people ... Of all of the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest (cheers from the audience) because not only is it...not only is it the last show of the tour, but its the last SHOW that WE'LL ever do. Thank you" - Bowie (1973)

Illustration by Mike Allred (Red Rocket 7 #4 November 1997)

This shocks fans who scream "Noooooo!" Bowie sings a moving version of this song and at one point has to be pulled back on stage by his bodyguard [Stuey George] from the grasping hands. Right at the end of the song a young fan jumps up on the stage, hugs Bowie, but is quickly hauled away. At the finish of the song Bowie concludes: "Thank-you very much. Bye-bye. We love you."

A taped version of "Land of Hope and Glory" then played, while as Charles Shaar Murray noted, "Glitter fans all over the world went into mourning." Backstage, Bowie tells reporters "All I can say is that at this time I do not want to do live concerts again for a long, long time, not for two or three years at least." Radio Luxembourg's Kid Jensen is the first to break the news at 10 p.m. with the short statement that David Bowie has retired on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon. Later that night Bowie and a handful of friends hold a small party at the Inn On the Park.

"The whole gig for me, to be honest, was a wonderful event. I was thirteen. I had seen him in May that year at Earls Court - which for my first gig ever was a complete disappointment to me - for a kid of my age. The anticipation of seeing your 'idol' I would suspect is paramount? (whether realistic or not), but I saw little of him that night (moan over) - still it obviously never put me off. If my memory serves me well - I think the July 3rd gig was an extra date…..? So serendipity played its part there. I recall being extremely excited - our seats (again luck will always play its part) were front row circle...for me at least - the perfect place to see the stage. You will not see me on the video or film, but if you were David Bowie or the musicians working that night - they might have seen a spotlight on the right hand side of the circle level beaming the light that spotlights do, down to the stage. (Yours truly was a couple of seats along….!). It was a big one (the spotlight I mean - LOL) and was pivoted and beautifully operated by, what can you call them, 'lighting people?' I wonder whatever happened to that man? - the 'beam of light' as I wish to respectfully call him. As I recall that night - Mike Garson came out prior to the gig and played solo - beautiful piano pieces of Bowie songs - I can't remember them all - I do remember he played 'Life on Mars' though - (I think!!). Then, as is well documented, a 'teddy boy' arrived on stage to announce - Bowie - 'for the last time etc…..', Beethoven's ninth, blah de blah, and then Bowie & the Spiders. Opened with 'Hang on to yourself' - well the rest is history. But my feelings that night were for me 'I think my life will never be the same'. What a 'rock star' and what a ride it has been since!! In my opinion Bowie energised on that tour - 'Let me be noticed' - 'I will smile with you all'. His 'alienation' was all very comforting and mesmerising and made us feel 'safe' but aware of a performer being a creator, a book on stage. Final chapter ending tonight so to speak……. of tome one…..This piece of work that he, in my opinion, executed so wonderfully, was ambition with a 'heart ' or is that corny? ....At the time, the farewell speech made no impact upon me - the significance of it just passed me by - he could have been saying 'I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts' as far as I'm concerned or saying the word 'the' - I was so overcome by the gig!!! I loved 'Width of a Circle' - the mime - I had never seen anything quite as amazing at the time." - Bill B (2001)

Odd Spot! Legend has it that a member or members of the future Sex Pistols stole the P.A. system that was used at this concert on this or the previous night!

While the music papers claimed "Bowie Quits" it later transpired that Bowie was only retiring his Ziggy Stardust persona - and by default The Spiders From Mars - but it takes weeks for this fact to be clarified. In keeping with Bowie's high profile at the time the shock announcement was carried by all the major English daily newspapers.

"That's the most misquoted line that I've ever said.  It was never "ME" - it was "WE" - Bowie (1999) discussing his farewell speech and the misinterpretation that he was retiring.

Bowie's retirement party (known as "The Last Supper") was held at the Café Royal in Regent Street following frantic last minute calls from MainMan inviting guests to the impromptu party. The guest list included: Paul and Linda McCartney, Keith Moon, Lulu, Tony Curtis, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, The Goodies, Cat Stevens, Ringo and Maureen Starr, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Jeff Beck, Lou Reed, Barbara Streisland, Ryan O'Neil, Sonny Bono, Elliot Gould, Britt Ekland, D.A Pennebaker and Dr. John who supplied the live music for the evening.

NMEs Top 100 Rock Moments #11: Bowie Retires Ziggy Stardust

"I'm gay, and always have been, even when I was David Jones," Bowie "revealed" to Melody Maker journalist Michael Watts in 1972. The nation's elders, who back then regarded homosexuality as on a moral par with animal molestation, choked on their indignation. The nation's juniors, whose attitudes weren't much more enlightened, nonetheless took this glam, gender-bending pseudo-woofter to their hearts. The first manifestation of the Bowie-the-androgynous-provocateur was Ziggy Stardust, an alien, transsexual, garish alter ego figure who would perform in feather boas and garish, bizarre cutaway outfits, nipples and thighs exposed. He scandalised a nation that was still mentally living in the '50s, performing 'Starman' on 'TOTP'. However, the joke rebounded on Bowie as, addled by an increasingly voracious coke habit, he began to take cover behind the "crazed mirror" of the Ziggy persona, unable to face the world for what he was - a chronically shy, insecure and, of course, boringly heterosexual human being. In his altered mental state, it was whispered, he even believed himself to be an alien. Finally, the adulation of Ziggy became too much and he sensationally retired the creation onstage at the Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973, mortifying millions of fans and pissing off his band who were now out of a job."

Postscript: The orgy: Fact or fiction?

Every now and again a rumour circulates that at the last Ziggy Stardust concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, when David Bowie announced that it was indeed the final concert of Ziggy Stardust, a strange thing happened: members of the audience, overcome by despair, wildly copulated and masturbated, as Bowie and the Spiders from Mars played on. Some have claimed that this was hushed up and has been a best kept rock secret for years.

The following letter appeared in Fred and Judy Vermorel's book "Starlust" (1985) and was written by "Julie" who was reported to be 25 years old.  But whether her claims are true or pure fantasy is debatable. Apart from this letter  - such claims have not been documented anywhere else - i.e. the numerous Bowie reporters and writers who were there never mentioned it, DA Pennebaker and his camera-operators who was filming it, including audience cameras, never caught it, Bowie's entourage & stage crew and other audience members have never mentioned it in their recollections.  Plus it would have been unusual for anything this outrageous not to have been exploited for publicity purposes - e.g. couples having sex in the back row at an early 1973 Glasgow Bowie gig were commented on positively in the press by Bowie at the time.  But read the letter and you be the judge.

Warning - the following letter is sexually explicit and may offend.

Love From Ziggy

Julie (25): "I was at the Hammersmith Odeon when Bowie killed off Ziggy in '73. I got trampled to death! A lot of men were throwing off their underwear and showing their cocks all over the place. A lot of fluid was flying about. One girl was actually sucking someone off at the same time as trying to listen to what was going on. I thought it was so extraordinary because nobody had any inhibitions. I remember that around me nobody gave a shit really about doing these things because it was rumoured that maybe this was the last time Bowie would perform. Maybe this was the last time Ziggy would be here. And everyone's got to get in on this because otherwise you're just a square. So everyone just took their clothes off. And wanking was nothing. There was a guy next to me who was wanking in time to one track and I thought: My God! What does he do when he's alone? Then I suddenly realized that all the things I'd been doing were perfectly OK. Because here were people doing it with each other and sharing it. How wonderful, you know. So get off on that. And I thought I'd never seen so many cocks in my life" - (pg. 182-183) taken from Starlust (1985) by Fred & Judy Vermorel.

---This page last modified: 23/01/07---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)