MEMORY OF A FREE FESTIVAL
“…The Sun machine is Coming Down, and we’re Gonna Have a Party…”
CELEBRATING DAVID BOWIE AND THE BECKENHAM ARTS LAB.
Sunday afternoon in the park in the residential south London town of Beckenham may not conjure up visions of youthful exuberance and rock music – but on Sunday September 15th, 2013 in Croydon Road Recreation Ground hundreds of people enjoyed typical Glastonbury style rain to celebrate David Bowie – Beckenham’s most famous former resident, the legacy of the Arts Laboratory he co-founded, and the sensational Free Festival that he and Arts Lab members staged on the Bandstand in the park in 1969.
The Festival was “free” as the modest entry fee of £5 plus donations were collected to raise funds to restore the historic bandstand which:
- was opened in 1891 by Beckenham’s recently celebrated Tom Thornton
- 21 years later, was used by Beckenham’s Harold Bride – the hero of the Titanic – to address cheering crowds in the park.
- and for most of the 20th Century, witnessed civic and royal ceremonies, balloon flights and flower shows which rivalled Chelsea in popularity.
Today in an age of austerity there are not council funds to pay for repairs and it was left to Natasha Ryzhova, a Bowie fan from Russia, to galvanise the Friends of Croydon Road Rec into action. In her room in Moscow, Natasha kept a copy of the iconic photo of the young curly headed Bowie on her wall. When she moved to Beckenham a few years ago, she was surprised and delighted to find that, virtually on her doorstep, was Bowie’s bandstand; but aghast at its condition. So she persuaded the Friends to stage an event similar to the original Free Festival.
Members of the Arts Lab some 40 years ago were encouraged to do their own thing and this ethos underlined the 2013 event. As well Bowie classics created and performed during Bowie’s five years in Beckenham from 1969 to 1973, the seven groups taking part (some 70 musicians in total) played much of their own original music.
All the performers quoted David Bowie as their inspiration to take up music and they played for free. As a result over £900 was raised to repair the roof on the bandstand.
The 2013 Free Festival provided over 3 hours of live music from 3 to 6.30 pm. The performers taking part included:
The Thin White Duke a Bowie tribute group which played 5 Bowie numbers including Life on Mars and Space Oddity – both of which have links to the band stand.
Bill Liesegang Bowie’ s own tribute to the 1969 event song – Memory of a Free Festival
Amory Kane who flew in from the USA to reprise some of the songs he performed in the 1969 Free festival.
Others taking part were Raf and O, Keval, Low Rent Tractors, Scott Fuller and John Aldington.
Have a look at the picture gallery here
and some video here