Looking back at an iconic night in music history

From dangerously wide flares to hand embroidered fan art, David Bowie's die-hards return to the Croydon streets of his infamous '73 tour in a new exhibition

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© Frazer Ashford 1973 01
Frazer Ashford

In 1973, then-teenagers Rob Smith and photographer Frazer Ashford were people watching as they queued outside Croydon's Fairfield Halls, waiting for David Bowie to take the town in the London leg of his Ziggy Stardust tour. Ashford’s photographs, which have remained untouched for over four decades, document the style on the streets surrounding the venue – a rock ‘n’ roll cult descending upon the town’s center, kitted out in '70s flares, platform boots and Afghan coats. Although the crowds, groupies and wannabes are long gone, Ashford’s grainy black and white stills immortalise a generation of teens as they loyally await their glam-rock king. Curated by Edward Quarmby, the pictures will be exhibited at Fairfield Halls until September 29th. Here, Quarmby catches up with Ashford and Smith as they riff on their memories of that unforgettable night – and day – in June.

Edward Quarmby: In the 41 year old rolls of film I think I saw about six shots of Bowie, the rest being the fans. Was that always the case in your 70s reportage?

Frazer Ashford: I was sent along to the concert to get pictures for both the National on the local press, I wouldn't have normally photographed the fans (usually arriving a few minutes before the concert), but what was unique about the this was the fans gathered during the day rather than just arriving to see the show itself.

Rob Smith: We queued outside early so that when the box office opened I was at the start of the queue so got front row seats right in the middle.

Edward Quarmby: From the photos, I'd assume everyone at the show looked incredible – was that the case?

Frazer Ashford: It was the ‘glam-rock’ era. There would always be the fashionable leaders but at the Bowie concert the proportion of such dressers was very high. But I think that in any crowd, whether you're taking photographs or not, certain individuals stand out and make you notice them.

Rob Smith: The platform boots, the clogs, the flares, the loon pants, the Afghan coats. Huge flares. Just ridiculously huge flares. You would trip over them they were so big. You’d buy them from adverts on the back of Sounds or Melody Maker – something like a pound (£1) a pair.

Edward Quarmby: Part of the project was to give reverence to Fairfield Halls – a consistent space in Croydon's ever changing landscape. Now, slightly dwarfed by the plusher offices and shopping precincts surrounding it. How was Fairfield experienced when the photos were taken, and who experienced it?

Frazer Ashford: Back in the '70s and '80s, Fairfield was advertised as London’s leading entertainment venue. More importantly, it could hold almost 2000 people. There were very few venues around in those days to hold, what were then, deemed as larger audiences. Of course, venues attract the type of audience that's defined by the shows that it puts on.

Rob Smith: It was quite a functional building. It seemed a bit dated even in the 70s, to see a rock band there seemed a very exciting… a sexy thing to do, but this building seemed like a school, then suddenly the lights go down, the strobes come on and you’re in a different world. 

Edward Quarmby: From the photographs you seem to be the only one there with a camera. Today, everyone in the queue would be recording the event with a camera or phone. Here your photos are being seen for the first time in 40 years, what will happen to the images of today?

Frazer Ashford: Millions upon millions of images are taken everyday, the vast majority of which are also discarded or forgotten about. Those who capture, even trivial events, should catalogue them, file them away, and build up a valuable resource or archive over time. Shots which were taken 40 or so years ago are now so important. Record everything and stash it away, having ensured that it can be found in the future.

Rob Smith: Everyone knew, you could actually feel in the queue and in the audience, that you were part of something really big, and it was only going to get bigger.

Ashford's images will be shown at Fairfield Halls until September 29th

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