‘Bowie Bandstand’ awarded a Grade II listing

The “Bowie Bandstand”, a local landmark in south-east London that was the centrepiece of a music festival organised by the late rock musician David Bowie in 1969, has been awarded a Grade II listing.

With its peeling paintwork and decaying roof, the 1905 bandstand in Beckenham appears a timeworn relic of the Edwardian era. But campaigners hope its historic connection with the superstar, acknowledged in Historic England’s listing, will boost an appeal to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for its restoration.

The announcement comes exactly 50 years since the young Bowie launched Beckenham’s answer to Woodstock, with “nonstop music and discs”, a dozen or so performers, street theatre, mystics and astrologers, puppets, jewellery and an “exotic tea stall”, according to a typewritten flyer for the event. With an emphasis on free creative expression, the event drew an audience of several hundred people during the height of the hippie countercultural movement.

At the time, Bowie was living in the south London district with his landlady (and later lover) Mary Finnigan. A month earlier he had released his single Space Oddity, written at the time of the first Moon landing, but he was yet to became one of the world’s most celebrated musicians. The experience inspired Bowie to immortalise the event in Memory of a Free Festival, a song on his second album.

David Bowie performing at the bandstand in 1969 © Ray Stevenson

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “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.”

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Another factor behind the listing is that the bandstand is thought to be the last remaining one built by Glasgow manufacturer McCallum & Hope. Seb Fry, listings adviser at Historic England, said the ironwork in the Beckenham example was “of the highest quality”.

The finely wrought ironwork on the bandstand in Beckenham © Chris Redgrave./Historic England

“Bandstands are precious now, and here we’re looking at a really finely designed example,” Mr Fry said.

During the heyday of the bandstand in the early 20th century, some 1,500 adorned public parks in Britain. But local government changes in the 1970s meant park budgets were cut, leaving bandstands at risk from neglect and decay.

“Between 1945 and 1980, nearly 600 bandstands were lost, including 94 in London,” according to Paul Rabbitts, author of Bandstands, a history of the structures. Carlisle, Portsmouth, Southend-on-Sea and Morecambe lost all of theirs, while Leeds was left with just two out of the 21 originally erected in its parks.

Only in the 1990s was the trend halted, with new funding for restoring parks, and restoring bandstands, offered by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Bowie’s one-day festival has been repeated in subsequent years, renamed “Bowie’s Beckenham Oddity”. Musicians and Bowie supporters are planning to celebrate the half-century milestone with a special event on Saturday.


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