Gigs · Music · Travel

Berlin, Bowie and fibreglass bears


Berlin train Potzdamerplatz

We were in Berlin for a couple of days last week, mainly to see Neil Finn. That worked out really well, as he was playing in a small club just inside the former East Berlin, much smaller than any place he would have played in the UK. Small as it was, the club had immaculate sound and lighting and Finn was great, playing for well over two hours and effectively taking requests for his second encore.
People who snap pictures on phones during gigs really annoy me, but I grabbed this quick and crappy picture from the back of the club, disturbing no-one (as no-one was behind me…)

Neil Finn live Berlin
Neil Finn bathed in a stream of pure heat, Berlin


Anyway…the next day, the plan was to go on Berlin Musictours’ ( visit to Hansa Tonstudios and then take their bus tour of Berlin’s musical places of interest.  It seemed a bit steep but, hey, we were there anyway…

It seemed worth every penny after about the first ten minutes of the studio tour, and we weren’t even inside the place yet.  Thilo Schmied, the guide, is funny, enthusiastic and knows his stuff.


Bowie recording studio Berlin music tour
Outside Hansa Tonstudios…the big room has the three tall windows above the restaurant

Inside, the first port of call is the room where Lust for Life was recorded.

Iggy Pop Lust for Life recording studio Berlin


This tape machine was used on “Heroes”…

Tape Machine Heroes Bowie Berlin


…and some of “Heroes” was recorded in the big room here.  This room is currently used for meetings, conferences and functions as well as remaining a recording space.


Heroes recording studio David Bowie


The control room for the big room is now a bar; it features this very important window, where Bowie saw Tony Visconti (illicitly) with Antonia Maass and came up with;

“I can remember, standing by the wall; and the guns shot above our heads, and we kissed as though nothing could fall…”

There’s a picture of Bowie at the mixing console which was in front of this window in Visconti’s book Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy.

Tony Visconti - Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy


Back then, the window looked out to the Berlin Wall and was itself overlooked by an armed checkpoint; it’s a lot blander now, happily, but there a couple of souvenirs of the wall behind the apartments adjoining the studio.


Berlin music tour David Bowie


Berlin Wall David Bowie


To go back to the great Where Are We Now?, which I put at the top of this piece; in the first verse, Bowie mentions three places in Berlin; Potzdamerplatz station, which he shows in the video for WAWN in the seventies and I’ve shown as it is now; then there is The Jungle, a club he frequented during his stay.  That’s also in the video and below is how it looks now – a florist’s on the ground floor of the Ellington Hotel, where we were staying. The Jungle, a club he frequented during his stay. That’s also in the video and below is how it looks now – a florist’s.


Jungle Club Bowie in Berlin


The third Berlin landmark, mentioned in the song, but not (as far as I can see) in the WAWN video is the KaDeWe department store.

Bowie Berlin KaDeWe


So, a musically and historically interesting couple of days.

But perspective is important and no chance to be photographed looking like a balloon should be resisted; so it was good to see many fibreglass renditions of Berlin’s trademark bear all over the place; the one below was at the end of the street where Hansa is…

Berlin fibreglass bear Bowie


And this one was at the airport, just before a trip to the Irish Theme Bar therein (mine, not the bear’s…)

Berlin bears


Heroes live in Berlin 2002

Music · Travel

New Year’s Day in NYC

John Lennon Gibson Guitars New York

On New Year’s day 2011 I was in New York City, waking in the Chelsea Hotel (I was actually resident there, it’s not just where I happened to have fallen asleep…) Nice work if you can get it and you can get it if your girlfriend tries…
I recently wrote about John Lennon in Edinburgh and the vibrations that can hit you around my home town. So of course I was going to go to the Dakota building when in NYC.
I was on several tour buses in New York and when I go back, the rule of thumb will be to look for the gayest tour guide, because they will be the most interesting. The guy this particular morning pointed out the site of Studio 54, umpteen defunct theatres, loads of movie references, the Leonard Bernstein centre…anyway, you know what I’m saying.
As we approached the area around Central Park where the Dakota building is, he pointed out a pub called Malachy’s, which was unusual because a) it was a pub in a upper-dupper class residential area and b) it looked like a cowp. He claimed that this was where John Lennon would go for a drink of an evening after he’d got Sean down.
The tour bus drops you off outside Central Park near the Strawberry Fields memorial park, which is pretty disappointing. On this day, someone had formed a banana mandala on the memorial itself, which was puzzling, as I did not know John was a particular fan of the fruit…there are signs enjoining visitors to be silent and respectful, but that hadn’t put off the busker playing Sting songs (Sting has an apartment in the area…) A bit of a dump really.


Strawberry Fields memorial New York John Lennon Imagine

Walking over to the Dakota was emotional. I thought of John’s last walk home – what was he thinking, was he going to nick out for a pint later that night?
The Dakota building is tourist central (I raise my hand,) a roundabout of people posing for pictures, as I of course did. Must be a bit annoying for actual residents (Lauren Bacall still lives there) but there’s no way round that; the psychic pull will be there for the next few hundred years.

Dakota Building New York

We walked down to the pub pointed out by the tour guide. Although I was still jangly from the previous night’s celebration, it seemed mandatory that we should have a drink in John Lennon’s local (I had already bought the story.)
But it was shut. We looked longingly at the frontage, with its Bass sign and realised that it was only about 11 in the morning. Our diligence at rising early to make the most of our few days in the city that never sleeps had beaten us…

Malachy's bar New York