I love Bromley and have made it my home for over 20 years. I chose to live here and its done me and my family well for many years. Like all places that punch above their weight culturally it has a contradictory nature best bookended , in my opinion, by two quotes "Bromley is bliss" from Hanif Kureshi's Buddha of Suburbia and "Bromley is a lobotamy in bricks" by the comedian Frankie Boyle.
One of the few books to highlight the importance of Bromley in Bowie' life is the wonderfully personal account Psychedelic Suburbia by Mary Finnigan. Her book shows us how the Beckenham Arts Lab helped forge Bowie during the late 60's. It was published to celbrate Bowie's 69th birthday.
Bromley has a reputation as the ACME of dull suburbia which has kept many a guardianista and now hipsters away. Sure it has a conservative council (and now an out and proud gay mayor) and an often conservative, but surprisingly tollerant and accepting,population (it wasn't a brexit borough despite it being Nigel Farage's place of residence). As we talk alot these days about diversity surely Bromley is a part of this diversity with a point of view often at odds with the liberal left and yet chosing never to get extreme or nasty about it.
As an area that has produced or is connected with such luminaries as Charles Darwin (who wrote the Origin of Species at Downe, part of Bromley ), H.G. Wells, the Bromley Contingent of punk and new wave artist and of course the late, much wept for, David Bowie.
Most people know David Bowie was born David Jones in Brixton, an alltogether more hip, happenin and wot not place for him to be associated with. Many people forget he was forged in Bromley, spending most of his formative years, those he spent with his brother, living near Bromley town centre in a cottage on Plaistow Grove. His creative years at Foxgrove Road and Haddon Hall, his co-founding of Beckenham Arts Club and his triumphant return to Bromley when he played the free festival in 69, are rarely associated with the area, a bit like if we all forgot the Beatles were from Liverpool. Unlike many artists who, understandably, flee their childhood towns Bowie stayed around after his initial success.
Yet two years after his death there is still no fitting tribute to him in Bromley. Brixton has its Bowie mural, Manchester has a prominent street portrait of him but as of yet Bromley has nothing. This is i fear the lobotony in bricks element of the place making itself known. Contrast this with the beautiful and poignant statue of Amy Winehouse in Camden Town and the sculptural tributes to the Beatles in Liverpool and this lack is made all the more painful to his many fans and admirers.
So here are the five reasons why Bromley should have a fitting tribute (sculptural or not) to the great and good man.
1. Bromley Helped Form Bowie: He grew up, went to school here and formed his love of music,art and getting noticed during his childhood in Bromley.
2. Bromley was Bowie's home and place of experimentation: Despite its staid reputation Bromley remained home to Bowie and he wasn't run out of town. Many other places wouldn't have tolerated a dress wearing, pram (minus the baby) pushing, arty type fella in the late 1960s but Bromley did. He had space to grow here.
3. Bowie played the Beckenham Free Festival: not too proud to return to where it all started, Bowie performed at this famous festival in 1969 which is remembered to this day.
4. Space Oddity was made when Bowie lived at Haddon Hall: No he didn't run off to central london straight away but drew inspiration from the now demolished late victorian oddity that was Haddon Hall(see photo below).
5. Bowie Returned to Bromley to show his family where he came from: Shortly before he became too ill to travel Bowie took his beloved wife and daughter to revisit his old haunts and show them what, who and where made him what he was.
A Conversation with Oscar Wilde is a public sculpture by Maggie Hambling. The sculpture was commissioned by a committee of artists, actors and poets to commemorate Oscar Wilde in the city of his triump and down fall. Its witty, dark, funny and sad. Like all art that works you can look and look and look.
Tribute to David Bowie, Bromley (not yet created so there is nothing to show)
This takes minimalism to the extreme, more like nothingism. Lets get a fitting tribute what ever form it takes.
Mary Finnigan's Psychedelic Suburbia offers a personal and very Bromley centric account of Bowie and his time at Beckenham Arts Lab in the late 60's.