Let’s dance: David Bowie’s space oddities at Slane Castle, 1987

Published: July 13th, 1987.Photograph by Dermot O’Shea

David Bowie backing group in action at Slane Castle. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea

David Bowie backing group in action at Slane Castle. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea

 

Which star could be so spectacular in the rock firmament to warrant a backing band as eye-catching as this? The caption tells all. “David Bowie’s backing group in action at Slane Castle on Saturday,” it says.

In fact that’s not quite correct. The photographer’s confusion is understandable: one of the most ambitious rock extravaganzas ever staged, Bowie’s 1987 Glass Spider tour included not just a backing band and the eponymous arachnid but a troupe of five professional dancers, four of whom are making shapes here.

Bowie, of course, made the front page, while this shot was relegated to page 10. Here’s the odd thing, though. With his single-breasted suit and flicked-back hairdo, Bowie is every inch the 1980s icon, while these dudes could have been snapped at a festival somewhere in Ireland last week.

Which was the whole idea. For the Glass Spider tour, Bowie sought out dancers who were au fait with American hip-hop and European performance art, which would have been as familiar to the average concertgoer of the 1980s as the dark side of the moon.

The dancers who signed up for the tour – Melissa Hurley, Viktor Mancel, Constance Marie, Craig Allen Rothwell (Spazz Attack) and Steven Nicholas (Skeeter Rabbit) – were all hugely accomplished.

It’s not easy to match up the characters in our image with the fuzzy effigies of contemporary cyberspace, but it’s likely that the punky, zombie chap on the right is played by Rothwell and that the leather-jacketed drummer is Nicholas.

Which song are they belting out here? Fashion, possibly: “We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town…” It’s a pity we can’t hear them, but even without the soundtrack they convey the swirl and energy of a Bowie gig.

The Glass Spider tour went down like a ton of bricks with critics and fans alike. In retrospect, however, its dislocated structure and strange vignettes would prove almost as influential as its music. Sure every eejit who goes on Strictly Come Dancing nowadays dresses up like a zombie at some stage.

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, €19.99

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