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David Bowie’s First Studio Recording Discovered in a Bread Basket

The demo failed to impress recording executives in the early 1960s

July 1983 illustration of David Bowie for TIME magazine (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine)
smithsonian.com

David Hadfield was clearing out the loft over his garage when he found an old demo tape stashed inside of a bread basket. Hadfield recorded the tape with his band, the Konrads, in a small London studio in 1963. The only original song on the demo featured lead vocals by 16-year-old David Jones—who, just a few years later, would take the stage name David Bowie.

As Maeve Kennedy reports for the Guardian, the tape is believed to be the first studio recording of Bowie singing. Omega Auctions, a UK-based auction house, will put the tape up for sale in September; it is expected to fetch around $13,000.

Before the era of “Ziggy Stardust” and “Aladdin Sane,” before he became one of the most magnetic and influential performers in music history, David Bowie was a keen saxophonist. While playing with the Konrads, Bowie “had no inclination to become a singer,” Hadfield, who was the Konrads' drummer and manager, tells the BBC. “[H]is heart and mind were focused on becoming a world class saxophone player.”

But in the early 1960s, the Konrads’ agent, Eric Easton, asked them to put together a demo tape in the hopes of scoring an audition with the British label Decca Records. So Hadfield booked a studio and Bowie, along with the Konrads’ lead guitarist, Neville Wills, wrote a few songs, one of which was titled “I Never Dreamed.”

“We had decided that we would do a couple of guitar instrumentals and one original song,” Hadfield explains in an Omega Auctions statement. “I chose ‘I Never Dreamed’ as it was the strongest—the other two were a bit weak. I also decided that David was the best person to sing it and give the right interpretation.”

The recording, a snippet of which can be heard here, evidently failed to impress Decca executives; the Konrads did not get an audition. Later that year, Decca did grant the band a chance to perform. This time, Bowie sang backing vocals and another band member, Roger Ferris, took the lead. But once again, Decca turned them down. Bowie left the band soon after and began experimenting with an eclectic range of pursuits, including Buddhism, miming, and acting. In 1969, he once again turned his full attention to music, releasing his first hit, “Space Oddity.”

When Bowie died in 2016 at the age of 69, he was a beloved icon with a robust discography and chameleonic roster of personas. The Konrads demo is a relic of his more humble beginnings as an artist. Paul Fairweather of Omega Auctions calls the tape, “completely unique and of great historical interest, being the earliest studio recording of a fledgling musician who would go on to super stardom.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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