“Bowie Was Like Orson Welles”: Diamond Dogs At 40

On the 40th anniversary of its release, engineer Andy Morris delivers the inside skinny on Bowie’s wildest album.

David Bowie, 1974

THE ‘DEGLAMIFICATION’ OF DAVID BOWIE was well under way as 1973 turned into 1974. Bit by bit, colourfully theatrical new tones were being introduced to his musical mix from soul, disco, electronica, chanson and show tunes, as well as a much harder rock edge when he felt the need.

David Bowie Diamond Dogs 40th Anniversary picture disc
Limited Edition 40th Anniversary Picture Disc of the Diamond Dogs single, to be released on June 16, 2014. See www.davidbowie.com.

For his follow-up to October ’73’s stop-gap Pin-Ups, Bowie had originally planned a thoroughgoing theatrical reworking of George Orwell’s 1984 novel, yet he was denied the rights by Orwell’s widow. It was about the best thing that could have happened, as it liberated Bowie’s imagination as never before.

When Diamond Dogs emerged on April 24, 1974, it proved to be Bowie’s most ambitious album yet. We Are The Dead was a horror movie in four minutes; Big Brother the sound of rock’s Messianic grand delusion collapsing. Only the title track and the first single Rebel Rebel reminded listeners of Bowie’s recent glam rock past. The rest was the future.

Recording the first time for three years without the Spiders or producer Ken Scott, Bowie produced himself at Olympic Studios in Barnes, mainly with engineer Keith Harwood.

Sixteen-year-old Olympic Studios engineer Andy Morris was also on hand throughout, and offers MOJO this exclusive and revealing insight into Bowies’s methods, and parties…

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By the time you worked with David Bowie you were a bit of a veteran, aged 16?

I was in the recording studio when the Rolling Stones recorded It’s Only Rock ’N Roll (But I Like It). I remember placing microphones in the toilets downstairs when Jagger and Keith were about to sing the overdubs. I also worked with Badfinger and The Pretty Things, but Diamond Dogs was the album I worked on the most.

“David was like Orson Welles! He was a visionary, highly intelligent.”

Andy Morris

Why did Bowie choose Keith Harwood to work with?

I think because of the people he had worked with – the Stones, Led Zeppelin. He had worked with some of Britain’s greatest bands. He was a great guy – had golden ears. Easy to work with, no ego, he just took me under his wing.

For the initial sessions for Diamond Dogs, am I right in saying that some of the Spiders were still around?

Yes, [bassist] Trevor Bolder was around. Lulu was in town working on a record. She was full of piss and vinegar. She would sit in the studio listening to the songs with David.

What were Bowie’s inspirations?

Definitely Bruce Springsteen and the song Spirit In The Night. We listened to that record for days and days in the studio.

What was Bowie’s studio method?

David was like Orson Welles! He was a visionary, highly intelligent. I think David already had a vision of the tour, the show, and how he would present the music live. 1984 was the song we spent the most time on because David wanted to get it perfect, and it turned out perfect, it’s a masterpiece. Bowie was a workhorse, he didn’t f**k around. When I worked with the Stones, there were loads of hangers-on whereas David was a workaholic. He would come in at one o’clock in the afternoon and some days we wouldn’t leave until five in the morning.

David Bowie – Diamond Dogs (1974)
David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album cover (1974).

How did Rebel Rebel come about?

We were sitting in the studio at 4am. The Stones were working in Studio A and Ron Wood and Mick Taylor had just done a benefit gig with Kilburn & The High Roads. Keith Harwood had left the studio at about 1am and we were waiting for David’s driver Tony [Mascia] to pick him up in his Daimler. I was wrapping up microphone cables but there was one cable still on and the fader was up and David started to play the first three chords of Rebel Rebel. He was just consistently going over those chords. We laid down a rough version and then David called my house and asked if we could meet up with Keith at Trident Studios because Trident, to my recollection, had the one of the few mastering labs in London. And then we had the first acetate of Rebel Rebel.

What was Bowie like as a personality? Was he friendly?

Yeah, he was great, man. I’ll give you an example. I lived in North London – which was quite a distance from Barnes in the south – so it would take me about 45 minutes to get to the studio, on this little 50cc motorcycle which my mum bought for me. During the end of one session, David was getting into his car and he said, ‘So where do you go on that motorcycle of yours every day?’ And I said, ‘I go to Palmers Green.’ And he said, ‘Whoa, that’s a long way from here. Why don’t you come and stay at my place?’ He was with Angela at the time. She was great, I loved her.

“David took mistletoe around and he was going to kiss everyone in the house.”

Andy Morris

What was Bowie’s home like?

It was a beautiful four-storey house on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. I remember the third floor – there was like a living room with a pit which had about fifty cushions in it. And he had a lot of those [ball] chairs – white on the outside, and inside they were green.

I went to his Christmas party there, which must have been 1973. All the Stones were there. Ronnie Wood was there and Stevie Wonder. [Bowie protégés] Ava [Cherry] and Geoff MacCormack were there. Prince Charles’ caterer was the caterer for his party. You walked in and everything was like 10 out of 10: food, champagne. The party started at 8; we left at 7 the next morning. Lots of things going in different rooms! He had lots of decorations up, and avant-garde paintings which were not hung up but leaning against walls.

Was there a Christmas tree?

There was! A real Christmas tree. David took mistletoe around the house and he was going to kiss everyone in the house. He pointed to me and he said, ‘I’m going to save you until last.’ I ended up sleeping in David’s pit, and Angela cooked breakfast and I left. There were still about thirty people in the morning just lying around everywhere.

It was around this time that David Bowie said his drug use began to escalate and he has gone on record to say Keith Harwood was a drug user. Did you see any evidence of this?

Yeah, of course. There was cocaine in the studio, especially when the Stones were around. I never saw any drugs being done in front of me when David was in the studio, though. I never saw David’s demeanour as being indicative of someone who was doing a lot of coke. But I was never a drug user. I used to see him drink a lot of tea! He had a private chef who would come in and cook for him and he’d eat in the control room with Keith. Very rarely would I see him go to the greasy spoon next door like the Stones used to.

And finally, did you see the Diamond Dogs tour?

I was working in the USA in 1974, aged 17. But I couldn’t get a ticket!

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