IT'S familiar, yet strange. The song is well known – it was David Bowie's first pop hit, released in 1969 and again in 1973 and 1975 – but this performance is weird: nervous, paranoid, fragile. Certain details are familiar – the padded cell, the astronaut chair in the middle of the domestic kitchen – from a more famous video, the landmark August 1980 promo for Bowie's first single off the Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) LP, Ashes To Ashes. It's these strange anomalies that make David Bowie's 1979/80 TV performance of Space Oddity so compelling, like we're watching a transmission from a parallel past, that draws on our collective pop memories but renders them skewed, distorted. But the closer you look, the clearer things become.
The film was shot for the Thames TV production, Will Kenny Everett Make It To 1980 Show?, A New Year's Eve special, shown on 31 December 1979, that included cameo appearances from Cliff Richard and David Essex. But it's Bowie's contributions that beguile: a near-parodic in-the-studio performance of Boys Keep Swinging with a cameo from Everett's cross-dressing city gent Angry of Mayfair; and that constitutionally delicate Space Oddity.
Oddity's visual parallels with Ashes To Ashes are easily explained. Both films were directed by David Mallet, then a producer/director for Thames TV, and keen students of Everett's "naughty" dance troupe, Hot Gossip can spot in-camera effects from Ashes To Ashes in earlier Everett sequences such as this 1978 Hot Gossip performance of Cerrone's Supernature which even appears to employ some of the same seaside locations.
“It never ceases to amaze me what a huge effect Ashes to Ashes had on the [British] public,” says Mallett, in this short interview. “Because England hadn't really seen music videos like that before.”
Except they had – for the preceding two years on The Kenny Everett Video Show.