Lights, Bowie, Action: Unveiling the secrets of David Bowie’s lighting obsession

David Bowie’s lighting obsession enhanced his mesmerizing stage performances, as revealed by drummer Woody Woodmansey of the Spiders from Mars.​​

David Bowie‘s obsession with lighting was a key element in his mesmerizing stage performances.

According to Woody Woodmansey, the drummer of Bowie’s band, the Spiders from Mars, who spoke exclusively with Virgin Radio, the iconic singer had a unique approach to preparing for gigs.

Hammersmith Odeon bowie

On July 3, 1973, Bowie and the band performed at the Hammersmith Odeon, marking the end of their Ziggy Stardust tour.

In the concert film Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture, Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust, surprised everyone by announcing that it would be their last show. However, he meant that he was retiring the extravagant persona and costumes to focus on his career as Bowie.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that historic night, a restored version of the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars film will have a special screening and Q&A at the Hammersmith Apollo on July 3. The new version includes previously unseen footage and appearances by artists like Jeff Beck, who performed on that legendary night.

david bowie Hammersmith Odeon

Woody Woodmansey shared Bowie’s remarkable technique in preparing for tours, which involved dancers, stage performers, and meticulous planning. Bowie’s exceptional talent and songwriting set him apart from his contemporaries. He went beyond that and asked himself how he could present his music in an entertaining and emotionally impactful way. This involved innovative lighting and choreography that hadn’t been seen in rock ‘n’ roll before. Bowie worked out the details song by song, ensuring that each performance was unique.

Bowie’s success in creating otherworldly concert experiences stemmed from his keen observation of technical aspects rather than content. Woody recalls an incident where Bowie took the band to see a play solely to observe the lighting director, disregarding the play itself.

Bowie wanted his band members to understand how lights could change the atmosphere and wanted their input on choosing colors that suited each song. He exposed them to ballet performances, emphasizing the importance of stage presence and choreography. 

Bowie’s creative genius was truly remarkable and influential. He understood the power of stage presence and visual spectacle. Lighting became an integral part of his performances, creating immersive and atmospheric experiences for the audience. By meticulously planning the lighting design for each song, he enhanced the emotional impact of his music, elevating the concert experience to new heights.

david bowie lighting drawing
David Bowies Sound + Vision Lighting Plot Design 1990 c/o Willie Williams

Bowie’s ability to bring together these different elements into a cohesive and visionary whole is what solidified his legacy as a creative icon.

Check out the official music video for David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (From The Motion Picture) Taken from Bowie’s documentary and concert film ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ released in 1979.