Best in show | David asleep on the Trans-Siberian Express, 1973, by Geoff MacCormack - Museums Association

Best in show | David asleep on the Trans-Siberian Express, 1973, by Geoff MacCormack

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
Best In Show
John Holt
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David asleep on the Trans-Siberian Express, 1973 © Geoff MacCormack
Martin Pel
Curator of textiles and costume at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

“Anyone who has kept even half an eye on recent popular culture should recognise that hair and realise that it’s David Bowie in this picture.

Knowing that, you’ll realise that the person who took this shot has got to be someone to whom the star was very close. The photographer is Geoff MacCormack – Bowie’s lifelong friend, travel companion and sometime musical partner.

The two first met at school in the 1950s when Bowie’s family moved to Bromley after David’s dad got a job at the Dr Barnardo’s charity.

They were eight years old; MacCormack’s father was half-Jamaican and Bowie himself – then plain David Jones, of course – was painfully pale, so they both stood out from the other kids and became close as a result.

Both boys had older brothers who introduced them to jazz and literature and the pair would spend hours together, listening to music from across the Atlantic and doubtless dreaming of what life must be like in America.

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MacCormack himself had been groomed for a singing career in the late 60s, but his heart wasn’t really in it. He did have a good voice, however, and Bowie asked his old pal to join the Spiders From Mars band in 1973. For the next three years, they had a whale of a time, as can be seen from this photograph.

MacCormack has captured the Starman – his red Ziggy Stardust hair and all – snoozing on the Trans-Siberian Express en route back home from a tour in Japan. Bowie refused to fly anywhere so the pair travelled first class on cruise ships and trains.

The table in the middle gives an idea of the fun they were having; the empty bottles had been shared by a group of Russian soldiers with whom the two Englishmen had got riotously drunk the previous night.

MacCormack later performed as a singer and dancer on the theatrical Diamond Dogs tour of the US in 1974 and stayed around for the Young Americans and Station to Station albums that reflected Bowie’s fascination with American culture and genuine love for soul music.

I think it’s hard for MacCormack to be objective about those days. He was in the centre of it and he’s not massively aware of just how important those times were for the rest of us. Thankfully, he’s completed a memoir.

Sometimes when I visit him, he says: ‘Hang on, I’ve just found this in my loft, what do you think?’ He’ll pull out some more priceless memorabilia, acetates of unknown songs for never-to-be-completed projects or another photograph.

One, captured on the set of the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, features the Thin White Duke in his pyjamas.”

Interview by John Holt. Rock ’n’ Roll with Me: Bowie/MacCormack 1973-76 is at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery until 23 January 2022

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