In 1969 a 22-year-old David Bowie climbed the charts for the first time with his hit Space Oddity. In that very same year VRT journalist Ward Bogaert spoke with Bowie about his work at the art lab in Beckenham (Bromley – London) and his ambitions. Unknown to the VRT Archive a taped recording of the interview has been collecting dust abroad for many years, but thanks to an incredible coincidence the VRT Archive has obtained a copy of the recording that is now being made available to the public at large in a digital format for the first time.
The coincidence involves another VRT journalist: Ward Bogaert, who shares the same name as his predecessor but is totally unrelated. The original Ward Bogaert, who did the interview sadly died in 2016. Today’s Ward Bogaert wasn’t even aware of his existence, but when he noticed a website reporting that he, “Ward Bogaert”, had interviewed Bowie in 1969 – ten years before his birth – his curiosity was piqued.
Ward’s name appeared in a Twitter post belonging to an auction site. The site offered an audiotape for sale featuring a radio report entitled “Swinging London”. It was produced by the original Ward Bogaert working for VRT predecessor BRT. Ward had interviewed the 22-year-old Bowie at the BBC’s Broadcasting House on 11 October 1969.
Inge Tielemans of the VRT Archive takes up the story: “We contacted the auction house and were able to obtain the tape and digitise it. We suspect Ward Bogaert handed the tape to Ken Pitt, David Bowie’s manager at the time, and that Pitt then passed the recording to a journalist, who was writing a book about Bowie”.
In all, the recording lasts nearly eight minutes. Bowie speaks for around two minutes, about the Art Lab network that helped him to launch his career and about his ambitions. Art labs were creative units set up by British youngsters. Here all forms of art could be performed by sculptors, painters, puppet makers and poets. Often the labs were spaces rented at the back of pubs. In the Beckenham Art Lab around 300 youngsters gathered to experience art in its many forms.
The report includes Bowie’s hit Space Oddity. It climbed the charts two years after the singer’s first album had flopped. Two days before the interview Bowie had appeared on BBC’s Top of the Pops with Space Oddity. Two months later, Bowie’s second album entitled “David Bowie” is released and is an immediate success.
The interview is mentioned in Kevin Cann’s Bowie book “Any Day Now: The London Years: 1947-1974”, but there was no trace of it in the VRT Archive that only contains BRT and VRT interviews with Bowie from the Eighties and later.
Not everything is preserved in the VRT Archive. “Recordings were made on quarter inch tapes and often reused and erased after the broadcast” explains Inge Tielemans. “Some radio producers did save recordings or partial recordings of their programmes, and these are in the archive. Sadly, many recordings were lost”.
The VRT Archive regularly receives audiotapes dating from the BRT era or even the era of its predecessor, the NIR. VRT is then able to make a digital copy of unique recordings for the Archive. Afterwards the tapes are returned to their owners together with a licensing contract.