The release of David Bowie’s first new album in a decade led to a spate of documentaries and specialist shows on both the BBC and commercial radio in the UK. As an audio producer interested in historical, music-based documentaries, this was a unique opportunity to hear a cross section of production styles / content focusing on one artist over the space of a month.
The BBC’s 6 Music Easter Week “salute” to Bowie trawled through the archives, and rehashed some of their earlier docs – along with some more unique pieces.
“Programme specials reveal precious gems from the archive featuring concerts and interviews with Bowie, some of which have not been heard for over 30 years, whilst fascinating documentaries uncover more about his life and work.”
Particularly impressive was Adam Buxton’s superb comedy take on his love for all things “Bowie”. Download the feature here. It’s a wonderfully light-hearted approach, made especially memorable thanks to Buxton’s impression of Scott Walker reworking of the “Laughing Gnome”.
The winner of the best doc category, however, was Absolute Radio’s superb three-part documentary series which spanned Bowie’s entire career in just three hours (impressive!). What made this series, produced by elite independent prod. company TBI Media, even more interesting was its unique funding model. It was financed by the V&A to promote its current Bowie exhibition and used items from the exhibition as centrepieces for the documentary. This technique of funding documentaries through sponsorship on commercial radio has been enabled by the recent relaxation of Ofcom’s broadcasting codes – and Absolute have used the opportunity particularly well in this instance.
Hear the complete documentary series on Absolute’s “Listen Again” service.
For my part, I reworked an earlier documentary about the 25th anniversary of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” album with new contributors, to make this one hour documentary celebrating the 30th anniversary of the album, which was broadcast on April 14th (the release date of the album in 1983) on Absolute Eighties.
Hosted by music journalist Mark Sutherland, the documentary provides track-by-track analysis, with original interviews and archival recordings of Bowie from 1983. Although many contemporary critics seemingly dismiss the record as a “sell-out”, at the time it was seen as Bowie’s further exploration of Black American dance music, much like his hugely successful “Young Americans” album. As Bowie author David Buckley put it:
“Let’s Dance should be central in the Bowie canon – it should be spoken of in the same way as Scary Monsters, Heroes, Low, Ziggy Stardust…”
Some of the contributors were recorded at a Bowie Symposium “Strange Fascination” (the “worlds first”) at the University of Limerick in Oct. 2012. New Zealand Bowie academic Ian Chapman and I produced this documentary about the event. An edited version was played on Radio New Zealand’s “Music 101” show.
If any academic out there feel they have a compelling observation to make about Bowie and his career, papers are currently being sought for a new Bowie edition of the Celebrity Studies Journal. Deadline is the 10th of June.