clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

On This Day (23 June 1987) - David Bowie rocks Sunderland’s Roker Park

But did the iconic superstar even know where he was?

David Bowie performing at Roker Park, Sunderland on 23rd June 1987 in his Glass Spider Tour Fans enjoying the concert Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

SET LIST: Purple Haze (cover), Up the Hill Backwards, Glass Spider, Up the Hill Backwards (reprise), Day-in-Day-Out, Bang Bang (cover), Absolute Beginners, Loving the Alien, China Girl, Fashion, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), All the Madmen, Never Let Me Down, Big Brother, Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family, ‘87 and Cry, Heroes, Time Will Crawl, Beat Your Drum, Sons of the Silent Age, Dancing with the Big Boys, Zeroes, Let’s Dance, Fame. Encore: Blue Jean, Modern Love

A stringed-version of the hook from Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze faded and the band broke into the underrated “Up the Hill Backwards”, then, as his evocative vocals rang out across the northeastern crowd, he descended to the sage in a huge Glass Spider, and the song of the same name took over, 36,000 people went wild.

It was all going so well, but as “Day-in-Day Out” came to a crescendo, David Bowie cried out perhaps the most infamous words ever uttered at Roker Park, enough to sully the name of one of the greatest cultural icons of the twentieth century in the fair city of Sunderland for decades to come...

Thank you, good evening, Newcastle!

You surely already know about this most insensitive of faux pars. Even if - like 5-year-old me - you weren’t amongst the crowd, it’s a story we’ve all been told growing up; an anecdote that’s still being handed down to new generations as they encounter Bowie’s music for the first time. I’ve just told my 11-year-old (whose favourite album of all time is 2016’s wonderfully powerful Black Star); he sucked the air through his teeth and shuck his head...

The man himself was, at this stage in his already long career, not hiding behind an elaborate persona - he was just plain Dave, and embarking on a gigantic 100-date global tour accompanied by the largest touring set in the history of live music to that date. Such was the complexity of the rig, one stadium worker had died and another had been injured during the concerts in Florence and Milan earlier in the month.

Minor royalty in the form of the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, was in attendance at our old ground to watch the Thin White Duke perform, but her then husband clearly wasn’t willing (or should I say able?) to join her and work up a sweat with the hoi polloi. Bowie’s plane was delayed in London and for a while it looked like he might not make it, but the crowd were none-the-wiser and the warm-up acts of Big Country and Screaming Blue Messiahs went down well.

Bowie’s set list, comprised of some of his more obscure ‘80s tracks interspersed with a few absolute classics like “Heroes” and “Let’s Dance”, obscure dancing and spectacular staging left the crowd cold at times and, as the English summer reverted to type and the rain began to pour, Bowie seemed to lose enthusiasm for the gig. The encore was cut short by two songs (a cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” with “Modern Love” to finish), and he headed off for the Scandinavian leg of mammoth tour. The pitch was left in a hell of a state, and some local people are still complaining about the noise 34 years later.

We’re fortunate to have access to the official photos from the concert from the Getty archive, so maybe you can spot yourself (or your parents, or even your grandparents) in the crowd?

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Roker Report Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Sunderland news from Roker Report