An Exclusive Interview With Dana Gillespie

February 23rd, 2023 | by Nick
An Exclusive Interview With Dana Gillespie

Dana Gillespie is a successful singer, performer, actress and songwriter. She is instantly recognisable amongst Bowie aficionados for her collaborations with David during key eras in his career. Their story however, goes far beyond working together on music. Dana was close to Bowie and got to know him extremely well. She has kindly taken the time to answer our questions below..  

-Hello Dana. Can you tell us how you first became interested in music and what your early influences were? 

I was always in love with music from the moment I can remember as a child, and my father played good piano and my mother had a sweet singing voice although she mostly sung hymns and songs from war time.

 -What was your first approach to singing and performing? 

I did my first gig in 1962 when I was 13 in a singing contest in Kloisters, Switzerland. I strummed the guitar and sang J’entends Siffler Le Train which had been a hit for a French singer called Richard Anthony.

 -Can you tell us where and how you met David for the first time? 

It’s a sweet story that is told much better in my memoirs ‘Weren’t Born A Man’ but basically I met him in 1964 when I was 15 in the Marquee Club in London. At the end of his concert, when I stood at the back of the emptying room, I was brushing my waist- length hair and David Jones came up to me from behind, and taking the brush from my hand, he continued brushing and asked if he could go home with me that night. Of course I said yes.

 -What was your impression about his output at the time? Did you sense he was bound to become world famous? 

No one had an idea he’d be world famous as that was just too wild to think of such things.

-In the early days before his international recognition, when it was just you and Bowie spending time as friends, what did you use to talk about? 

In his early days he had no international recognition. We used to play each other our latest songs, spend a bit of horizontal time also but neither of us wanted a proper boy/girl relationship. It was music that bound us together.

 -What memories do you have of Haddon Hall? 

This was a fun place but I could only visit on Sundays and Mondays as I was being Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar 8 times a week so my time was limited. We both had a great manager then called Tony Defries who David had found for us, and he’d drive me to Haddon Hall and we’d just hang out with David and Angie.

-Please tell us about your experience performing live as David Bowie and Friends (recordings which have emerged on both Bowie at the Beeb and more recently, Divine Symmetry). 

I can’t say it was a special thing to do the John Peel show. It was just another gig for me but I was always happy that he’d written Andy Warhol for me.

-What was your rapport like with Bowie’s circle at the time? George Underwood, The Spiders, Angela, etc… 

I didn’t see much of Underwood but occasionally I’d be there when Woody and Trevor were around and they both played on the early version of Andy Warhol which was amazingly saved from a rubbish bin by Tris Penna and put on the compilation album of my MainMan recordings called ‘What Memories We Make’, released on Cherry Red Records.

 -Can you elaborate on what it was like interacting with Mick Ronson? 

Ronno and I were always very close and he was a joy to work with. Also he managed to lift Bowie’s songs out of sounding a bit folky to a new level with his guitar sounds. He was an angel to be with.

 -Please tell us about your experience regarding BOWPROMO, the legendary record commissioned by Defries.  

I think there were 300 copies made, and paid for by Defies and Laurence Myers and I went off to LA holding some copies to see if any labels over there would be interested in a deal…but no one was!

 -Did you hold on to your copy all these years? It is now an incredibly valuable collectors’ item. 

I still have one copy left and all of the white covers were written by me. The bootleg BowPromo is not good as they never pay me a cent and so it’s illegal, so they are thieves.

-What was your relationship like with MainMan and Defries? 

Defries was the brains behind MainMan and I am truly grateful that Bowie and Angie found him as Defries really ‘made’ David into the star he was destined to become, but it needed money and innovative planning and Defries did all that, but Angie was also a great input in getting Bowie up there. However the moment he really landed up in America he decided to get rid of both of them. Fair enough…..but I always thought it was a shame that Bowie wasn’t more generous in his acknowledging of their incredible input. It just went crazy at the end, with litigations flying around and I was stuck in the middle and couldn’t record for anyone else till the lawsuits were sorted out. So nearly 5 years of my life was on hold meaning that I had to resort to theatre and film work till everything got finalised.

 -Can you share your memories about working on the song ‘Andy Warhol’

I did the first version of Andy Warhol in Trident studios and if you hear my version you can hear Bowie’s voice as my backing singer. He also strummed his 12 string guitar on this but when he heard the finished mixed version he liked it so much that he recorded his own version, also done in Trident. He managed to release his version first as I was still in JC Superstar so couldn’t get to the studio so often. But then Defries got us both a really good deal with RCA in America. There were 3 versions of the RCA album sleeve, done by Warhol. I have one version, Defries has the 2nd version and I don’t know what happened to the third version.

 -What was your impression of Bowie’s rise in the entertainment industry with Ziggy Stardust? Did you attend shows and witness how he achieved his goals?

I was with Defries and Bowie the night before when Defries and Bowie decided to kill off Ziggy Stardust so I knew it was going to happen. I only attend this one show as I was still stuck in JC Superstar, but I did get to sing on the Ziggy Stardust album, doing backing vocals on It Ain’t Easy.

-What motivated you to shift your attention to acting? 

I’ve never liked acting but as I said before, I had to do it as I needed a job and the Mainman/Bowie litigations meant I couldn’t sing so I had to act. Before Bowie found Defries, Bowie and I both auditioned for Hair and we both got turned down! We just needed a job, but acting with no music is not my idea of fun.

-Please tell us about your amazing polaroids of Bowie! 

You need to get my memoirs to see some of them. Defries bought me the Polaroid camera and told me to snap away….so I did.

 -Have you held on to any unseen ones? Do you plan to share them at some point? 

I guess there are some still held back but I think the best went in the memoirs. Tony Zanetta borrowed on with Bowie and Mick Jagger which he used in his book but when I asked for it back he said he had lost it! Now I know never to lend my pix.

-When was the last time you ever saw Bowie or spoke with him? Did you keep in touch over the years? 

After he moved full time to America I didn’t see him again as I don’t often go there for work.

 -What was your reaction to the news of his passing? 

I was astounded how many people felt that Bowie’s death was like the end of the world. My feeling was that I was so happy for him that managed to do so much of what he really wanted to do and as ever he stage-managed his exit perfectly. The Eternal Showman!

 -Please tell us about your current projects. 

My band is called The London Blues Band and next month we go to perform at the South By Southwest festival in Austin Texas and maybe even Angie will come and visit if she has time. I’m just releasing my 73rd album which is a ‘live’ recording from the Temple of Art and Music which is a very cool venue in London and I do a new version of Andy Warhol on it.

Grab a copy of Dana’s Book here

Audiobook available here

Follow Dana’s Website here

And Facebook here

All Polaroids (1974) © Dana Gillespie

B&W photos (1971) © Michael Stroud

Many thanks to Dana and David Shasha.

Interview by Francisco Beristain & Nick Vernon exclusively for David Bowie News. © 2023.

Edited by Nick Vernon.

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