Rejection often goes hand in hand with the artistic process, as many great musicians are only too aware: would anyone remember the name of 1960s A&R man Dick Rowe had he not famously told The Beatles‘ manager “guitar groups are on the way out, Mr Epstein” when turning down the chance to sign The Fab Four to Decca Records?
The old maxim ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ is one that musicians might like to keep in their heads when first navigating the choppy seas of critical appraisal. They might also do well to keep in mind the story of young Davie Jones, a teenager fronting a London-based mod band, who in 1965 were deemed unworthy of national radio airplay by the British Broadcasting Corporation, due to the fact that their vocalist was evaluated as “devoid of personality”, “amateur sounding” and “not particularly exciting”. Ouch. Poor Davie, he must have been crushed.
In later years, to be fair, one imagines that David Bowie, as he was subsequently known, would have been rather tickled as the memory of these insults.
The story of the BBC’s rejection of The Lower Third, Bowie’s band, after their audition for the corporation’s Talent Selection Group is included in a new book, Bowie at the BBC: A Life in Interviews by Tom Hagler.
“I think there were seven people [on the panel], the great and the good and just some ordinary people,” he tells The Telegraph. “Only two gave them a hit and five said no, not good enough to go on the airwaves.”
Thanks, however, to John Peel, Bowie would get a second audition at the Beeb, and this time, he made the grade. In a taped message for an edition of This is Your Life dedicated to the iconic DJ, Bowie paid tribute to Peel’s enthusiasm for music, and noted with his tongue firmly in his cheek that Peel helped him get, “freewheeling access to a lifetime of singing all the wrong notes.”
The Lower Third’s appearance on BBC TV show Gadzooks! in 1965 was not without controversy though. The show’s producer Barry Langford insisted that Bowie cut his hair, which he refused to do, and the group organised demonstrations at Television Centre with banners stating ‘Be Fair To Long Hair’. The Lower Third were allowed to appear on the show with the condition that if they got complaints, their fee would go to charity. No complaints were made.