Saturday, 28 March 2015

Diary of a Gnomestalker - by Alison Hale

TWENTY FIVE years ago tonight I had just finished watching David Bowie perform at the now-demolished London Docklands Arena. It was the third of three spring 1990 dates in the capital and it followed two shows apiece in Birmingham and Edinburgh. I was part of a small travelling gang who slept in airport lounges, on lawns outside venues and on Bowie fan floors. These were good times to be 25. 

One of my travelling companions, Alison Hale, would become my girlfriend for a couple of years, and then - more importantly - my best friend, confidante, fellow adventurer and life explorer. We were two drifters off to see the world. There was such a lot of world to see, and she went on to see a lot more of it than I have. She had a massive thirst for experience, that girl.

She kept a journal of her maraudings and the paragraphs which follow are some of the best bits from that first week on the Sound and Vision tour.

The names and some details won't make much sense to readers who were not actually there. But it's a cracking read, nonetheless, if a little Bowiecentric. No excuses offered. That's how we were back then. 

Ali always wanted to write a book and call it 'Diary of a Gnomestalker'. God bless you, Ali. Here is an extract from that book...

SUNDAY MARCH 18, 1990.

Met Karen at Victoria and we got the tube to Euston then the InterCity to Birmingham International. The journey went really quickly (4.10pm to 5.45pm).

We eventually found the NEC after walking to the airport and getting the monorail back again. Found the actual Arena where the concerts are held.

As hoped/expected/dreaded there was nobody queuing. Just a sign that said the box office opened at 9.30am on Monday. Could this indicate that tickets have been held back? It IS a makeshift sign…

We then came back to the airport for some food. It was 7pm-ish by then.  Had a roll, banana, yoghurt and milk as I’m determined not to stuff up on junk crap food.  Also later discovered some long, soft seats – proper airport type ones – to sleep on. Explored the very posh hotel and decided the sofas in their hall would do if nothing else came up. Anyway… we’re settling on these long seats now.

Went to check the Arena once more. No-one there, so decided to leave it till morning to queue. Are taking turns reading ‘Woman’ which has a DB article. Karen phoned Littlehampton and got only a few seconds for 30p. Will quickly call Clare on Tuesday  – her birthday.

Birmingham’s quite nice. They have trees and daffodils – like we do!! Hope sleep is possible here. Have seen only one suspected Bowie person so far, and she’s fat. PS: have airport loos and basins nearby. Dead glad I brought my toothbrush and paste!


Have moved upstairs where it’s darker and the seats are spongier. The TV was blaring but I found the cunningly concealed volume knob.



Slept very on and off from about 2am. The airport was never really quiet, but at least they left us well alone up here. Another couple of people joined us throughout the night. I woke at 6.45am and Karen was already awake and washed. We switched TVAM on to wait for the first part of the Gambaccini DB interview. I got washed then we bought breakfast and brought it back up here: tea, toast, bacon and sausage.


On bench waiting for box office to open. Talked with security guard (no queue-ers yet). Saw lorry labelled “POWER FOR DAVID BOWIE” go in. Chap said the gear was already in and Bowie would go in door A5 at around 4pm. We snuck in the back and saw the ingredients, all invoiced etc, that’ll probably become Bowie’s lunch.

PS: He’s brought his own stage.


Sent postcards to Neil and M+J then got to the box office at 9.30am. After a chap had bought three Jason Donovan tickets and two Van Morrison, it was my turn.

Nothing on the computer… went out the back… I was nearly sick…

He came back… YES! But only for cash or cheque. So we got ‘em for both nights!!!

Some recognisable people were behind us (we were first). We got talking and now we’re looking more like a Bowie mob.


Went to entrance A4/A5 and heard some kind of soundcheck – probably not Bowie, but backing singers and band. Golden Years, Fashion, Let’s Dance.  Apparently “Heidi” is being let in. She got on stage with Bowie at Turin in ’87.

Went in briefly to see where our seats are. It’s not bad – we’ll get a good view, though it’s not too close. We’re all together anyway. Right now, the four blokes [Ste, Lee, Mike and Andy] are at our table drinking very expensive beer. Me, Karen and Sharon are sitting at another table, all in the bar at the Metropol (hotel). David and Coco are booked in here and have been since last night!!


Spent the afternoon, until 3.30pm, in the bar at the Metropol chatting with Steve, Sharon, Andy (who’s bought my spare London ticket) and Mick and another bloke. Andy is trying hard to get me to go to Edinburgh which he has a spare ticket for. Believe me, I am tempted. There’s even a lift up. Quite frankly, maybe I’m getting old, but I’d rather have the £30 than the hassle of going – I THINK! I wish I could go. It’d only mean two more days off work.

Then we went to see Bowie go in at 4pm. It began to piss down and didn’t stop. Heidi eventually got what she wanted – a backstage thingy or something. God knows what she does for it.

The three French people turned up, plus Michelle and Paul etc etc. 

Went back to the hotel bar after some food. Phil Calvert was there. He’s beautiful! I read about him in Smash Hits and other mags years ago for being a “superfan”.

Tickets were still on sale and the touts did absolutely no business. They’d only offer £10 to buy.

The shirts are OK. Embroidered logo for £30. Nice badge for £5. One t-shirt is wearable.

Our seats are way back in the depths of the heavens but half an hour ago people were buying Block C from the box office, which really isn’t on. It’s filling up really slowly, and DB’s meant to be on at 8pm.


First half wonderful!!


Brilliant concert. But being at the back was sad. Enjoyed it – but can’t describe it. Went back to the bar! It was brilliant, wonderful (the gig)!

We’re kipping at exactly the same place but Andy and Mick are with us.


Sitting by the lake in the sun waiting for the box office to open so Andy can flog spare tickets.  We were woken from deep sleep at 5.30am. The three French kids were kicked out too.

Watched TV and had coffee. Bought the Birmingham Post which has Michelle and Paul pictured in the front of the gig. Wrote a quick note to Darren and sent my newspaper cuttings home. Mike went home to Exeter.


We’re in the NEC hallway, playing pontoon (me, Karen and Andy). We were going to play for tickets and £20 notes only – but then decided small change would be a better idea! Two people from Switzerland came over and expressed an interest in Andy’s spare tickets (they asked if any were available). But it was doubtful because the guy’s plane flies back at 5pm. He’s gone off to try again to change it or buy a later one.


They came back and bought them and were SO chuffed! He’d decided to get the train home and sacrifice his ticket. They went off happy. And we did pretty good at pontoon. I ended up with more than I started with. Andy nearly had £5 at one point. It killed a few hours.

Then we went down to the lake. We thought about sleeping there, but the ground was cold and there was goose shit everywhere anyway. Generally dossed around for quite a while. Went to the bar at the Metropol to meet Lee. Had a drink. No sign of DB, of course. Then wandered down to the box office.

The three French kids were also trying to swop for better tickets. Touts were asking for a £20-25 price to swop our Block 16 for Block D. They said they were getting £100 each, which is crap – they can’t get rid of them. So we kept our ones. Then came back for tea.

As it turned out, the airport was serving fish and chips. At £4.10 it was a rip off, but better than toast.

I phoned Darren. He was really pleased. I love him and nearly said so. Spent a quid and a half on a phone card.

Will try and call him from Edinburgh too. I spent all day and yesterday deliberating whether to go. In the end I kind of called Daz for a second opinion. He said go for it! Apparently, when Neil went over there on Sunday, Darren had the impression he was going to “say something”. I wonder if he was?

Then I phoned Sam to get the other days off. I was kind of nervous but she was dead nice about it – no problem. Phoned Clare, said Happy Birthday, and she loved her pressies from me. Kings and Jason have left messages for me – nice messages. Crazy.

Unfortunately, C said Karen can’t stay. That’s going to be awkward telling her.

We’ve just watched (Andy, Karen and me) The Lone Ranger while discussing chocolate bars and cartoons. Now 
someone’s put it over to Neighbours. Will write a postcard to Ma, then phone Neil.


We’re now in Rotherham at Russell Street, the home of Stu (who’s coming to Edinburgh) and Jo (his girlfriend – who might be). Just washed my hair, a Cure video is on and Andy is washing his shirt so I can wear it to the gigs instead of my smelly white one.

Last night’s gig was about 50 times better than the first. We went to the box office at around 7 to see if they had any Block A, B or C. They said they’d have returns at 7.30 and we were first in the queue. When they came, she made certain we got first pick, which was good. By the way, we’d had an experience on the way to the Arena with a junkie. He stopped us (doing cold turkey) to offer us ONE Block B, Row C – third row, slap bang in the middle – first at £50 then easily down to £30!

We all gaped at each other, totally gobsmacked. Then Andy got his money out.

It’s kind of hard to describe how I felt. Pleased for him and gutted for myself at the same time.

Anyway. At the box office the rest of us got the back of Block C. Paid £25 each. Not too bad.

Me and Karen found our seats.  The first three rows or so and others were already gathered at the stage. After 
pretending to mingle, I got in a gap quickly and hid! Being down the front was totally different. It’s what gigs are all about. I got squashed up against the first seat of Row A and kind of started half climbing into it. Kneeling on it, I was.

A silly cow told me to move all the way along so she and her buddies could get on. After coming to blows (ie she shoved me and I landed on the little French girl’s bag) I made her go in front. She then had fisticuffs with the French girls/boy. I spent the next few songs then with a wonderful view, kneeling on Seat 3, Row A, Block B!!

In the interval, loads of people cleared out so I was standing (with two really nice girls I met right at the start – one with a really long plait) with only two people in front. Heidi was on the barrier close by and Steve and Nicky had about Row 6 (I went and said ‘hi’ after the gig).

It was a bloody marvellous shit-kicking stupendous gig. “We were well bastard close” – quote Andy.

During ‘Alabama Song’, Bowie RAN from the back of the stage, dived onto his knees, slid ALL the way down the catwalk, grabbed someone (Michelle) and kissed them!! Of course his arms were grabbed, he’d probably not thought about it beforehand, and he looked pretty stunned after for a sec. Didn’t actually see the kiss, but Andy did.

‘Young Americans’ was totally bloody brilliant, the ‘legs’ [screen projection] on ‘Space Oddity’ totally killed me again. ‘Fame’ was awesome.

It was really getting down by the time I got off the chair. There was a group of three or so of us where it was REALLY cooking. We had room to dance around which makes a change. That’s 'cause the majority of the audience were in seats. Bloody good, it was. Sheer joy!


Weds morning I had a good wash, including my hair, and then we all (Andy, Me, Lee and Jo) spent from around 1pm to 6pm in the pub. I had around six Southern Comforts and just felt a bit knackered. Later, we went back to No 73 and Stuart was back. Once again, when Stu and Jo had had their tea, we (except Jo) all went to a different pub. It was quite good there. I put all five of the DB tracks on the jukebox.

Liked Stu. He’s an artist/designer (left handed) and altogether an OK bloke. When we got back he sketched me. Bloody good. Really flattering, they were, but he wasn’t too pleased with them, being a bit pissed and all. Lee and Andy crashed and started snoring, so I got the two huge cushions and the duvet! After a coffee, I went to sleep.
Around 7am Andy woke up, so I offered him half the duvet. He still had to sleep on the floor though.

Eventually, we all came to life around 10am when Stu went off to work. I’ve changed into my borrowed shirt and washed my hair again. Andy is doing his review of the gigs for the paper he works for in Wales, Jo is filling in Housing Benefit forms.

We’re heading for Edinburgh around lunchtime when Stu gets in. That means we’ll be there around 24 hours before the gig in case a bit of serious queuing is necessary.

FRIDAY MARCH 23, 1990.

Mucked about watching TV and stuff, then decided to go into town for some various articles. Shampoo etc. Andy phoned work with the finished review. It looks as though my name’ll be in it as he’s bunged a “quote” of mine in there. Fame at last.

I called Darren fairly briefly.Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath are being predictably and depressingly boring. Nice to talk to Darren. Suddenly remembered Daryl’s birthday and Sarah and Daryl’s anniversary. Oops. Will send cards on Friday.

We had a nifty little lunch at ‘Robert’s’ café. Very nice. Then hit C&A and me and Andy got a load of new togs for the gigs. Loud shirts. And I got some socks and a dead pretty frock.

We got back to the house (worth £12,000 incidentally) at about 5.30pm, and set off at 6pm. Jo and Stu went separately cause it was a bit squashed. Had a couple of coffees on the way. Around 11.40pm we were in Edinburgh. Couldn’t believe it had been a six hour journey.

We then left Stu and Jo to it and found the Highland Exhibition Centre. Nobody there.

Now we’re back in the car park by the service station, freezing to death and playing I-Spy.


Service station. Sort of slept from 2.30am to 5am. Woke up totally freezing and had to go in the shop place for coffee rather than continue trying to sleep.

Went back to the venue. Possibly spotted Michelle  but not a lot else. We stayed in the car a couple of hours, waiting for Stu and Jo and sort of trying to sleep. Feeling a bit roughed up.

Now we’re all in service station writing postcards and Daryl’s birthday card and anniversary card. Then went to Asda and bought a bunch of ten pretty pink roses and a bottle of something called Thunderbird and three Crème Eggs. Then we went to the Post Office to post postcards etc.

Andy decided to give a girl in the street one of the roses. She was not impressed!

6.20pm. ON TRAIN.

Eventually got to the gig very lazily late. We’d been drinking this stuff and were fairly merry. Edinburgh was still freezing cold. Andy wandered down to find Sharon and Steve. They were there. We got chatting… and were in there. It’s fair enough, because we’d arrived last night before anyone!

It must’ve been gone 3pm and we asked around to find that the front was there around 1pm or 12pm. Decided to get a B&B for all five of us for the night to make up for no sleep last night.

It was great to get together with Steve and Sharon. They’re really nice.

We took in a couple roses each, me and Andy, and were up against the barrier without much problem – next to Steve and Sharon. The gig was the best ever. NO screen, the sound was perfect and HE was immaculate (me and Shaz decided he looks 28!).

But the thing that made it a gig to beat all gigs was ‘Pretty Pink Rose’. I managed to save just one by keeping it out of harm’s way over the barrier. When it became imminent that ‘Pretty Pink Rose’ was going to be announced I gave the rose to Andy (who was nearer and undoubtedly a better shot) and said “chuck it quick”, or words to that effect.

He did a bloody marvellous shot! Unreal! It landed at Bowie’s feet and shot across the stage towards him. He grinned and laughed and smiled and picked it up, then showed it to Adrian as if to say “I’m dead chuffed, aren’t you? They like our song!”

Then he looked to Michelle and gestured/mimed “was this you?” So me and Andy freaked out even more and he yelled “No! It was us, you bugger!” Ahem!!

Bowie, still grinning, waved and smiled and, you know, recognised us, then announced the song and swiftly put the half-wilted pretty pink rose into his buttonhole!! No shit!!!

He was grinning and happy throughout the song and we kept getting looks and recognition for the rest of the gig!! We were/are well chuffed!! Gobsmacked!

Unreal. I’ll never forget that. Steve took several pics, so here’s hoping some come out. The audience’s singing on ‘Ashes To Ashes’ (the end of it) was perfect. Pitch, timing, everything. ‘Life On Mars?’ again… and ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide’ – one of the best live songs I’ve ever heard. Some great audience participation. The Scots crowds are definitely more enthusiastic. London, seated, will be hell after this. But we’ll get down there.

The greatest gig of all. Shaz couldn’t believe it!

After waiting ages to get out of the car park (we were boxed in and freezing) whilst discussing what an awesome experience it had all been, we booked into our expensive but worth every penny (£12.50 each) guesthouse. Then the ‘lads’ decided (or, rather, Andy and Lee did) to go for a piss up.

Me and Sharon were pissed off at this as it was unbelievably cold. So after dropping them off we took the taxi back to the guesthouse. We kept one set of keys – they had the other.

The key we had let us into Steve and Shaz’s room with a double and a single. There was coffee and a bathroom and beds! It was so warm!! We made a drink, then Shaz got into the big bed and me in the little. We talked about Bowie and the gig for a few minutes then were out cold.

An hour later, at 2,10am, we heard a knock. The others were back. Steve came in to go to bed. I offered to go and get in my own but he said don’t be silly. I figured I would, anyway.

Lee and Andy were in two of the singles so I got in the other. It was even cosier than the other one I’d had. Slept until the AM, when Andy’s snoring deafened me into a state of consciousness at 7.30am.

All had a good wash and yummy brekky. Chatted to the landlady and Shaz did me a French plait. Then we headed for the gig [second night in the same venue].

There was hardly anyone there! Three French, Michelle and Paul, a couple of skinheads. We were dead cert front row and having a good laugh together, too. God, it was so COLD though. We played Word Association – me, Andy and Ste – which was pretty successful. Not so many adjectives creeping in.

With a bottle of wine and a couple of cigs (this is something that started yesterday whilst in a similar state of inebriation) which Shaz and I had a bit of trouble lighting, we had a heck of a good time.

The guys went to the airport for food, so we got the sleeping bag and the binliners (and the bottle of vino) and didn’t do too badly. When a blizzard started up we pissed ourselves laughing – if you’ll excuse the expression!!
The gig was good but didn’t blow Friday’s away at all. Being where I was meant that wigging out was the done thing. The audience singing was good again, still had the sticker on his shoe, the bass sound was wonderful.

Someone threw a blow-up spider and he laughed his socks off and kicked it back a couple of times. Same with a balloon. He was really taken with this blinking great spider, though!!

Of course, a rose was thrown on. But it wasn’t us – and he totally ignored it!

The five of us set off after that. After checking the station at Edinburgh, it was decided Lee could drop Ste and Shaz at their house in Warrington.

Had fish and chips in Edinburgh, along with at least one pint of milk each. Then we drove until we reached their house at 6.30 in the AM. Sleep wasn’t really on. Although we were warm in the back with the sleeping bag it was too squashed.

We stayed at Ste and Shaz’s until lunchtime watching their amazing video collection and listening to their amazing CD collection and looking at the amazing photos. We drank tea and talked. Then around 1pm we set off for Birmingham. Said goodbye and thanks to Lee (owe £12), And me and Andy caught a 125 to London Victoria around 3.30pm.

PS: At the end of the Saturday Edinburgh gig, ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide’ was left off. The crowd kind of started to sing it but it faded out unfortunately. It would’ve been brilliant!

Caught my train to Haywards Heath at 6.17pm. Got a taxi to pick up Ma’s present and card from the flat, then to Ma’s. Sarah, Daryl and Sebastian were there. And I got to look after the baby (the cutest little thing) while they had dinner.

Sarah’s hair has grown. She’s heard ‘Under The God’ on the radio and thinks it’s wonderful – wants to borrow the album! Bloody hell. I offered her videos and concert tapes too, but she said the album’s alright for now…


Lunchtime. Gatwick airport. Met Andy (no Mike) at 2.45pm. Mike was with Bev and Steve from Chatham. It was cold so we polished off a bottle of Thunderbird and went to a café for lunch.

Eventually, made our way to the Arena. We decided to sit at our places. Karen was quite near the front but up the side. We were way back but had a great view of the whole stage. A few ‘Let’s Dance Casualties’ were around us but we played it totally cool.

‘Pretty Pink Rose’ was a highlight. None of the others knew it at all. We at least had the chorus! Tried to learn the rest a bit at a time.

Enjoyed sitting back and casually watching for a change. A different way of doing things. Met Michelle and Paul after. She explained how she got to the front. We need front block tickets first.