FOR many the east coast route from Edinburgh to King's Cross in London remains one of the most scenic and enjoyable cross-Border train journeys. My trip, on Virgin, began on a crisp winter morning which offered stunning views of the North Sea, rugged landscapes and ancient cathedrals.

With the first anniversary of David Bowie’s death on January 10 there will be a fair amount of Scots bound for London to see a tribute concert at Brixton Academy. Others, like myself, will travel to see the London run of his musical Lazarus, one of the singer’s final works, co-written with the playwright Enda Walsh.

I decided to go on something of a Bowie trek and the Victoria Line on the tube is a short journey to his childhood home of Brixton. Across the road from the station is the Aladdin Sane mural which appeared shortly after Bowie’s death. It’s a Technicolor experience exiting the London Underground to be greeted with the shrine. Fans from around the globe continue to lay down flowers, paste photographs of themselves with Bowie to the wall and leave framed pictures of the singer in all his guises. Further on is his former home at 40 Stansfield Road. While fewer fans are gathered here the number of record sleeves left outside suggest it has become another point of pilgrimage. The Victorian house was last visited by Bowie in 2014 when showing his wife Iman and their daughter Lexi around the homes and places where he grew up during the post-war years.

A number of Scots artists featured in Bowie’s art collection which was recently sold at auction by Sotheby’s in New Bond Street. I decided to visit and discovered one of his favourite painters was the late John Bellany. Bowie met many of the artists he collected and became close to Bellany, occasionally travelling to his home in the East Lothian fishing village Port Seton. It was something of a surprise to see the Bass Rock and its lighthouse which feature on Bellany’s Eternal Father Strong to Save, one of many that went under the hammer.

There were also paintings by the New Glasgow Boys. Peter Howson’s Croatian and Muslim, depicting a rape scene, hasn't lost the power to shock. Ken Currie’s haunting Three Remembered Heads is another unsettling work. Bowie’s 1978 instrumental Sense of Doubt was one of a number of songs playing in the gallery and the soundtrack suited the experience of viewing Currie’s mesmerising and otherworldly paintings.

From here I walked to 23 Heddon Street, the spot where Bowie posed for the cover of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Back then the location was a seedy back street strewn with rubbish and cardboard boxes. In stark contrast it's now a busy restaurant area featuring a Gordon Ramsay Kitchen and North African-themed bar. A black plaque marks the spot where Ziggy first fell to Earth on a cold January night in 1972. The plaque is only one of three which honour fictional characters (the others being Sherlock Holmes and Lara Croft of the video game and movie franchise Tomb Raider). The Trident Studios where Bowie recorded the album, as well as Hunky Dory and most of Aladdin Sane, is a 10-minute walk away. While the studios no longer exist, with time to spare I decided to wander down to St Anne’s Court, Soho, and gathered a rough idea where Bowie laid down the likes of Changes, Life on Mars and Starman.

The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is an arresting Gothic monument to the Victorian era, and there is immediately something familiar due to the fact it was designed by George Gilbert Scott, the architect responsible for structures such as St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh and the main building of the University of Glasgow on Gilmorehill. Built in 1873, and now one of the grandest and most lavish hotels in London, it was a lost treasure for 76 years and came close to destruction during the 1960s. The stunning grand staircase became a location for television, promo videos and feature films. It’s a pleasing sight to see it restored.

The Booking Office restaurant and cocktail bar in the hotel is one of the most popular in the area and part of a new fantastical London blending Victorian tradition with modernity. One of the draws, aside from the strangely surreal and magical atmosphere, are literary cocktails which feature the Sherlock Holmes-themed Chilled Black Tea Toddy. Perhaps it was those images of Scots fisher-folk in Bellany’s paintings that put me in the mood for seafood. I decided to opt for Cornish hand-dived scallops followed by lemon sole. It’s a classic bistro menu but perhaps the highlight was the dessert. Celebrating The Ladies’ Smoking Room, also in the hotel, which was the first public room in Europe where women were permitted to light up a cigarette, I was served a smoking chocolate mousse garnished with peaty malt whisky.

Less than a five-minute walk away is the King's Cross Theatre. The storyline of Lazarus is billed as a sequel to the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth, directed by Nicolas Roeg. The detached alien outsider Newton played by Bowie in the film is still partly based on Walter Tevis’s 1963 science fiction novel. The singer reclaimed the character for his Thin White Duke musical persona around the same time as the film and it’s this personality which dominates the production. Perhaps this is why Lazarus works so well. Is the character Newton or Bowie? They seem to inhabit each other. I was glad to have reacquainted myself with Newton when watching the newly-restored 40th-anniversary edition of The Man Who Fell to Earth during the last couple of hours of the journey south.

There was a distinctive sense of occasion on the opening night in early November, celebrities such as Kate Moss, Sir Bob Geldof and the late AA Gill wandering among the throng of fans, critics and curious theatre buffs.

Bowie’s final public appearance was at the musical’s off-Broadway opening night in December 2015. There is a sense of catharsis in the audience when hearing the likes of Lazarus and It’s No Game performed live by a band who are visible behind glass. On vocal duties for those numbers and taking on the role of Newton is “Bowie’s representative on earth” Michael C Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under). His stranded alien continues to drink endlessly while holed up in a New York apartment dreaming of escape. It’s impossible not to think of the Bowie who retreated from public life for almost a decade after health problems in 2004. While the narrative is abstract and disorientating, an awareness of Roeg's film helps. Performances of All the Young Dudes and Absolute Beginners ensure those who lived through Bowie at the peak of his powers are left satisfied.

Bowie was not the only rock star draw in town. Before heading home I visited the Tate Modern where The Radical Eye featured 800 photographs from Sir Elton John’s Modernist photography archive. His acclaimed collection features Man Ray’s Glass Tears and Irving Penn’s definitive portrait of Salvador Dali.

Experiencing Lazarus, and touring Bowie’s London landmarks, give me an insight into what inspired one of the most popular artists of our times while giving him a sense of place and wider context. We were privy to his incredible talents over so many years. He will not be forgotten.



Richard Purden travelled Virgin first class from Edinburgh to London King's Cross, which includes a cooked breakfast served before 11am. Return trains from Edinburgh cost from £50 in standard and £112 in first.


Lazarus runs until January 22. Visit for tickets.

Bowie: The Last Five Years is BBC Two tonight at 9pm .

Celebrating David Bowie is at the 02 Brixton Academy tomorrow night.

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Elton John Collection runs at the Tate Modern until May 7. Visit