On July 3, 1973, an exhausted David Bowie informed auxiliary Spider From Mars John ‘Hutch’ Hutchison to wait for his signal before strumming the opening chords of the much-loved torch song and set-closer Rock n Roll Suicide. At that moment Ziggy Stardust would announce his retirement from the stage, breaking up the band and ending the juggernaut Aladdin Sane Tour which had been expected to continue throughout the rest of 1973.

This also brought Hutch’s significant association with Bowie to an end. With a special 50th-anniversary edition of Space Oddity being released in July and The Mercury Demos at the end of this month, there is a renewed focus on his first notable guitarist and sideman. Earlier this year two seven-inch single box sets, Spying Through A Keyhole and Clareville Grove Demos, featured formative, home-recordings of the song with Hutch on vocals and guitar alongside Bowie.

“I had bits of input and some suggestions but it was David’s song. David had that quite strange arrangement because he had written it for the two of us, he wanted us to sing it together; David was Major Tom and I was Ground Control. At the time I didn’t think the song was anymore unusual than any of the others, the subject was current, space exploration was in the air but there’s been nothing dramatic as landing on the moon since.”

It has been suggested that Bowie also drew inspiration from circus performer Tom Major, the father of former Prime Minister John Major, who had featured on bill posters near Bowie’s childhood home in Brixton.

During the brio of swinging London Hutch first met Bowie, joining his backing band The Buzz in 1966. The pair would continue to work together in Feathers with Bowie’s girlfriend Hermione Farthingale. Described by her as a “mixed media performance” the trio featured a democratic mingling of songs, movement, poetry and mime. Despite no official Bowie album release in 1968, it was a prolific period which provided definitive influences.

“It was an enormously productive and fertile year” says Farthingale. I initially met David on an adaptation of an Alexander Pushkin play (The Pistol Shot, filmed for the BBC) where David and I danced a minuet. David had been touring with Lindsay Kemp’s mime troupe using full make-up and costume. He was transfixed by this, let alone Lindsay’s anarchic lifestyle. It was the polar opposite of dull, suburban life in Bromley.”

Bowie and Farthingale would attend a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in the early summer of 1968. The director’s epic science fiction masterpiece and his 1971 follow up Clockwork Orange would both have a profound effect on Bowie. Of the former Farthingale says: “We’d never seen anything like it, that thing of moving through lights as a metaphor for a transcendental experience, perhaps a drug journey or death. It took a few months before he wrote Space Oddity. Mark Bolan gave him a Stylophone and when you play long notes on it, you get these very spacey sounds. He wrote it very quickly, I thought it was spine-chillingly lovely.”

Bowie’s first long-player was released when he was still a teenager. The self-titled 1967 debut is enchanting and often strange with its whimsical observations of suburban English eccentrics. Recent and forthcoming releases of subsequent home recordings fill a vital gap between this and his 1969 album also titled David Bowie, later released as Space Oddity in 1972. Mother Grey from Spying Through A Keyhole with its Ziggy-ish riff is a move towards a rockier style but for the most part, the songs are suggestive of the planned but never released follow up to his 1967 self-titled debut. Farthingale witnessed the development of songs that began to sound “uniquely his”. “By this time you are hearing Love All Around, Let Me Sleep Beside You, Lover To The Dawn and In The Heat Of The Morning. He would bring these songs out and work on them, you can hear his voice is changing, he is honing his craft. With previous work such as Come And Buy My Toys or on Angel Angel Grubby Face he’s younger and more childish.”

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Despite no album release Bowie was consistently writing and recording rough demos at the home he shared with Farthingale and others in South Kensington. “David and I did not mix very much as we had our own things to do”, says Farthingale. “It was a friendly household with a fashion designer, two models, a writer and a trainee radio presenter... but we weren't very rewarding housemates. David was never one for parties, or clubbing, he would rather be at home, with me or a friend, chatting and coaxing some little song into life.”

After the final months of their relationship, which ended when Farthingale started work on the musical film Song of Norway as a dancer, Bowie continued to work with Hutchinson. While Farthingale has cast doubt over the suggestion by others that Space Oddity and Life On Mars were to some extent about her, songs such as An Occasional Dream and Letter To Hermione, both included on The Mercury Demos, the latter as I’m Not Quite, is Bowie processing the end of their relationship.

It also features two covers, Life Is A Circus by obscure vocal-harmony folk act Djin and Love Song by Lesley Duncan, recorded two years later by Elton John for Tumbleweed Connection. The recordings prove to be a fascinating document that reveal the musical chemistry between Bowie and Hutch. “I’m surprised by the sound quality, the recordings have been cleaned up at Abbey Road. All these arrangement ideas I was finger-picking while David would play 12 string riffs. Later, I imagine they were played by his band or an orchestra. It wasn’t just a jangly folk thing, it shows he had these ideas early on”.

“I think Hutch is a bit of an unsung hero” adds Farthingale today. "They really were very good together musically.” The duo was to be short-lived with Hutch returning to Scarborough in search of a working wage but the demo would play a significant role in landing his friend a record deal with Mercury. In the meantime, Bowie recruited drummer John Cambridge for his second album. Cambridge, known for his jocular and affable nature, would provide an essential link inviting eventual Spider for Mars and Ziggy side-man, guitarist and arranger Mick Ronson to join with Bowie to record his 1970 album The Man Who Sold The World.

Hutchinson recalls that “Cambridge had played with Mick (Ronson) together in a fairly heavy rock blues band (The Rats) they were fairly brash in a way. It was a sound that eventually suited the Ziggy Stardust character, Ziggy would not have suited folky music with harmonies. It was this fairly degenerate persona that people initially bought into, not David Bowie. The creation was a success and the Spiders were a big part of that.”

Cambridge, like the incoming Spiders from Mars, was also from Hull and would put Bowie up at his home and remain life-long friends with the singer. “His dad was a Yorkshireman so he was half-Yorkshire himself, I think that’s partly why we all got on so well.

"When recording we’d often mess about between takes, you can hear it on the track Don’t Sit Down, that’s us being daft and he’s falling about laughing. When it came to recording he really trusted you, he would sit down with his 12 string on a stool, and that would be you hearing the song for the first time, there were no rehearsals.

"He was just a mate and one of the lads really, I remember after he had been on television with Space Oddity with the permed hair and Afghan coat, he came up to Hull during the week with Angie (Bowie) to get his car serviced. We were in The Gardener’s Arms pub and this guy said he looked like the bloke on telly the other night, he just laughed and said: ‘A lot of people tell me that’”.

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Just months after Hutch had returned to Scarborough he would hear Space Oddity being whistled by a workman. It had been released to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon landings. “I heard this guy working outside fixing the pipes and he was whistling the song. I said: ‘Where did you hear that?’ He replied: ‘On the wireless’, I thought fantastic David; you’ve done it.”

The Mercury Demos is released on June 28. Space Oddity, a two single seven-inch box set is, is out on July 12.

Spying Through A Keyhole and Clareville Grove Demos are out now.

Bowie & Hutch by John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson is available from Lodge Books

Spaced out

It was, of course, Bowie’s great masterstroke to time the release of Space Oddity with the Apollo 11 spaceflight to the moon, despite the opinion of short-sighted producer Tony Visconti who regarded it as a “cheap shot”. The production credit for the cut was then offered to a pleased but surprised Gus Dudgeon who immediately realised the song’s value. First released in the summer of 1969 it was a slow burner taking months to peak at No 5 in November of that year. The union of Bowie and space was a definitive act paving the way for Ziggy Stardust and the character’s breakthrough hit Starman. Space Oddity went on to provide him with a first American hit when reissued in 1973. It also became his first British No 1 hit single when re-released in 1975. Major Tom would make sporadic appearances during Bowie’s career, most significantly on his second UK No 1 Ashes To Ashes.