Old schoolmates from Bromley, Bowie and Frampton go looking for fun in Madrid on the Glass Spider tour in 1987
When people think of other artists hanging out with David Bowie, they may think of Iggy or Lou Reed or Mick Jagger. But Peter Frampton? Though it may seem like the archival 1987 MTV News clip below of David Bowie & Peter Frampton in Madrid is just a strange publicity move, these blokes traipsing down Spanish side streets with golden coifs bouncing off their shoulders have a lengthy history together.
Though there’s not much additional information about the video, we know that Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour was the first time he played Spain, stopping in Madrid in March of 1987 for a promotional press show and then hitting both Madrid and Barcelona in July of that summer. Bowie is as charming as you’d expect, cracking wise about Spanish art history (“This is the very shop where Picasso, Picabia, El Greco, et. al. usually buy all their paints…you thought they were dead, didn’t you?”), playfully trying to interview a dog (“He’s got a bit of a bone to pick with me”), and obliging fans with autographs (“Here you are, love”). Peter Frampton gets in on the fun when he asks a barber for an estimate on a haircut, only to have the door shut in his face. But beyond that, he mostly follows Bowie around like a dutiful younger brother.
If their chummy rapport and innocent carousing is reminiscent of school boys looking for kicks while cutting class, there’s a good reason for that. Bowie and Frampton first met back in high school and were close friends up until Bowie’s death in 2016.
Having moved to Bromley with his family in 1953, young David attended Bromley Technical High School where he was a pupil of Owen Frampton, the head of the school’s Art Department, for three years. A selection shared by Design Week from Owen Frampton’s unpublished Autobiography, Our Way: The Autobiography of a Teacher of Art & Design, reveals the early bubbling of Bowie’s unique character:
“David was quite unpredictable. He was completely misunderstood by most of my teaching colleagues, but in those days, cults were unfashionable and David, by the age of 14, was already a cult figure.”
Owen Frampton’s son, Peter, was three years behind David at Bromley Tech. Before he started his first year, he remembers asking his father whether there were any boys who played music at the school. To which his father replied, “There’s this Jones chap…he’s a good artist but he seems to be very much into the music.” Peter decided he’d “aim” to meet this David Jones as soon as possible. That summer, at a fete held outside the school, Peter got his first taste when he saw Bowie playing saxophone and singing with his band, the Konrads. It was then Peter knew what he wanted to become.
Frampton credits Bowie and Bowie’s best friend, George Underwood, with introducing him to American rock ‘n roll like Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran. Owen Frampton would unlock the stairwell of the school’s art wing so the boys could stash their guitars and meet up to play during their lunch hour. According to Frampton, the stairwell had “an amazingly good echo.”
Frampton and Bowie never played in the same band while in Bromley. They did share a bill a few years later in 1969 when Bowie, having found success with “Space Oddity,” toured with the Frampton-founded Humble Pie as support. But after that, it looked as if the two were on separate trajectories.
While Bowie spent the early 1970s amplifying the cult figure his art teacher noticed back in high school and shot to success as Ziggy Stardust, Frampton tried his hand at a solo-career that proved hardly notable. After four studio albums, he finally made a dent with the 1976 double-live Frampton Comes Alive! The album went on to be the best selling of 1976 and remains one of the best live albums of all time. It put Frampton in high demand on all the glossies, including the cover of Rolling Stone, and even got him invited to the White House. But that’s where it seemingly ended for Pete.
From the late 1970s to the early 1980s, Frampton put out a few mediocre albums and starred along with the Bee Gees in the great-flop of a film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It seemed a far cry from his days as a respectably talented guitarist in Humble Pie. Then, he got a call from someone from his past who remembered just how well he could play.
In an interview with M Magazine from 2013, Frampton describes being pulled out of his rut by Bowie when asked to play on his latest record, Never Let Me Down:
The ’80s were a difficult period for me. It wasn’t until my dear friend David Bowie got me out on the road for the Glass Spider tour and on his Never Let Me Down record and reintroduced me as a guitar player around the world. I can never thank him enough for believing in me, and seeing past the image of the satin pants and big hair to the guitar player he first met when we played together in school.
Bowie appreciated his former schoolmate’s style, which he described as an English approach to rhythm and blues. He believed Frampton had as much talent as great English guitarists like Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, but that he had gotten lost along the way. Bowie also notes he enjoyed working with Frampton because he was always open to ideas, which may be a nice way of saying that he could handle the immense creativity and (of course) ego that poured out of Bowie.
And not that Frampton seemed to mind. Watching him tag along with Bowie in the Madrid video, one gets a sense that the admiration young Peter cast upon David that summer before his freshman year at Bromley Tech never waned. Bowie certainly steals the spotlight, and Frampton just seems happy to be there. But who wouldn’t be, really?