The Diary

Out of jail…again!

Results are everything in football, so from that respect it is hard to say that the win over Motherwell on Saturday in the Scottish Cup was anything other than a good thing.

However, the performance was again littered with the same issues that have plagued us for all of this season and a hefty part of last season: dominating the ball and possession, inability to open up the opposition, lacking defensively.

Not for the first time this season it took a late, late turnaround in fortunes to get us out of jail. Indeed, you would have to wonder where we would be were it not for the constant heroics of Kenny Miller.

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It was the late, late show again at Ibrox on Saturday. Still it was worth it to see Mark McGee’s face.

There is no doubt that what Mark Warburton is trying to achieve in terms of playing style should be applauded. When it comes off, we are a joy to watch. However there are more and more indicators that the style choses by Warburton often causes us more problems, especially when trying to play it out from the back, than it does solutions. And Saturday’s goals came from a) a more direct cross into the box and b) a mistake from Stephen McManus that let in Kenny Miller for the winner and were arguably unconnected to Warburton’s favoured style of play or system.

As I said, what Warburton is trying to achieve should be applauded but his apparent unwillingness to vary his system or at least recognise when it isn’t working is providing threads for supporters and others within the media to pull at.

I hope he recognises and amends that before he passes the point of no return in the eyes of those supporters and critics alike.

Future’s so bright…

I wasn’t at Ibrox on Saturday. Early kick-offs are always an issue for me. What with taking my daughter to her dancing and my boy to his football, a lunchtime KO is an almost impossibility for me on most Saturday’s.

Instead I took the game in at one of my locals with a mate who is back from Australia for a few days to visit family. Before he emigrated there about 12 years ago, Allan and I took in many a Rangers game together in the 90s and 00s. Probably the best occasion we had in all those times was when Rangers beat Celtic 3-2 in the 2003 Scottish Cup Final.

Now when Allan and I went to cup finals we done it proper. No colours, no jeans and trainers. We would get dappered up Saturday night style and make a proper day of it – win or lose.

On this day Allan was particularly well scrubbed up, down to a rather natty pair of sunglasses which cost him around £150.

“Is that wise?”, I asked him, pointing to his expensive shades. He assured me it would be fine.

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Peter Lovenkrands wins the cup for Rangers…and dispossess Allan of a pair of expensive sunglasses!

Roll on to the 90th minute. It has been a hectic game, one that has went one way and then the other, and one that Rangers have slowly gotten a hold of the longer it has gone on. We look the more likely team now and have done since Barry smashed in a free kick to make it 2-2.

In the last move of the match Neil McCann sends in a great cross. Peter Lovenkrands, who has already scored in the match, pops up at the back post. He heads it downwards and away from Oldco Rab Douglas and Rangers have won the cup. Cue bedlam in the North Stand where we are situated – bodies are flying everywhere. As the celebrations are dying down, I look down on the floor and see there is smashed glass at our feet.

“Allan”, I shout, “yer shades”. Allan looks down and, sure enough, his £150 shades have bought it and are currently lying in pieces at our feet in an unsalvageable and tangled heap.

“Fuck it!” he bellows. “We’ve won!”.

We left Hampden after the presentation and enjoyed a night of celebration in the city at the Wee Rangers Club before heading homewards.

The Monday after the game I popped into see Allan at the pub he managed. I had taken a half-day off to partially continue the celebrations. The Allan I found was a tad more mournful about his expensive eyewear than the one I dealt with during the celebrations. In fact he had the look of a man who had just enjoyed a braw cup of tea, only to realise that someone had taken a dump in his kettle.

But that’s the thing with euphoria – it’s a very intense buzz, but very short lived. And Allan was very much coming down from his post-euphoric high to the realisation that his expensive shades were gone.

There was no such dramas on Saturday when Miller scored the last minute winner. Just a warm embrace and chink of our respective pint glasses. But we both learned a valuable lesson that day in 2003, and one I have heeded ever since: if you own an expensive pair of sunglasses, don’t wear them at the fitba!

It’s Miller’s Time

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Kenny Miller scores another dramatic winner on Saturday.

Yet again on Saturday we were given another example of just how valuable a player Kenny Miller is to Rangers. At the age of 37 he is showing players ten and more years younger than him how it should be done.

In his long career there have been many who have been prepared to write him off – including me. For some reason people have always focussed on the flaws in Miller’s game. His touch at times would make Gordon Durie blush, he has in the past been pretty erratic when it came to finishing and all-in-all there was a certain amount of a “headless chicken” feel about Miller for long periods of his career.

But Miller is greater than the sum of his parts. His professionalism, preparation and attitude have made him a greater player than the attributes he has been blessed with. Now there is an element of luck in Miller still looking great at 37 in terms of injuries he’s sustained, or lack of them, throughout his career. He has been fortunate in that department. But Miller can’t control that. No player can. Some are lucky with injuries, some aren’t.

But in what Miller can control he is nothing short of exemplary. His attitude to training, to preparation, to diet and to games has made him what he is at this late stage of his career, and I would advise any kid to look at Kenny Miller as an example of what it takes to have a chance in the game.

There was some talk after his latest heroics on Saturday about him being inducted in the Rangers Hall of Fame. I for one would be more than happy with him being in there. I have heard some say that he shouldn’t be there because he played for our rivals across the city, but I feel players should be judged on how they served Rangers and besides, Alfie Conn is already in there.

The fact of the matter is that Kenny Miller has served Rangers well on three separate occasions, and with distinction on two of them.

Get him in there.

 

 

The Diary

Remembering a Scottish Cup classic.

Today sees Rangers take on Motherwell in the Fourth Round of the Scottish Cup and the beginning of a campaign to win a trophy that has not made its way to Govan since 2009, when a fantastic Nacho Novo goal took the wind out of what had been a spirited Falkirk side. We had a great chance to end our Scottish Cup drought last season, but the less said about that the better.

Our travails in the lower leagues aside, where we seemed to asked to start our Scottish Cup campaigns the minute the previous seasons final had ended, January has traditionally been the starting point for us in this competition and every season when it comes around I reminded of my first visit to Ibrox to watch a Scottish Cup tie – against Dundee in March 1984 in a quarter-final replay.

After seeing off Dunfermline and the Inverness Caledonian – before they merged with Inverness Thistle – the quarter-final draw saw us head to Dens Park for a tricky away tie. A 2-2 draw was secured thanks to an own goal by George Mcgeachie and a peach of a goal from Bobby Russell.

So the replay was set up nicely, but it would be a day to forget. Dundee, managed by a certain Archie Knox, would go 1-0 up through Jim Smith and then double that advantage through future Rangers striker Iain Ferguson.

Mid-way through the second-half, Ian Redford was sent off for an off-the-ball incident with Albert Kidd and Rangers were truly up against it. But a late fight back saw us claw a goal back through Ulsterman John McClelland and then a few minutes later big Dave McPherson rose majestically to put a header past Dundee keeper Colin Kelly. The delirium during the celebrations was heightened by the fact that McPherson came running directly to where my dad and I were sitting in the Copland Rd front to celebrate. It appeared we had got out of jail and saved the day.

Dave McPherson rises majestically to beat Colin Kelly and set up some “scenes” in the Copland front!

But we were crucially still a man down, and Dundee exposed that one man advantage with a few minutes remaining when Iain Ferguson scored again and put the tie to bed. In the dying seconds Rangers were reduced to nine men as Robert Prytz saw red for dissent and Rangers exited the tournament. All came good again the following weekend, however, as Rangers famously beat Celtic 3-2 in the League Cup final thanks to an Ally McCoist hat-rick.

Hopefully today we can get some similar drama to what I experienced that day at Ibrox in 1984, but with a better result that takes us on the first step to reclaiming a trophy that has been away from Ibrox for far too long.

Last tango in Paris

Rangers were of course in Germany last week for a glamour friendly against Bundesliga surprise package RB Leipzig. I didn’t see the game, I was out on the bike I received from my missus for Xmas, putting 14 miles on the legs and whole lot of pain in my arse, but I am reliably informed that the old issues raised their head during the 4-0 defeat.

But regardless of the result it was good to see Rangers back on the continent again. Reading the tweets of some of the estimated 8000 Bears who made the trip over to Germany took me back to my own singular European away trip to Paris in 2001 to see Rangers take on PSG in the Uefa Cup.

I went over with a mate from work at the time under the collective title of “The Honda Loyal”. The name derived from our initial plans to travel to Paris, which involved travelling there in my Honda Civic! We even had a flag made up with our title on it.

Those plans were binned though and we headed for the French capital via the supporters bus that left from The District Bar on Paisley Rd West. We left on the Wednesday, arrived on the Thursday – the day of the game – and made our way back immediately after the game arriving back in Glasgow at teatime on the Friday.

It was an eventful trip, and I vividly remember we hadn’t even passed Hamilton services before the alcohol consumption proved too much for one poor soul who was sick on the floor of the bus. The sound of the collective groans of everyone else on the bus still haunts my dreams. The choice of words from the boy organising the bus at this point are not repeatable!

Despite such challenges, I have nothing but fond memories of the trip, especially the result. With the tie balanced at 0-0 from the first-leg at Ibrox Rangers went out for the crucial away goal, which made the game on the night very dramatic and entertaining. The longer the game went on without any scoring it became apparent we were in with a real chance of progressing – that prospect became even more exciting when we found out that Celtic had gone out to Valencia at Celtic Park.

In the dying seconds of the match Rangers won a penalty and it looked like we were going to go through at the last gasp. However, Ronald de Boer would balloon his penalty over the bar and we would have to endure the mental torture that is a penalty shoot-out.

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PSG v Rangers in 2001: Ronald de Boer doesn’t know it yet, but he is about to temporarily ruin my night!

The penalty shoot-out was as dramatic as you could get, with it swinging from one way to the other. But Stefan Klos pulled off a crucial save and Rangers were through, where they would meet Feyenoord.

The scenes of celebration in the stands afterwards were outstanding, and I visibly remember the considerable pockets of Bears I could see in the home end of the ground as the PSG fans left in their droves – it honestly felt like we were the home side that night. A feeling that was added to by ending up in a seat next to the same guy I sat next to in the Copland Rear at the time!

All the comments and photos from Bears making their way to Germany last week certainly took me back to that great trip, and I hope everyone who took the time to go over and support the team had as great a trip as I had all those years ago.

Alan Johnstone

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Alan Johnstone: lover of life and wine.

I end my first diary column on a sad note. The game against Celtic at Ibrox on Hogmanay was the first game I had been at Ibrox for a number of weeks. The reason for this was that my friend, neighbour and unofficial family member, and the man I have attended games with for the last ten years, suddenly died on Saturday, 3 December.

Those who were lucky enough to know Alan Johnstone were lucky indeed. Those, like me, who were lucky enough to get close to him were truly blessed.

To be blunt about Alan, he is easily the most generous person I ever met. I have sat for most home games at Ibrox in the rear of the Govan stand for the best part of a decade on the generosity of Alan Johnstone.

No matter how many times I offered to pay for my ticket, or for the petrol costs of our journey, he always refused. All he asked was that I bought him a pie and Bovril – and on the odd occasion a Double Decker.

Our respective families became close enough to spend many a happy night together, specifically on Xmas Eve where Alan and his wife Mary would dote on me, the missus and our two kids.

The relationship was so close that I genuinely believed that what I had with him was special, unique even.

As it turns out, I was one of many.

At his funeral I heard so many stories of his generosity that I became aware that I was merely just one of many who had been lucky enough to have experienced his extreme generosity.

Going back to Ibrox that day against Celtic was hard, and I’m not scared to admit there were tears as I took my seat – but the empathy and compassion shown by those around me, some of whom attended Alan’s funeral, reminded me of how lucky I was to have been so close to Alan – and how lucky I was to have met the people around me that day. If only we could have got a result for him…

As a Borders man he was more into his rugby than his football, but he had his seats in the Govan for over 20 years. He enjoyed his wine and most of all to have a laugh. I’ve lost count how many times the tears ran down my cheeks in our car journeys to and from the games. I’m thankful for the times, many laughs and experiences I had with Alan Johnstone. My visits to Ibrox from hereon in will be sadder without him.

 

 

Looks like a star sign

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Hamed Namouchi adorns the front cover of programme for Rangers v Motherwell, Saturday 17 January, 2004.

Signing of Gavin Rae helps me ditch Thompson tag

For the first time since the bells rang in 2004 we welcome our troops on the Ibrox turf.

Life has not been kind to the Bears lately, with the result at Celtic Park all but killing off our title hopes.

But we have to just keep playing for every point from now until May and hope that the big man upstairs gives us the bit of luck we need to haul our greatest rivals back.

The game at Celtic Park was hard to take but it was the only bad point over the festive period as I enjoyed a nice relaxing break away from the office.

The presents were pretty good too but, unusually for me, I didn’t get a lot of Rangers stuff.

I did, however, receive a rather dashing long-sleeved Ajax top. Like our own kit, the Ajax kit has always struck me as a classic. I couldn’t wait to show it to the oafs at my weekly five-a-side jaunt.  Not many of the beer-bellied hatchet men who partake in our weekly duel at the Cumbernauld Tryst would appreciate the novelty that is Ajax’s “Total Football”.

Indeed some of the tackles that are dished out would make even Vinnie Jones wince.

But I try to educate them and when I lose possession on the edge of my own D, whilst sporting my new top, to a thug who toe-pokes it the ball into the net causing my team mates to howl at me in ridicule and protest, I shall assure them I was right to try and play it out of danger rather than hoof it up the park. My calls will fall on deaf ears but God loves a trier.

That Ajax top was not the only thing that gave me joy over the festive period – the Indiana Jones trilogy DVD also brought a smile to my face. Who can resist these classics?

The final instalment of The Office was also something that made the festive period all the more sweeter. The bungling boss that is David Brent has made us all laugh over the last couple of years and the finale was a fitting one.

However, the biggest plus about my Christmas and New Year period was, as usual, Rangers orientated – the signing of Gavin Rae.

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How the Grin and Bear It column appeared on the day.

In years gone by we have signed some influential players over the festive period – Graham Roberts, Nigel Spackman and Mark Walters spring to mind – and if Rae can bring half of what these players brought to Ibrox, then we will have some signing.

But that is not the main reason with me being so happy with the ex-Dundee man coming to Ibrox.

Ever since he made his albeit brief Gers debut, I have had scores of people telling me I am a Rae look-a-like. Hearing that you look like a player from your favourite club is sweet at the best of times, but it is doubly good for me as I’m hoping this will kill off the “you’re Alan Thompson’s double” brigade who have hounded me since the Geordie turned up at Celtic Park.

Being dubbed a Celtic stars’ look-a-like when you are a committed bluenose is no fun, and when the first person said I looked like that new boy at Rangers, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

And when the trickle of comments became a flood, I knew I had had exercised the Thompson ghost for good!

Rae has been added to the bulging list of players I have been likened to over the years including Duncan Ferguson, Ally McCoist, Chris Waddle, Neil McCann, Gerry Creaney, Craig Moore and Mark Viduka. It is really strange when you consider that none of them look like each other.

And lets be honest, there ain’t a looker among them!

All those years of leaving nightclubs early and on my own are really starting to make sense if these guys ar the sort of level I’m punching at looks wise. Still, at least Davie Dodds isn’t on my list.

Back to today’s game though, and a Stephen Pearson-less Motherwell are the visitors today. The young star, who for the record, looks nothing like me, recently signed for Celtic – which will explain his exuberant celebrations when he scored against us back in October in the 1-1 draw.

Motherwell have produced a few good young players recently, like Pearson and James McFadden, but you would think that with Terry Butcher running things at Fir Park they’d produce at least one or two good players who are Rangers supporters.

Pearson has shown his true colours with who he signed for, and McFadden was never short of a kind word or two as far as the Hoops were concerned.

Maybe Terry is going soft in his old age.

I certainly can’t imagine the Terry Butcher who nearly decapitated Billy McNeil in the tunnel area after kicking open a door whilst the then Celtic manager was being interviewed live on the BBC immediately after an Old Firm defeat at Celtic Park sharing a dressing room with the followers of the Hoops – let alone picking them for his side.

But as I said, maybe Terry is mellowing with age.

The Light Blues got back on the tracks last week with a good 2-0 victory in the Scottish Cup at Easter Rd, and hopefully we can keep it up today.

Let’s get behind the players but most of all let’s show Alex McLeish that we believe in him.

After all, as his signing of Rae shows, he knows a good looking player when he sees one!

Sound and Vision: 40 Years of Low

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Bowie as Thomas Newton, from the movie The Man Who Feel to Earth, on the cover of Low.

Bowie’s masterpiece is 40 today. Colin Armstrong looks at its recording and impact.

January 2017 was always going to be a big month in the Bowie Universe.

Firstly, the eighth of the month saw what would have been the late stars 70th birthday. The same date also represents the first anniversary of Bowie’s iconic final studio album, Blackstar.

The tenth of the month brought about the first anniversary of Bowie’s sudden and unexpected death. Granted, rumours about Bowie’s health had been circulating since the star removed himself from public view and stopped working in 2003 after suffering a heart attack, but the abrupt and unexpected arrival of The Next Day in 2013 and the subsequent release of Blackstar last year had given most the belief that Bowie, if not totally free from ill-health, was far from knocking on deaths door.

Almost immediately after his death Blackstar saw its significance rise substantially as the lyrical references contained within the album, which appeared to signify that Bowie was informing the masses of his illness and fate, were noticed.

Listening to Blackstar now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is almost impossible to come to any conclusion other than Bowie was writing about his own impending death. Lyrics contained within the tracks “Blackstar”, “Lazarus” and “I Can’t Give it All Away” are particularly strong in lending weight to the notion that Bowie was using his art to deal with knowledge that his life would soon be coming to an end.

But nobody should have been surprised that Bowie would choose to use real life subjects, even one as grim as death, and use it in his music. Bowie has always had the ability to use his current life situation and turn it in to great, and on occasions, ground breaking music. Arguably the best example of this was on an album which commemorates its 40th anniversary today (14 January): Low.

Low is undeniably one of Bowie’s masterpieces. An album which was not fully appreciated at the time, it has rightfully grown over the years to be considered a classic in every aspect and, like Blackstar, the beauty and genius of the album comes from Bowie’s mental state and his desire to do something new.

On the face of it 1976 was a good year for Bowie. He had released the album Station to Station in January of that year and had starred in Nicolas Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth, which was released in March. The reality, though, was somewhat different.

Bowie’s mental state at this period could be best described as fraught. His marriage to his erratic wife Angie had reached a point of no return, he was in a legal dispute with his then manager Michael Lippman and his excessive drug use had turned him into a paranoid wreck of a man who was obsessed with the occult and Hitler, had become convinced that the Rolling Stones were sending him messages through their album covers and lived almost entirely on a diet of cocaine, milk and red peppers.

Bowie had become increasingly aware that he was pushing his physical and mental state to the absolute limit and hatched a plan with friend and sidekick Iggy Pop to move to Europe and away from the excess of LA. The move would eventually see him settle in Berlin and the period would be considered one of Bowie’s most productive.

Bowie set sail to Europe, and specifically Cannes, on 27 March 1976. The initial plan, at the suggestion of his wife Angie and his lawyer, was to settle in Switzerland primarily for tax reasons, but he would eventually find his way to Berlin.

Before that however he would end up at the Cháteau D Hėrouville studio just outside Paris to produce Iggy Pop’s The Idiot album. The studio was one that Bowie was familiar with having recorded Pin Ups there in 1973. When the production work on Iggy’s album was completed he started to focus on Low.

Bowie employed the services of long-time collaborator Tony Visconti to co-produce the album and also brought in guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had also worked with Bowie on Young Americans and Station to Station. Despite having their steady hands back in the studio Bowie had an urge for something different. .

Bowie had been a huge fan of Brian Eno’s Discreet Music album and saw him as the man he needed to help create the new sound that he was looking for. Eno was approached and asked if he would be interested in working with Bowie.

Bowie and Visconti were keen to get Eno on board, but were equally keen to see what Eno could “bring to the table”. Eno informed the pair that he had an Eventide Harmoniser, a machine that acted as a digital delay unit and could delay a sound and change its pitch. When asked what the machine done Eno famously replied “it fucks with the fabric of time”. Bowie and Visconti could not disguise their excitement – all the pieces were now in place for Low. In October of 1976, working under the title New Music Night and Day, Bowie and his collaborators entered the Cháteau D Hėrouville studio and got to work on what would in time be recognised as a classic.

All the artists involved in the Low sessions described them as being “relaxed”. However they also conceded that it was obvious Bowie had a lot of ongoing personal issues and the tension that created was coming out in the songs. One example of this is the track “Breaking Glass”.

During one of the recording sessions Angie, who was becoming increasingly desperate the more aware she became that her marriage to Bowie was fast approaching its end, had turned up to the studio with her “boyfriend” Roy Martin. It was a move designed to get a reaction and it worked. A huge fight broke out in the studio and the sound of shattering glass was heard as a glass was thrown across the studio during the mêlée – this is referenced in the song. In the second verse of “Breaking Glass” when Bowie asks us to not “look at the carpet”, he is apparently referencing a period of his life in LA when Bowie would regularly draw occult images on the floor, much to Angie’s despair. The song ends one minute and 54 seconds in with Bowie telling the protagonist that they’re “such a wonderful person – but you’ve got problems”. In length, content and style, the song literally feels like a fight.

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Left to right: Tony Visconti, Brian Eno and David Bowie

Other tracks on Low are littered with similar references. “Always Crashing in the Same Car” reflects the time that Bowie crashed his Mercedes in Switzerland, a car he was apparently trying to sell at the time to ease his day-to-day cash flow issues. ”Be My Wife” describes the bleak and lonely life Bowie had found himself in and “A New Career in a New Town”, although an instrumental, as a title accurately describes Bowie’s situation at the time. From beginning to end, the album encapsulates Bowie’s mental state. It is a bleak album, appropriately titled, which captures the uncertainty and anxiety Bowie was feeling in that period perfectly. But Low is not just a classic for this reason alone.

The daring nature of releasing an album which was heavily instrumental, or contained lyrics which could at best be described as “non-language”, is a vital factor in setting it apart. Bowie’s fascination with Michael Rother of Neu!, who had previously been a member of Kraftwerk, had been the catalyst for inviting Eno along to sessions. Eno’s influence in the sessions subsequently opened the door to Bowie achieving the “ambient” sound he had been craving. Eno’s involvement was a masterstroke and one that delivered a classic album.

But Low did not come without its problems. It is easy to describe Bowie’s moves at the time as “daring” etc with the benefit of hindsight, but such a move could have effectively killed off his career. Indeed Bowie was not completely convinced the album would see the light of day, telling all involved that he feared RCA would not release the album but it was something they “had to do”.

Bowie was right to be sceptical about RCA’s reaction. On hearing the album for the first time, one member of the top brass at RCA is rumoured to have offered to buy Bowie a mansion if he binned Low and delivered a Young Americans II. Bowie stuck to his guns and Low was released on 14 January, 1977.

The critical reception for Low was mediocre to say the least. Charles Shaar Murray of the NME savaged Bowie and his latest release in his review, stating: “I don’t give a shit about how clever it may or may not be. It stinks of artfully, counterfeited spiritual defeat and futility and emptiness.” Murray would in later years amend that view and state that Low was Bowie’s “Blues album” – and album in which he used his music to express his issues and anxieties at that time.

Forty years on from its release, and a year after Bowie’s death, Low arguably stands up now more than ever. When looking back at his body of work it can be legitimately claimed that Low was Bowie’s first genuine avant-garde album, and one that would ultimately lead to “Heroes” and Lodger , completing his infamous “Berlin Trilogy” – although it should be noted Low was recorded in Paris and only made it to Berlin during the mixing stage.

For an artist of his stature to produce such a daring piece of work, and risk destroying the reputation he had earned up to that point, is something that not many would dare to do.

But then maybe it took the situation that Bowie was in – trying to kick a rabid cocaine habit, serious financial worries and a failing marriage – to provoke the reckless abandon required to produce something as daring as Low.

Bowie himself remained proud of the album, even if it did come at a price in terms of his mental health. When asked about Low on one occasion he commented: “I was at the end of tether physically and emotionally. But overall I get a real sense of optimism through the veils of despair on Low”.

Whatever inner turmoil Bowie was feeling in 1977, whenever you listen to Low it is hard not to come to the conclusion that all his mental anxiety was worth it.