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Make Me Up!

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Bowie 1978 Isolar IIPart one of a series about a microcosm of lives in London and Birmingham in the late 1970’s.

It was a Saturday morning in June and that night David Bowie was playing the Earls Court Arena on his 1978 Isolar II World Tour. My friends and I were determined to see him. We bunked onto a succession of smoke filled, cigarette-strewn London underground carriages arriving at Earls Court. After crossing the road from the station to the arena we joined what was already a restless queue waiting to buy tickets for the evening performance. Not to be put off, we set up camp; singing songs, smoking and laughing with the other assorted young hopefuls.

I was sitting cross-legged on my sturdy leather-patched donkey jacket to contemplate the wait when a tall, stunningly handsome man with dark floppy hair and electric blue eyes walked over and sat close to me. “Can I make you up?” he asked. To my amazement it was almost impossible to understand what he was saying. “Can you say that again?” I replied, somewhat surprised. Firstly, I could not believe that this beautiful man was talking to me, and secondly that his thick Birmingham accent did not compute with the visuals. “Can I make you up? I want to make your face up,” he repeated slowly. “I’m an artist.” He petitioned me with a dazzling smile. Pulling over a large overnight bag he started unpacking eyeliners and eyeshadows, chunky and fine brushes, lipsticks, pan sticks and powder puffs.

At the sight of all the shimmering colours I began to seriously consider his offer. He was the first artist that I had seen that looked like that! Up until then, I had only met secondary school art teachers with alcohol and personal hygiene problems. His Birmingham accent was triggering memories of a puppet character Hartley Hare on a Central TV show called Pipkins that I childishly made references to by trying to role-play all of the animal characters to avoid acquiesce. Although we both laughed at my delaying tactic, his desire was not distracted. Finally, giving in, I said, “Ok, make me up!”

I was as self-conscious as any teenager and liked to wear a fine layer of kohl, powder and lip-gloss. A year or so earlier, I had cut off my long hennaed hair tor a shorter, edgier look that had resulted in a ban of all haircuts above the shoulder at my school. He pressed on, “You know, I’ll do your makeup like Aladdin Sane. You’ll look really great, chook!” he reassured me. I was sold, and besides, it was an opportunity to observe a young artist in close proximity. As he knelt in front of me working away at my makeup, I mentally traced his face. His eyes were gleaming indigo headlights against his golden-olive skin. His full lips were defined by a finely chiselled cupids bow that framed the widest, whitest smile which balanced his large sensual nose. His looks were that of a handsome 19th Century Moroccan magician, and given he was wearing red and white striped pantaloon trousers, I wouldn’t have been surprised at whatever he was about to conjure up.

John LuptonIn contrast to his grand beauty I prayed he wouldn’t notice the tiny blackheads on my porcelain 14-year-old skin. As he swept brushes and powders across my face, he said, “Your nose is a bit greasy, but it’s ok, the powder is absorbing it.” I cringed inside, and became aware of my own shallow breathing. So I asked him to tell me about himself. His name was John Lupton, but he was also known as “Gay John”. He loved the music and fashion of the alternative club scene, and had travelled from Birmingham to London that weekend to see friends and thought he might be lucky and get a ticket for Bowie too.

I asked him about his parents. He said that he had never known his father, but that he was really close with his mum and had a little sister who he adored. I wanted to know more and felt my nerves unwind as he talked. I told him about my love of music and the bands I had seen in London. I talked about my family and my relations in Birmingham. We clicked! We both knew it was hit or miss if we were going to get tickets for tonight, so I suggested that we kept in touch after the weekend by phone or by writing to each other. He said he didn’t have a home telephone, and then shocked me when he told me that he couldn’t read or write. I was astonished that someone so beautiful, and so obviously intelligent, could not do what I took almost for granted.

After my make up was finished John held up a mirror for me to see his handiwork. He had painted a double lightening fork flashing diagonally from my left temple, across my cheek and my nose and under my right cheekbone just stopping short of my jaw line. The shiny crimson slash was streaked with slim cobalt stripes which flanked the sharp angular lines. The image seemed to suit my blue-grey eyes and spiky black hair. I was happy and felt connected to the queue, the artist, and with a creative force. I thanked him and hoped he would let me do something to help him in the future.

I wrote down my address and phone number for him, and his address in Stetchford for me as he packed away his kit. John said he must go and see his friends at Kensington Market, but might return to Earls Court before the concert started. He promised me whatever happened he would find a way to stay in touch. I resumed my place in the line looking brighter, but feeling lonelier having yet to realise that David Bowie would always be a beacon for the lonely. The afternoon dragged on while we cheered ourselves up by taking Pro-Plus, little yellow caffeine pills washed down with takeout tea and cigarettes certain that Bowie was consuming countless un-tipped Gitanes.

Aladdin SaneAt last the box office opened and we were all rewarded with £2 tickets for the gig. I bought two just in case John came back, and decided to stay around Earls Court for the rest of the afternoon rather than return to the suburbs only to have to come back a few hours later. So my friends and I sat in the Earl’s Court station café drinking cheap coffee. They wanted to know all about John. This handsome man’s attention had put some emotional distance between one friend and me, but the other was her usual easy-going self. It was getting nearer the time for the concert and I was slightly anxious about John’s return. But my friend urged me to sell the spare ticket that I had saved for him. She really didn’t think we would see John again. The crowds converging on Earls Court were becoming chaotic and I considered that she might be right. There were no mobile phones in 1978.

The long afternoon gave way to a disparate early evening and calls for spare tickets echoed around the milieu. Someone asked me again if I had a spare ticket for sale. I hesitated and then reluctantly let mine go. I naively asked no more than I had paid, but glad it hadn’t been wasted. I was astonished when I bumped into John some time later, then ashamed. “Did you get me a ticket? No?” He asked anxiously, responding to the expression on my face. I told him what had happened. He took it well. In fact, he re-touched my makeup, and then generously insisted that I wear his baggy red and white striped “Bowie trousers”. He peeled them off in front of me and I couldn’t help but notice he was wearing a pair of tight faded Levi jeans underneath that encased his long and lean legs. I told him how sorry I was about the ticket, and hoped we were still friends.

Bowie Ticket 2John hugged me affectionately as we went up the escalators to the entrance of the Earls Court Arena and assured me that my makeup looked great. It felt like he had switched on my emotions so that I became incandescent with happiness that we had met. But I was sad too because without my doubts about keeping the spare ticket, we could have enjoyed seeing David Bowie together. We said our goodbyes and I went through the doors to the arena without him.

To be continued…