The Southbank Centre today announces a raft of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of David Bowie’s iconic 1973 album, Aladdin Sane. Aladdin Sane: 50 Years will feature a two-month long exhibition (6 April – 28 May) exploring the creation of the album’s iconic artwork, including the legendary lightning flash portrait by photographer Brian Duffy, as well as a stellar line-up of live music and talks inspired by the album.
We’re honoured to pay tribute to David Bowie, who made his Southbank Centre debut in 1969. The Aladdin Sane album cover portrait is considered to be one of the most influential pop culture images of the past half century, and the music remains fresh and contemporary, so we wanted to recognise this major anniversary and reflect on the album and its artwork’s enduring legacy. It’s a work that continues to inspire today’s contemporary artists and the gender fluidity of the images still resonate deeply in queer culture in the UK and across the world.On the Aladdin Sane celebrations, Southbank Centre Artistic Director Mark Ball
The Aladdin Sane: 50 Years exhibition in the Spirit Level, Royal Festival Hall (6 April – 28 May), will follow the journey of this pioneering portrait, mapping how Bowie’s continuous reshaping of his image paved the way for audiences to rethink their own identities. Curated by Chris Duffy, the son of Duffy, and Geoff Marsh, the exhibition will begin by spotlighting the vibrant music scene of the early 1970s, contextualising the pivotal moment in which Bowie and Duffy met. It will go on to explore the unique relationship between the musician and photographer, and the January 1973 photoshoot from which the iconic Aladdin Sane image was born.
My father’s image of Bowie is often called the Mona Lisa of Pop. It’s important to remember it was the result of a short studio shoot using film, which then had to be sent out for commercial processing. There were no instant digital images or photoshop then. It’s extraordinary how it’s lasted and been endlessly reworked. Wherever I go in the world, it’s always somewhere on a t-shirt.Chris Duffy,
The Southbank Centre Archive will also present a separate free display exploring David Bowie’s history with the Centre, stretching over 50 years, and his ongoing legacy. From his performance in the recently opened Purcell Room in 1969, to later performances alongside Lou Reed and his curation of Southbank Centre’s annual contemporary music festival, Meltdown, never before seen archival material will be available for public view.
Coinciding with the release of the album fifty years ago, music artists will pay tribute to Aladdin Sane in the Royal Festival Hall on Friday 21st April. Hosted by the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, Mercury Prize nominee Anna Calvi, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears along with acclaimed R&B singer Tawiah, Roxanne Tataei, who has collaborated with the likes of Nitin Sawhney and Shabaka Hutchings, and masked pop maestro Lynks will perform Bowie’s album in full, which includes hits such as ‘The Jean Genie’, ‘Drive in Saturday’ and ‘Lady Grinning Soul’. Meanwhile, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, two nights of joyous club music will celebrate Bowie’s inimitable persona and influence. On Friday 21 April, DJ collective and community platform Queer House Party will host a jam-packed programme of radical fun, while, on Saturday 22 April, Afro-Caribbean inspired Queer Bruk will blend dancehall, afrobeats, soca and more for an accessible all-out party.
Across the weekend, there will also be talks and poetry events. In the Purcell Room on Friday 21st April, the National Poetry Library will present Aladdin Sound with ten of the UK’s most exciting poets. Taking their cue from the poetic language and potent imagination of Bowie’s masterpiece, each poet has been commissioned to write a new poem in response to each track, creating a spoken word version of the album that will be presented live on stage. Poets include Forward Prize-winner Luke Kennard, Keith Jarrett, Golnoosh Nour and Mark Waldron.
On Saturday 22nd April, author and co-curator of the V&A’s hit exhibition David Bowie Is, Geoffrey Marsh, and Victoria Broackes, co-curator of David Bowie Is and director of the London Design Biennale, will explore the rise of immersive music exhibitions, from the Rolling Stones’ Exhibitionism (2016) to Amy: Beyond the Stage (2021). Meanwhile, Broakes will chair a conversation with Chris Duffy discussing the Aladdin Sane: 50 Years exhibition and the enduring relevance of the album. The day’s talks will close with writers Paul Burston and Golnoosh Nour on the cultural impact of Bowie’s androgyny and his playful subversion of gender identity.
Tickets for the exhibition, live music and talks will be available on Wednesday 1 March, 10:00am via southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/festivals-series/aladdin-sane-50-years
The exhibition is complemented by a stunning new book by Chris Duffy, Aladdin Sane 50: The definitive celebration of Bowie’s most iconic album and music’s most famous photograph – with unseen images, to be released on 30 March 2023 by Welbeck at £40 hardback.
Stretching over fifty years, David Bowie and the Southbank Centre have had a storied past. Bowie made his Southbank Centre debut in 1969 in the recently opened Purcell Room when it cost as little as five shillings to see him perform ‘Space Oddity’. Three years later, Bowie headlined the Royal Festival Hall for a special Save the Whale benefit gig, including a guest appearance from Lou Reed. In 2002, David Bowie curated the Southbank Centre’s annual contemporary music festival, Meltdown, which featured performances from The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, The Divine Comedy, Phillip Glass, Suede and a fledgling Yeah Yeah Yeahs. After a warm-up DJ set by TV host Jonathan Ross, Bowie closed out the festival by playing his 1977 album Low in its entirety for the very first time before giving the same treatment to his then recently released Heathen.
ALADDIN SANE: 50 YEARS EXHIBITION Thursday 6th April – Sunday 28th May. Exhibition Space, Level 1, Royal Festival Hall. Ticketed at £5
Fifty years on from the release of David Bowie’s album, this exhibition delves into the creation of its iconic ‘lightning bolt’ cover portrait by Brian Duffy. For the album Aladdin Sane, the creativity of Bowie’s music was matched by an extraordinary image on the cover, photographed by Duffy (1933 – 2010). With a focus on the photo session that gave us Bowie’s ‘lightning bolt’ portrait, this exhibition explores the continuous reshaping of Bowie’s image, and his part, along with Duffy’s, in a reimagining of sexual and gender identity. southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/art-exhibitions/aladdin-sane-50-years-exhibition
NU CIVILISATION ORCHESTRA: DAVID BOWIE’S ALADDIN SANE Friday 21 April, Royal Festival Hall, 8:00pm. Ticketed from £30. Age recommendation 14+
Nu Civilisation Orchestra leads a 50th anniversary reimagining of Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, with Anna Calvi, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, Roxanne Tataei, Tawiah and Lynks. In April 1973, David Bowie released his sixth studio album, Aladdin Sane. 50 years later the album remains full of fun, cutting-edge songs that remain classic moments. Featuring some of its greatest songs, including ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Drive-In Saturday’, the album is being reimagined by Nu Civilisation Orchestra in a performance featuring an array of guest vocalists. southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/gigs/aladdin-sane-live
NATIONAL POETRY LIBRARY PRESENTS: ALADDIN SOUND Friday 21 April, Purcell Room, 7:45-9:15pm. Ticketed at £12.
Join us for an explosive evening of Bowie-inspired poetry, as ten of the UK’s most exciting poets reimagine his album Aladdin Sane on its 50th anniversary. Taking their cue from the poetic language and potent imagination of Bowie’s masterpiece, each poet has been commissioned to write a new poem in response to each track on the album, creating a spoken word version of the album which will be presented live on stage. Poets include Forward Prize-winner Luke Kennard, Keith Jarrett, Golnoosh Nour, Mark Waldron and spoken word legend John Hegley. southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/npl-presents-aladdin-sound
CONCRETE LATES X QUEER HOUSE PARTY Friday 21 April, Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, 10:30pm – 2:00am. Ticketed at £18. Age 18+
Throwers of camp, anarchic parties extraordinaire, Queer House Party are taking over our concrete club space for a night powered by performers and DJs. Starting as a much-needed antidote to the absence of queer nightlife during lockdown, Queer House Party is a radical, political DIY DJ collective and community platform. It’s made up of DJs Passer, Wacha and Harry Gay, with hosts Taali and Liv Wynter. Queer House Party are fresh off an arena tour supporting Years & Years and have blazed through the festival circuit, shutting down parties at Mighty Hoopla, Latitude, Secret Garden Party, Wilderness, Sziget and Boomtown. southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/gigs/concrete-lates-x-queer-house-party
ALADDIN SANE @ 50: THE MAKING OF AN ICON Saturday 22 April, Purcell Room, 1:00pm – 2:00pm. Ticketed at £12.
Delve deeper into our exhibition celebrating Bowie’s album and its unforgettable cover image, in a discussion chaired by curator Victoria Broackes. Our current exhibition Aladdin Sane: 50 Years marks the 50th anniversary of Bowie’s sixth studio album, and its iconic lightning bolt cover, shot by Brian Duffy. Bowie not only wanted people to be what they wanted to be but also to look like they wanted, whatever the norms of society. Broackes is joined in this conversation by Chris Duffy, the son of Brian Duffy and an established photographer in his own right. Since Duffy’s death, Chris has established the Duffy Archive to preserve his father’s work and legacy. He has recently edited Aladdin Sane 50, published by Welbeck Publishing, a new book exploring the album and the story behind the creation of its famous cover. He has also filmed many musicians and personalities who worked with Bowie over the years. southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/talks-debates/aladdin-sane-50-making-icon
MAKING A SHOW: THE RISE OF IMMERSIVE MUSIC EXHIBITIONS Saturday 22 April, Purcell Room, 3:00-4:00pm. Ticketed at £12.
Follow a discussion charting the rise of immersive music exhibitions, such as the V&A’s David Bowie Is, and where their success might take them. Ten years ago, David Bowie Is opened at the V&A Museum in London and set a new benchmark for immersive music exhibitions. Integrating sound, film and objects into a seamless presentation, it was a hit with critics, fans and the general public alike. southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/talks-debates/making-show
ALADDIN SANE’S QUEER LEGACIES Saturday 22 April, Purcell Room, 7:45pm. Ticketed at £12
David Bowie’s sexual ambiguity, androgyny and subversion of gender identity left a lasting legacy. writer Paul Burston and Golnoosh Nour discuss. David Bowie is a queer icon. Generations of queer kids growing up in the prevailing homophobic and transphobic culture of the 1970s and 1980s took refuge in his music and found connection to others through a shared love of his open rejection of societal norms. southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/talks-debates/aladdin-sanes-queer-legacies
CONCRETE LATES X QUEER BRUK Saturday 22 April, Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, 10:30pm – 2:00am. Ticketed at £18. Age 18+
Dance till late with Queer Bruk, the platform and club collective diversifying queer nightlife through the lens of Black culture and music. London’s liveliest Black Queer night shakes up the brutalist concrete of our Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer with a late-nighter. Queer Bruk is a club night and platform that aims to celebrate Afro-Caribbean music within queer spaces. Queer Bruk’s network of amazing QTIPOC creatives are instrumental in their movement. They build connections and support, uplift and highlight Black queer people through music. southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/gigs/concrete-lates-x-queer-bruk