David Bowie waived his usual US$1 million fee for his ‘Serious Moonlight Tour’ in Bangkok back in 1983 and appeared to be having “the time of his life” exploring the city.
David Bowie’s concert in Thailand on the night of Dec 5, 1983, was not supposed to happen. With a price tag of US$1 million per show, a Bowie concert was too expensive for those who hoped to lure him here. Yet, the singer took a huge pay cut simply so he could be in Bangkok and explore the city.
Although Bowie suffered a financial loss from his Bangkok concert, the artist apparently enjoyed every single minute he spent in the Thai capital. Despite performing to a half-empty stadium, Bowie saw the sights in the city, went on a boat trip, sneaked into a go-go bar, let a stranger spit on his face and hailed a taxi to take him to the concert venue — arriving only minutes before the show started. Bowie, at 35, went off the grid as much as those few days allowed.
“Such a wise man with a philosophical mind, he was down to earth and very polite in person,” Wasana Wirachartplee, the radio disc jockey and an executive of Nite Spot Productions, recalled.
Wasana is known as Bowie’s biggest celebrity fan in Thailand, and in 1982 went backpacking in Germany to see him in concert. She knew a concert of that scale would be too expensive for Nite Spot, despite the fact the company was the best, if not only, concert organizer for foreign artists at the time.
“We knew that Bowie was doing the Serious Moonlight Tour. It was his biggest concert, worth US$1 million per show. It was impossible for us. We never dreamed of bringing him to Bangkok,” said Amporn Chakkaphak, who is now the managing director of production companies Pisces Music and Boy Thai Band.
“On average, we could afford to pay $50,000 to $100,000 per show.”
The biggest concert Nite Spot Productions had organized to that point was for Engelbert Humperdinck.
However, Nite Spot was unexpectedly approached by Bowie’s staff. “We told them that we could not afford that. But Bowie’s people told us they would accept the pay cut. We just provided them with logistic support, such as accommodation and the venue. We were excited.”
Even with the pay cut, Nite Spot still found it a challenge to prepare for the concert. “We had to find an outdoor venue that was big enough to hold a rock concert of that magnitude. Prior to that, concerts were held inside halls, hotels or indoor stadiums.”
Nite Spot finally picked the Army Sports Stadium on Vibhavadi Road. “It was the first concert in an outdoor stadium,” Amporn said.
The challenge did not end there. Nite Spot did not have the sound equipment for such a large concert. “Bowie’s staff had to bring sound equipment from other countries to Thailand,” she said.
Bowie arrived in Thailand with his crew on Dec 3. Nite Spot rented an old Mercedes limousine so he and three other members of his crew could do some sightseeing around Bangkok before the concert. According to a video clip that was released later, he travelled by boat along the Chao Phraya River. The clip captured the interior of a go-go bar in Bangkok and Bowie receiving a blessing from a Thai man, who spat what was apparently holy water from his mouth on Bowie’s face.
The singer was so taken by the city he was almost late to his own concert. “I was waiting for David and his team to arrive at the concert venue in the limousine that we sent to pick them up from the hotel,” Amporn said.
“We started to get worried when he was behind schedule. At that time, there were no mobile phones. We didn’t know how to find them.
“He finally showed up crammed in a taxi with the other three members of his team. It turned out the limousine broke down and they all got out and hailed a cab. Yet David was still smiling and in good spirits, as if he was having the greatest time of his life.”