Fans of classic rock and roll and David Bowie and Genesis in particular, are going to have reasons to rejoice. It appears that the film taken of The Atomic Sunrise Festival, which took place in London’s famed Roundhouse Club during March 1970, has been unearthed. The Festival has pretty much been all but forgotten about in the shadows of a music fan’s recall as larger festivals during that time like Woodstock and Isle of Wight are more firmly planted in one’s consciousness. Until now.
What’s even more mindblowing about this film are the guises David Bowie and Genesis are in during that time. Bowie was just making the switch from being a poor man’s Donovan/Syd Barrett with his records in which his musical style was decidedly pagan and folksy, and decided to amp things up a little bit more with the addition of a new guitarist he just was able to corral at the time, the late Mick Ronson, who turned out to be a key figure in the birth of glam music and the glam sounds in particular. With Bowie and even Tony Visconti, the American producer who also gave a perfect amount of musical shellac as the producer of Bowie’s subsequent releases after this gig and T-Rex and many others, the lineup, called The Hype, probably sounds like anything but, as will now be evidenced when the film is released. If anything, the band should act as an on-ramp to the glam land Bowie wound up residing in for the next couple of years, propelling his way to superstardom.
Genesis too was going through their own growing pains and changes. Coming off the heels of a first album which didn’t have any of the artsy, progressive rock sounds they would become well known for in the 1970s and then finding their own superstardom during the 1980s, the band is purported to show glimpses of their own future here in the film, sans Phil Collins on drums, who still had yet to join the band. Sitting in on the drum stool and giving the backbeat is the late John Mayhew.
The tale of the history of how this film was found and acquired is as colorful as the acts playing within it. No one involved still knows who shot the film, as told by the director-producer of the project, Adrian Everett, who has been on the trail of this rare celluloid nugget since he first heard about its existence in the late 1970s. A film processing bill supplied by a company who performs that service was in essence holding the film hostage until said bill was settled. It wasn’t until 1990, over ten years later, that Everett was able to procure the funds needed to rescue the film from basically biting the dust, as it still remained in its original nitrate stock. Nitrate film in essence has a shelf life that can be relatively lengthy, as long as it has the proper care and refrigeration for it to still exist in its original pristine state. Otherwise, the film deteriorates rapidly, getting it to a form where if it gets neglected for too long, becomes basically unsalvageable.
Luckily, Everett was able to rescue the film, and in a wonderful stroke of happenstance, managed to run into the original sound man of the festival, who was able to assist Everett in marrying the soundtrack to the intrinsically silent footage, done in a procedure a lot like the way the silent 1970 Royal Albert Hall footage of Led Zeppelin was piecemealed together with a soundtrack, for its release on that band’s Led Zeppelin DVD. Everett still ran into trouble with the financing for a few years and the film sat on the shelf; a trip to the BBC for help was to no avail either.
But finally, the screws are in place for the release of the film, in what should be a wonderful curio and glimpse into that burgeoning, embryonic scene over 40 years ago in England, at that Atomic Sunrise Festival, when David Bowie and Genesis and other bands (Hawkwind among them) were kind of branching out and creating new musical vistas for themselves on stage at the Roundhouse club during that landmark time.
Everett sums it up succinctly as he explains that one of the main catalysts for putting this production out is because “not only so that people could see it at last, but as a sort of tribute to those who had gone, some of them unrewarded and almost unknown.”
Regardless if the performances are stellar or mediocre, if this is ultimately cause for celebration or much ado about nothing, for sure, what should remain by the release of this film (a date still to be determined), is a window into an era where it seemed that for these artists, the sky was the limit.