Rob Halford recalls ‘unbelievable’ Ziggy Stardust gig and hails David Bowie as ‘the master of disguise’

(Image credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

For an entire generation of music fans, U2 frontman Bono and Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott among them, witnessing David Bowie performing Starman, the first single from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, on Top Of The Pops on July 6, 1972 was a life-changing moment.  

Rob Halford, then the 20-year-old frontman of Midlands rock band Hiroshima, was already a fan, and on May 28, 1973, the same month in which he made his live debut with Judas Priest, Halford stumped up the £1.20 ticket price to see Bowie bring his androgynous bisexual rock star alter-ego to the stage of Wolverhampton Civic Hall.

“I think they pretty much played the entire record from start to finish, and it was just unbelievable to see him there doing what he did so magnificently with such conviction,” Halford recalls, in a new interview with Rolling Stone. “He was Ziggy Stardust, and he mesmerised the world with that character.”

“Here’s a guy that really took his fans on a journey,” Halford noted. “Was he Ziggy Stardust? Was he the Thin White Duke? Hunky Dory? “Heroes”? The side project Tin Machine? His last glorious piece of music [Blackstar]? But the imagery that Bowie created with every record, nobody else can touch that. He was the master of disguise.” 

Judas Priest’s frontman nominated Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars as one of his top then favourite albums ever, alongside Deep Purple’s Machine Head, Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album, Queen II, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Black Sabbath’s heavyweight debut from 1970.

“They were local guys from the same neighbourhood, the same neck of the woods as Priest,” says Halford. “We literally grew up together, inventing this great music that we love and cherish so much, called heavy metal music. I chose the Black Sabbath album just because, like so many bands, your first one or two records really establish who you are as a band… here was the first example of what heavy metal music should sound like.”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.