David Bowie's Singapore friend: Son of late literary pioneer Goh Poh Seng writes about friendship between dad and Bowie

Dr Goh Poh Seng (left) had brought in David Bowie for what was called the "concert of the decade" in Singapore in 1983.
Dr Goh Poh Seng (left) had brought in David Bowie for what was called the "concert of the decade" in Singapore in 1983.PHOTOS: ST FILE

Singapore literary pioneer Goh Poh Seng, who staged David Bowie's first concert here, struck up a friendship with the music icon, Dr Goh's son revealed in a Facebook post reminiscing about both men.

Dr Goh died of pneumonia on Jan 10, 2010, in Vancouver. Bowie, 69, died on Jan 10 this year following an 18-month-long battle with cancer.

Dr Goh had brought in Bowie for what was called the "concert of the decade" in Singapore in 1983.

"In 1983, my father, Goh Poh Seng: doctor, poet, novelist, playwright, nightclub owner, businessman and entrepreneur was the sponsor and promoter of David Bowie's Serious Moonlight Tour in Singapore," Kagan, a 46-year-old film-maker, wrote in a post titled "Twin Stars" on Tuesday (Jan 12).

The Dec 2, 1983, concert at the National Stadium had rave reviews despite being poorly attended.

Dr Goh "almost went bankrupt financing the first big rock & roll concert in Singapore", wrote Kagan, who added that he and his friends showed Bowie and his bandmates around Singapore.

In his Facebook post, he related how his father and Bowie became friends although the rock star was initially dismissive of "concert promoters".

When Bowie declined an invitation to a performance by classical Chinese musicians at Dr Goh's house, Dr Goh told the musician's personal assistant "to tell Mister Bowie that 'he is only a rock star. I, however, am a poet'," Kagan said.

"Bowie came to meet my father in person hat in hand to apologise for his rudeness."

Kagan also recalled that Bowie sang two songs at the concert that was restricted from airplay in Singapore - China Girl and Modern Love.

Although many seats were empty, "Bowie sang with passion as if the stadium was packed to capacity", he wrote.

Bowie also spent time in Singapore filming a documentary about the concert tour titled Ricochet (1984).

Footage of his time in Singapore found online shows him wandering up and down escalators at Far East Plaza.

Another clip contrasts a Chinese opera performance, and Bowie singing one of his hit songs, Heroes.

It was reported in The Straits Times in 1983 that he dropped in on a Chinese opera show in Sungei Road while he was here.

Few recognised him there, and Bowie chatted with two stage actresses who were painting their faces in preparation for the show.

In the film, he also discusses Singapore's chewing gum ban and its drug laws with a taxi driver.

Kagan also included an excerpt from Bowie's book on the tour: "The Singapore authorities are not friendly toward rock & roll. Two of my songs, China Girl and Modern Love, were banned from radio play. "Restricted," as they say.

"Our wonderful and fearless promoter, Dr Goh Poh Seng, risked his livelihood, bank balance, and even his freedom to get me and my band into his country," Bowie wrote.

"When the authorities heard I was going to do an impromptu guest appearance at his youth club two days before our major gig, they busted it, banned the resident band for indecent performance, and threatened Poh Seng with imprisonment if a guest of the club - (me) - should get up on stage and sing..."

Dr Goh refuted some of the points made in the book in a 1984 interview.

While he had said the concert was difficult to organise, he told the Singapore Monitor then: "There was never any threat, which I think is laughable, to my freedom in promoting the concert."

He also said that the closing of his club, the Rainbow Lounge, had nothing to do with Bowie.

Kagan ended his Facebook post with a tribute to both artists.

He wrote: "I find it fitting that both David Bowie and my father, Goh Poh Seng, friends and kindred spirits, died on the same day - January 10th... Both David and my father were bright stars, shooting across the heavens, illuminating the way for others."

Read his full post here: