Lay the Real Thing On Me

The story of the Arnold Corns was one of the most fascinating aspects of Starman, because it shines a new light on one of Bowie's most creative, hardest-working periods.

Hunky Dory was only one of several projects the endlessly busy Bowie planned in 1971. Of these, the most intriguing was the Arnold Corns.  They were the most mysterious collaborators of Bowie's career, partly because their names: Freddi Buretti, Mark Carr Pritchard, Polak de Somogyi, and Timothy James Ralph St. Laurent Broadbent were so improbable. Hence many assume the Corns were the Spiders in disguise. Whereas they were really Rungk – a Dulwich College band – in disguise.

Rungk were led by Mark Pritchett, who wrote poetry, entered the Bowie orbit in 1969 and  became a Haddon Hall regular, most notably when Ronson and Woodmansey fled to Hull – just as David discovered The Stooges. The Stooges and Velvets were obvious influences, along with Eddie Cochran, on two songs he wrote soon afterwards, Moonage Daydream and Hang On To Yourself. Key building blocks of Ziggy Stardust, these were the toughest, most concise rock songs he'd written. Bowie needed a band to play them, and he was “fascinated” by Runk: “He liked the fact that it was public school and it was a bit like early thrash and early punk,” says Mark Pritchett. Reckoning they “needed someone pretty” as a frontman Bowie teamed them up with Freddie Buretti, a friend from the Sombrero club who often described himself as “a seamstress”.

Bob Grace (who, incidentally, featured on some of the press shots) teamed the 'band' with the B&C soul label. Bowie oversaw every aspect of the recording, beating out the drum pattern and humming the middle section, which was lifted from a Kim Fowley/Hollywood Argyles record he'd brought back from LA, but here gave a “fairground meets Bertholt Brecht feel,” says Pritchett – who played all the guitar, not Ronson.

Drummer Tim Broadbent, like Pritchett, was somewhat overawed by Bowie's diverse skills. He liked Freddie, too. “He was astonishingly beautiful,” says Broadbent, “possibly the most beautiful man in London. And everything was working perfectly apart from one tiny flaw. Which is that Freddie couldn't sing a note. When he went to do the vocals he was paralysed by fear and inability. So it is David singing on the record, although he couldn't use his own name.”

The single helped get Bowie more press in June – Freddie, meanwhile, confessed he dreaded the prospect of live shows: “I'd get sent up something rotten by all those butch provincial blokes.” A second planned single was never released although Pritchett worked on other odd tracks, including Rupert The Riley, with Herbie Flowers and others. When Ronson  returned to London, the Corns were superfluous.  Freddie later designed David's Ziggy jumpsuits; Pritchett launched the Today newspaper, amid other projects, and Tim Broadbent became a distinguished advertising guru. Bassist Peter de Somogyi died in a plane crash in 1981; Freddie passed away 20 years later, in 2001.

I’d tried to track down Tim Broadben for Starman, but his secretary didn’t return my emails, perhaps figuring that the notion that this ad industry guru once played with Bowie was a wind-up. Finally I tracked him down through a mutual friend. Here’s his recollections of that time.

Rungk was a college band - had you gigged before you met up with David?
Yeah, we'd been playing for two or three years, and we had a small local reputation. Bowie  lived in Beckenham at Haddon Hall, directly opposite Mark, so that was how it all happened.

Mark had known David for some time before you - when did you meet him?

Goodness, I think it was when he came to a rehearsal, in Pete de Somogyi's bedroom, in Beckenham, and he turned up and gave us a listen. As you know, David had a little contractual dispute with Philips so he was building a stable of artists to record his material, which would go out under a different name. I think he was attracted by the idea of working with a bunch of public school boys and thought that would be an interesting gimmick, so we did a couple of singles, Moonage Daydream and Hang On To Yourself. And the songs didn't do great business but they did get a bit of a buzz in the biz and gave him confidence.

Tell me about the 'singer,' Freddie Buretti.

Freddie was astonishingly beautiful, possibly the most beautiful man in London - he was going to be the lead singer and we were going to be his backing band. And everything was working perfectly apart from one tiny flaw. Which is that Freddie couldn't sing a note. When he went into the studio to do live vocals he was paralysed with fear and inability. That was when it kind of collapsed.

My understanding from Mark is that while it was supposed to be Freddie and David singing, by the time it was mixed it was just David - is that your recollection?

Absolutely right, David was singing and playing piano. He is a fantastic natural musician, extraordinarily talented. He could pick up any instrument, even one he didn't know, and immediately put out a tune.

In later days, David's production abilities, for motivating and inspiring musicians, were pretty mind-boggling. How was he at this early stage?

The actual musical work wasn't very demanding - because he designed it that way. He was wonderful with us, relaxed, he was friendly, funny -  he was quite brilliant with us. It could have been a very nerve-racking experience but he was great with us.

Were you on any of the other material that Mark worked on, such as the Mickey King version of Rupert The Riley?

No. It was just the two songs, Moonage Daydream and Hang On To Yourself.

Did you hang out at Haddon Hall?

We used to go there fairly often. It was… a kind of a a hippie place. This was the era when David had very long hair and used to wear dresses and was enormously eclectic, he had these acetates of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and that was what we were listening to at the time. He had an extraordinary charm, it's hard to describe, he was a very charismatic man, extremely intelligent and funny, clever and quick - going round was always a great treat, a privilege – the conversation was very wide ranging,  remarkable, it was like being in the front row of a concert.

David is often very hands-off, but Mark remembers him being very specific about the middle section of Moonage Daydream. What about that drum pattern? 

He must take the credit – he came up with the pattern, played it on the drums and I just copied it, then they spent a long time getting in the sound, I think I recorded it with a sheet over the drums. But yes, it is David's pattern. 

And of course, those two songs spent nearly a year gestating, until they became the core of the Ziggy project.

You may be right. The one thing I would say is he's incredibly fertile and imaginative, he  could have gone in 15 other directions just as easily.

The music was pouring out of him?

Exactly. He could have done anything – if you look back he did do everything, an extraordinary amalgam, personally, I think it is his most creative period in 15, 20 of creativity.

Now, tell me, I've seen the band's name billed as Runk – is that correct, or is it Rungk?

Rungk. It's Swedish for 'wank'. When you're 14, that's pretty funny.

Have you spoken to David in the last twenty years?

No I haven't. I'd like to. We never got paid for the session, so I'm letting the interest pile up. And one day my lawyers will slap him with a bill for

twenty quid.


Rungk at a friend’s party: from left, Mark Pritchett, Tim Broadbent and Peter de Somogyi