Uncle Arthur and other creations

Along with The Lower Third's Denis Taylor, Dek Fearnley was David Bowie's first key musical collaborator. David had cooked up a few basic songs with George Underwood, but it was with Dek and David’s work together that some early, distinct strands of Bowie's technique emerged.

Fearnley himself was a charming, self-effacing man; his period with David over 1966 and 1967 was a fascinating one, and I shall return to it later. In the meantime, here's a snapshot of David in late 1966, a period when he'd convinced many senior musical executives that he was a young genius – but hadn't quite mastered the art of making songs that would live up to his spiel. Fearnley, and David's other early bands, have not been interviewed many times over the years, and many of those that have appeared tend to emphasise the bitterness and rancour of those left behind. The real story is far more complex and interesting. David didn't use people; yet his enthusiasms tended to burn bright but quick, and then he was on to the next obsession. Today, Fearnley's role in David Bowie's rise is pretty obscure, but it was he who arranged all those charming, off-kilter songs on his quirky but half-baked debut album. Here, Dek gives us a good feel of David Bowie, self-styled teenage genius.

How would you describe David's personality at the time?

In one word, interesting. He wasn't really on my level, the way his mind worked, the things he was enthusiastic abut, his visions. He was on a higher plane. You'd go for a meal or coffee and you don't talk about the weather or the bloody latest Who single – he was off in his own world. I find it difficult if not impossible to put this into words but on this ethereal plane. When necessary he'd come down to earth, down from his own train of thought. Because of that when u were with him he was SUCH an interesting guy to be not like anybody else and he'd draw you into these enthusiasms and fantasies.He was being creative all the time, not only musically. Every other way. Creatively. Don't know how else to put it.

That implies he was a voracious reader and listener, picking up on things?
Absolutely. He read a lot and listened to all sorts of things musically. and I suppose all that helped feed his mind. But they all.. people like him and say Elton John and McCartney , the ones that have lasted, they just sort of see life in this particular way and see a situation and it will start something off in their mind and they're writing a bloody song. Lots of these songs on this album [the Decca debut], I can think back and I can remember. I realise what triggered this off in David's mind.

What's an example of this?

I'll give you a classic example. When I was with David I was... when I say I was living at home I was living with my older brother and he was married and had three kids. And Davy used to come over because there was a piano, and there was space, and we would work on his songs, and the  kids were there sometimes. They called me Uncle Derek.

Now in order to get the job [with David] I actually lied about my age! I deducted seven years, I don't know why I did this, probably 'cos David was only 19 and I was then 29 and I felt that 29... would have sounded to old. So I drop seven years off and I'm 22. Now David used to come over, to my brothers, and the kids are saying hello, Uncle Derek.  And at some point, once I got established,  I confessed that I was 29. And he was staggered, staggered I was 29 years old.

So then, months later once of the songs comes up and it's Uncle Arthur. Which was effectively me! Uncle Arthur, still reads comics, follows Batman. It's only the seed of the idea he uses, I wasn't reading comics, but I recognised myself . 'Cos to him 29 was bloody old and I still wasn't married and I still didn't have my own place. That was a classic idea of the seeds David takes, and produces the song. 

He of course was still tied to his mom's apron strings and didn't have his own place. Did you sense he wanted to get away from home?
Yes – he did want to get away. I think that also applied to where he was at with The Lower Third, The Buzz. He even wanted to get out of that. I don't think he wanted to be a singer in a band. I think he wanted to even get away from that as well. Which may have hastened the demise of, not necessarily the Buzz but whatever band he wanted to be at the time. Not what I want, I want to move on to something else. I think what you said, the desire to get away, applied to his musical life as well.

He spend more time with you than with anyone else over that period. Did he draw you in, as a friend?
We went to see Jimi Hendrix together and... But no. The connection between David and me was, to be honest, only through the band and through the music and through  the album. Aside from music,  I was too ordinary a guy for D. I wasn't a catalyst. The people he was interested in would trigger other ideas. I was too ordinary a guy. I just happened to be entirely on his level with how these songs should be put to music and come across on the album. I shall be eternally grateful for that.