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"Memory of a Free Festival" is a 1970 single by David Bowie. The song had originally been recorded in September 1969 as a seven-minute opus for Bowie's second self-titled album (reissued as Space Oddity in 1972). It was reworked in March-April 1970 at the behest of Mercury Records, the label believing that the track had a better chance of success as a single than "The Prettiest Star", released earlier in the year. Bowie and Tony Visconti roughly split the track in half, re-recording it so both halves could function as individual songs. A more rock-orientated version than the earlier album cut, this rendition marked guitarist Mick Ronson's and drummer Mick Woodmansey's studio debut with Bowie's band, bringing together the line-up that would shortly record The Man Who Sold the World.
Biographer David Buckley described "Memory of a Free Festival" as "a sort of trippy retake of the Stones' 'Sympathy for the Devil' but with a smiley lyric".The track was written as a homage to the Free Festival, organised by the Beckenham Arts Lab, which was held at Croydon Road Recreation Ground in Beckenham on 16 August 1969.
The single was a commercial disaster on release in America in June 1970, with only a few hundred copies selling. It was also issued in the UK, but was similarly unsuccessful.
David Bowie used a child's Rosedale Electric Chord Organ, obtained from Woolworths, on both LP and single versions of the song to give a "classic Ivor Cutler/harmonium feel". Producer Tony Visconti recalled Bowie "always had a hard time playing the organ and singing part one of the song".
The late reworking of the song also featured a Moog synthesizer played by classical music producer Ralph Mace and programmed by Chris Thomas. Mace would play the instrument again on the recording of The Man Who Sold the World.
- "Memory of a Free Festival Part 1" (Bowie) – 3:59
- "Memory of a Free Festival Part 2" (Bowie) – 3:31
- David Bowie – vocals, guitar
- Mick Ronson – guitar
- Tony Visconti – bass
- Mick Woodmansey – drums
- Tony Visconti – producer
- Ralph Mace – Moog synthesizer
- Bowie performed the show during a session for radio's The Sunday Show on 5 February 1970; it was broadcast on 8 February. An edited take of this performance was included on the 2000 compilation, Bowie at the Beeb.
- Bowie also performed the song during the 1973 Ziggy Stardust tour, as the third part of a medley which began with "Quicksand" and "Life on Mars?" (one such performance, from the Glasgow Apollo on 15 May 1973, has appeared on several bootleg albums).
- The Mike Garson Band, the name given to Bowie's backing group on his Philly Dogs tour, closed their supporting set with a soul-influenced version of the song on Bowie's 1974 US tour. The performance from the Radio City Music Hall, New York City on 28 October 1974 was included on the bootleg album Infected with Soul Love.
- The Pink Snowflakes re-arranged and covered the song with a heavy psychedelic rock sound in 2006.
- E-Zee Possee released a dance song in 1990, called "The Sun Machine" which mentions Bowie in their credits. It was a minor house-rave success, released in many formats on Boy George's dance label called More Protein.
- Dario G sampled Bowie in 1998 for their UK No. 17 hit single "Sunmachine"
- Mercury Rev played a cover of the song on their 2006 compilation Stillness Breathes
- The Gene Ween Band has been known to include Memory of a Free Festival as part of their live performances.
- Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros cover it on Manimal Vinyl's tribute to David Bowie out in September 2010
- Danish Band Kashmir (band) covered it live in the Netherlands, 2006