The Chameleon of Pop can now escort your correspondence, and do it with style…
When David Bowie was announced to fill the pulsating and recurring Music Legends slot in the Post Office’s stamp schedule, it was clear the Office had braced themselves. Sure, there were the inevitable opines and open questions at the time: “Why not when he was alive?” Well, as with most other things, older Bowie would have no doubt barely given two figs about appearing next to the Queen’s silhouetted head, being allocated a pence value or encouraging the population of his home country to lick the back of his head.
Which is a shame, because these are more than Bowie stamps – this is a feast of collectable packs and merchandise, ready for avid Bowiephie and philatelist alike. In fact, a feast that encouraged me to extend my usual purchases.
Stamps and Presentation Pack
First, those stamps. The choice of album covers that cross the main six is intriguing but resoundingly excellent. As each has been effectively double-designed, no surprise they look superb in stamp form. First is Hunky Dory, so often returned as Bowie’s number one album over the past year – folksy and daring, it contains almost fully-formed the learned brilliance that would shine in the decade that followed, but barely an indication of the direction. Queen Bitch excepted, there was little clue to the androgynous superstar who waited just round the corner on Heddon Street.
But Ziggy’s famous cover doesn’t get a look in. It jumped the boat in fact, taking point on the 2010 Royal Mail collection Classic Album Covers that looks increasingly precipitous. Still, that leaves this set free to leapfrog it to honour the punning alien Ziggy morphed into when he died. “Ziggy on tour” as he’s been called. Aladdin Sane may not stand up to the concept weight of The Rise and Fall of the Spiders from Mars, but it sits as a fine average between that, Pin Ups sand Diamond Dogs – not only carrying definitive songs of the period like but that famous lightning bolt make-up.
Leaping forward, the 1970s are rounded out but his most solid Berlin album, if not his the interesting. It must have been difficult to ignore the searing film still that makes for Low‘s vivid cover. From there, the gaps broaden as did the Bowie’s output after the ridiculously prolific 1970s that even he thought was a little over the top. Let’s Dance was the album that fused commercial success with Bowie’s sensibilities, if not the searing cultural highlights that had followed LP after LP the previous decade. It left Bowie an international superstar. Jumping to the 1990s comes perhaps his most distinctive cover of his last 30 years, the oh-so vividly British Earthling. The Green and pleasant land, that Union coat and his back turned. Finally, but certainly not last, it was inevitable that the simple, geometric design of Bowie’s masterful final album would make the cut.
The accompanying Live stamps endorse or fill in some gaps left by the album covers, each putting bowie, or a persona, front and centre. Ziggy’s there, ready to break up the band in 1973, as is the softened character that had moulded from his Thin White Duke persona by the time of his blistering 1978 Stage tour. Serious Moonlight supports the inclusion of Let’s Dance while there’s a poignancy in the inclusion of his Reality tour. The reality was that this was Bowie’s final tour. The final two albums that closed out his career weren’t toured, let alone the foundation stone of packing out stadiums across the world.
A rare step for me, I just couldn’t resist the Berlin special First Day Pack. Wonderful Teutonic branding stamps that definitive era and with the two matching stamps, the Heroes album cover and Stage tour still. But particular pride of place goes to the album stamp sheet. Immaculately cut into a vinyl sleeve and insert, the sheet inserts the album cover stamps alongside every studio album that didn’t make the cut.
The beautiful construction of the supplementary sheets highlight a flaw in the presentation pack display. Bowie would never have had to worry about the great unwashed licking the back of his head as the Queen did for so many years, as the stamps are self-adhesive. And considering the exquisite design that’s gone into the packaging and whole series, they could really do with a precise and accurate cutter for the stamp backing sheets that make for ragged, plastic mini-mounts.
The design and structure of six album stamps and four live stamps, almost entirely draw their template from the 2010 Classic Albums set and the continuing legends series that last celebrated Pink Floyd in July 2016, including the wonderful addition of the sliding vinyl. The Bowie set is a little more pleasing overall – his sharp, multi-faceted character shining through in comparison to Floyd’s clinical album art and admittedly spectacular widescreen live snaps.
With Bowie, it’s all about the man, but typically atypically the stand out design goes to the one album, and the one stamp, that doesn’t feature him.
David Bowie is… Stamped.
The stamp of excellence is… Blackstar.