The Trans-Siberian Railway

Listen to Geoff MacCormack remember his time on the Trans-Siberian Railway with David Bowie.

David asleep in their carriage. May 1973. (c) Geoff MacCormack

Transcript of interview:

Interviewer: And then we get onto when you go off on your Trans-Siberian adventure, so we’ve got David in front of the train. What is that expression on his face do you think?

Geoff: I think it’s….Ok, so that would be the first picture I took in daylight with the camera. We’d just come from Japan. David wouldn’t fly, so in order to come back from Japan, from the Japanese tour which is after the American, we got a boat from Yokohama to a port called Nakhodka in Siberia and that is in fact the Trans-Siberian Express and I think his expression is is ‘come on, take the picture’. Bless him, he’s bearing with it. It’s a great shot, I love that shot. And I staged it, look I staged it right. But this is a camera that the Japanese photographer Sukita had got for me trade and it was the basic Nikon camera for beginners. It was called a Nikkormat and it still had knobs and dials and I didn’t know what the knobs and dials really did, so the fact that I got this picture, I’m really really pleased. It must have been an idiot proof camera, that’s all I can say.

Interviewer: Because that was your first upgrade of camera wasn’t it? You were on an instamatic before that? 

Geoff: Before this picture of David outside the Trans-Siberian carriage there is a picture of him in Chinese type lounging, smoking, pyjama type suit and that was taken in Chicago and that was taken on a Kodak instamatic so yes, this was the first decent camera. But there is a quality to cheap cameras which is quite endearing really. 

Interviewer:  There is an intimacy isn’t there. So you’re about to go off on this big adventure. Why wouldn’t he fly?

Geoff:  Why wouldn’t he fly? I think he’d had a bumpy ride on a flight in Europe. I think maybe he had some kind of premonition or whatever it was. I wasn’t about to argue with him.

Interviewer: Did the thought of doing all this overland travel appeal to you?

Geoff: Absolutel. And in many ways it’s food for thought and it’s the stuff of writing. Also, it’s a reprieve from the constant planes, cars, sound checks, performing, another hotel, another night. Don’t forget he was writing. He was very prolific at this point in history so all these influences and going through Russia, going through East to West Berlin, all those things came up in songs after that.

Interviewer: So it gave you all a minute, to just be yourselves, relax in between the big huge gigs.

Geoff: Well it’s odd, when you’re young or you’re in your 20s, sometimes you go do something or see something and you don’t really take it in because you think, well I’ll just check this out another time and then the other time doesn’t turn up and you never go back there. So this forced time of contemplation and taking new stuff in, in many ways for guys in their 20s was really good. It made you take on board stuff instead of flying around as 25/6/ 7-year olds would have done then. So yeah, time for contemplation. 

This is the reciprocal picture David took of me and if you think that he looks like ‘come on, get this picture done will you’, I really look like, ‘I give up, if you’re not going to take it’. But I think the thing was, he wasn’t taking a picture of me, he was taking a picture of me with a man picking his nose in the corner. Thanks for that one, I appreciate that.

Interviewer: He [David] knew that didn’t he. He saw that. 

Geoff: Yeah, he said, actually, move over Geoff, I want to take a picture of this guy picking his nose, it’s much more interesting.