David Hadfield was combing through old boxes in the storage space of his Surrey, England home about 20 years ago when a bread basket from his father’s long-ago days as a bread delivery man caught his eye. Inside was a series of dusty tapes from Hadfield’s time as a rock drummer in the early 1960s. One of them was labelled “The Konrads,” a group he formed in 1961 with a charismatic, blonde-haired 15-year-old saxophone player named David Jones. He fed the tape into an old tape machine and, amidst a bunch of Shadows-inspired instrumental tracks, was an original composition entitled “I Never Dreamed” with Jones on lead vocals, two years before he changed his name to David Bowie.
Hadfield quickly realized the significance of his find: He was in possession of Bowie’s oldest-known original song. He reached out to Bowie’s management firm in New York to tell them of his momentous discovery, but they didn’t return numerous calls. After Bowie died in early 2016, Hadfield contacted Bowie’s son Duncan Jones to tell him what he had. Again, he heard nothing. “I decided to cut my losses and put it up for auction,” says Hadfield on the phone from his home in Thailand. “Otherwise, it’s going to die with me in a corner somewhere. The sale will also help me expand my pension.”
The recording is going up for sale via Omega Auctions in September alongside letters, bills, booking forms, photographs and promotional sketches that Hadfield saved from that period in his life. The auction house expects it to sell for £10,000 ($13,000).
Bowie was actually the second future superstar Hadfield backed as a young man. He grew up with Cliff Richard and played drums with him in 1956, two years before he became one of the biggest pop stars in England. But Hadfield’s parents were horrified at the thought of their son wasting his life with music, so he left the group to join the Merchant Navy. At age 21, he went back to college to study for his officer’s examination. “I got bored stiff one day,” he says. “The teacher was scribbling algebra on the board and I just packed up my books and said, ‘I’m leaving.'”
He got a new drum kit and put an ad up at the local music shop near Bromley South railway station that read “Ex-Cliff Richard drummer looking for band to join.” Soon enough, he was face-to-face with guitarist Neville Wills and saxophonist David Jones, who went by the name David Jay once he joined the group that they dubbed the Konrads. Drawing on a repertoire inspired by the Shadows and Duane Eddy, they gigged at tiny youth clubs and village halls around England. Hadfield recognized that Jones was a talented vocalist, but was unable to get him to sing onstage. “He kept saying, ‘I’m not a singer,'” he says. “‘I’m a saxophone player.'” That changed one night in 1962 not long after Joe Brown landed a hit on the U.K. charts with “A Picture of You.” “Brown looked very similar to David with a shock of blonde hair,” says Hadfield. “I persuaded David to do a cover version of it and he did it onstage and it went down very well.”
The group eventually earned the attention of London agent Bob Knight, whose partner Eric Easton managed the Rolling Stones. That got them the chance to audition for Decca Records, but they needed to come up with original material. Bowie stepped forward with three songs, including “I Never Dreamed,” assuming the group’s frontman would handle the vocals. But the singer wanted to hear a recording of it prior to the proper Decca audition, so they went into RG Jones Studio in Morden, Surrey to cut a demo of “I Never Dreamed” with Bowie on lead vocals.
Decca was unimpressed with the finished version of the song and declined to sign the band. A dejected Bowie quit after a New Year’s Eve gig with the Konrads at the end of 1963. The group slowly gained a small following, even getting a chance to open a series of shows for the Rolling Stones in 1965, but they dissolved shortly afterwards and Hadfield put away his drumsticks and began working as a music producer and engineer before moving into a behind-the-scenes role at a music television program. Every few years, he’d bump into Bowie at an industry event, most recently at some point in the 1980s, but by that point he totally forgot he had the sole copy of his first song.
Hadfield says he has no idea what the rare song will go for. “It’s worth what someone wants to buy it for,” he says. “I suppose if you’re going to make an anthology or box set of David Bowie this would be ideal since it’s the very first one.”