'Recluse' Bowie stuns fans by releasing single

When the email arrived, announcing the surprise return of the master of musical reinvention, it was titled, appropriately "where is David Bowie?"

Ten years after his last release – a decade marked by speculation that the star had variously retired, fallen seriously ill or become a recluse – David Bowie was back, with a melancholy new song and a haunting video which was immediately hailed as a masterpiece by fans who doubted this day would ever come.

With none of the hype which normally accompanies the return of a rock legend, the new song, titled "Where Are We Now?" slipped on to iTunes overnight and was immediately made available to download, on Bowie's 66th birthday. Within hours it had shot to the top of the UK iTunes chart. An album, The Next Day, his 30th studio recording, will follow in March.

This sudden burst of Bowie activity came as a welcome surprise, even to the star's own representatives.

Little has been seen of the Brixton-born singer since he suffered chest pains during a 2004 concert in Germany, diagnosed as an acute blocked artery, requiring an emergency angioplasty.

The rest of the tour was cancelled and Bowie retreated to his luxury penthouse apartment in Soho, downtown Manhattan, with his supermodel wife Iman and their daughter Alexandria.

Beyond the occasional guest appearance, there was no sign that Bowie was interested in rejoining the musical fray.

There was speculation that Bowie will return to the live stage, possibly headlining Glastonbury. "Getting Bowie to tour is the holy grail," said his UK promoter John Giddings.

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