Faithful to the Bowie music – not just another tribute band
By Martin Hutchinson
HARD to believe, but it’s three years since David Bowie passed away, yet his legacy is still very much apparent today.
There is a surfeit of Bowie tribute acts on the circuit, some of which are excellent, but they all have a certain ingredient missing – the magic of the man himself.
Probably the closest experience to a Bowie gig you can get is Holy Holy.
Holy Holy are Bowie’s drummer and Spider From Mars Woody Woodmansey and producer Tony Visconti; with an all-star band.
Yorkshire-born Woody played on four of Bowie’s best-known albums: ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, ‘Hunky Dory’, ‘Aladdin Sane’ and ‘Ziggy Stardust’.
American Visconti played bass on ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and later was Marc Bolan’s Producer – among many others.
Tony also produced or co-produced the Bowie hits: Knock On Wood, Young Americans, Sound & Vision, Heroes, Boys Keep Swinging, Ashes To Ashes and Fashion, among others.
To make a success of a band like this you need a vocalist par excellence, and Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory fills that criteria. A life-long Bowie, Glenn performed alongside Bowie on the original Band Aid single in 1984.
The idea hatched in 2013
“It all started at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in New York when I was asked to do an interview in front of 300 people as part of their ‘Bowie Week’. It was good fun, and they had put a band together performing David’s songs. The worst part of that, for me, was seeing Clem Burke of Blondie playing my parts.
“Following that, they had requests to continue, but Clem was on Blondie duty, so I came in and it built up from there.”
But Woody laid some rules down.
“We had to be faithful to the music as I didn’t want us to be just another tribute band.”
The band performs ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ which Bowie never did live.
“When I spoke to Tony [Visconti], he told me David always regretted never doing it live, and we can’t do it without Tony as he played bass on the album.”
Tony Visconti has had a big say in Holy Holy as well.
“It was Tony who suggested Glenn Gregory as singer.”
The rest of the band are no slouches either. Woody explained: “The band really works, they’re all talented and experienced musicians.”
There are two guitarists, Paul Cudderford (Bob Geldof) and James Stevenson (Generation X, The Alarm), Vernon Scott (Heaven 17) on keyboards, and Tony Visconti’s daughter plays 12-string guitar and sax.
Woody recorded four albums with Bowie in the early to mid-seventies and remembers it well.
“David had a streamlined approach. He knew what he wanted and recorded pretty fast. Where we all lived, he had a keyboard and a 12-string guitar, and he used to shout to me ‘I’ve finished one Woody, come and have a listen’.
“He would play it through to the band a couple of times and then we’d record it. It was always done in two takes at the most. That’s probably why it’s lasted so well.”
Then Woody left the band.
“There was a number of things really. I was observing that David was having a hard time having to be Ziggy Stardust 24/7 and it was hard to have a conversation with him.”
Then there was the finances.
“It was on the last American tour. David added a few musicians and they were getting five times the money we were, and in the end I left. We didn’t speak for a while and didn’t really make up with him until he recorded ‘Low’. I’m glad I did.”
And Woody has a poignant memory
“Holy Holy was playing New York and David’s album ‘Blackstar’ had just come out. It was David’s birthday and we did a karaoke version of ‘Happy Birthday’ to him over the phone. The audience went nuts.
“Then, a day and a half later, we were in Toronto and my son rang me to tell me the news that David had died; it was pretty surreal at five in the morning.”
Three years later and Holy Holy is still packing them in.
“We get great audiences as everybody loves David’s music.”
And what can we expect to hear on the night?
“Well, we’ll be playing the whole of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ – we really enjoy playing it – and the whole of ‘Ziggy Stardust’. We’ll also be throwing in some other tracks from ‘Aladdin Sane’ and ‘Hunky Dory’.”
Woody laughed. “It’s a long night, but a really good set.”
Woody Woodmansey and Tony Visconti’s Holy Holy, featuring Glenn Gregory on vocals, touris the UK from February 8 to 24.