When putting together this post for the “London Shoes” website – I wasn’t too sure whether the topic in question was ‘technically’ correct for the ‘Shoes’ doctrine of “London’s lesser known and more unusual historical aspects” – However, upon further consideration I believe that it does as 2 of the principal personalities of the topic, definitely fit into the category of ‘lesser known’ to most people – and in terms of ‘history’, they have both worked with, and have been pivotal to, the early success of probably London’s (and the worlds) most globally famous songwriter and performer of popular music , throughout the past 60 years.
This particular “London Shoes” publication is all about ‘Woody Woodmansey’ & ‘Tony Visconti’, who both worked closely with the late great David Bowie.
Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey (b 1951) was the drummer on 4 of Bowie’s earlier albums:-
> The Man Who Sold the World – (released 1970)
> Hunky Dory– (released 1971)
> The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars – (released 1972)
> Aladdin Sane – (released 1973)
Tony Visconti (b 1944) played bass on Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ album – and then went on to become one of the music industry’s top producers, and a life-long friend of Bowie’s right up until his death in January 2016.
People tend to forget that David Bowie had been around in the music business long before he found fame with 1972’s “The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust” album.
From the early 1960’s Bowie (real name David Jones) had been desperately trying to find his own niche in London’s music scene – and he thought that he had finally succeeded when he scored a hit with the single “Space Oddity” in 1969 – a song that became popular because it coincided with the very first Moon landing.
However, following the success of the ‘Space Oddity’ single, Bowie then struggled to keep the momentum going, and was desperately trying to find an identity that would endure him and his music to the record buying public, and the music industry itself.
In 1970, he went into ‘Trident Studios’ just off of Wardour Street W1 – accompanied by 2 young musicians from Hull – ‘Mick Ronson’ (guitar) and ‘Woody Woodmansey’ (drums), plus his American mate ‘Tony Visconti’ (who was just starting his career as a record producer) on bass.
1969 & 1970 was a period in time that saw a major shift in peoples tastes from what was described as ‘pop’ music to a more heavier sound of ‘rock’ music, which started to get more and more louder and heavier in terms of sound, with the likes of groups such as ‘Black Sabbath’ / ‘Deep Purple’ / Led Zeppelin etc, becoming popular with the youth (including me) of the day.
The songs that Bowie wrote and selected for this new album, were not necessarily typical of the heavy rock anthems being produced by the top bands – but the backing provided by Ronson/Visconti & Woody Woodmansey, was, on some of the tracks, quite ‘heavy’ & ‘progressive’, and therefore typical of the music being knocked-out at that time.
The finished album was titled “The Man Who Sold the World” and was released in Nov 1970 – however, although it failed to launch Bowie into the ‘big-time’, it was well received and peaked at no.24 in the UK album charts and no.44 in the US album charts.
However, because Bowie did not have a permanent ‘working’ band put together during this period, the album was NEVER performed ‘live’ before an audience.
After ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ album was released, Tony Visconti concentrated on his record producing career – and was replaced on bass by ‘Trevor Bolder’ (b.1950), a friend of Ronson & Woodmansey’s from Hull.
It is these 3 musicians who backed Bowie on his next 3 albums – Hunky Dory – The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & Aladdin Sane, and became known as the ‘Spiders from Mars’ – right up until Bowie decided to call it a day on the ‘Ziggy’ persona, change musical styles, and then go on to become the global super-star he became throughout the following decades.
The guitarist Mick Ronson went on to play with many of the days leading artists including Bob Dylan – he was also a renowned record producer in his own right. Ronson died in 1993 of liver cancer.
Similarly, Trevor Bolder went on to play bass with a number of well-known bands, including a long spell with heavy-rock group Uriah Heep – until he sadly succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2013.
Tony Visconti went on to (and still is) one of the recording industry’s top producers – and was a life-long friend and music collaborator of David Bowie right up to Bowie’s death in 2016.
Meanwhile, drummer Woody Woodmansey is now left as the only remaining “Spider from Mars” – and has the accolade of being the drummer on legendary songs such as:- ‘Life on Mars’ – ‘Changes’ – ‘Starman’ – ‘John-I’m only Dancing’ – ‘Jean Genie’ – plus many many more from 4 of Bowie’s earlier albums.
Anyway – around 2014 Visconti & Woodmansey met up and agreed that it was such a shame that “The Man Who Sold the World” songs had never been played ‘live’ on stage – something that Bowie himself often regretted.
One thought led to another, and very soon they decided to put a little band together for the sole purpose of rehearsing the tracks from “The Man Who Sold the World” – with a view to performing them ‘live’ to an audience for the very first time – some 45 years after the album had been released.
They named their band “Holy Holy” which was taken from the title of a Bowie single they had played on, that had totally bombed.
The interest in ‘Holy Holy’ and the material they were to perform grew rapidly – particularly among those Bowie fans of a ‘certain age’ like me, who spent many hours of their youth listening to ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ album.
Following an initial few gigs, the success of the ‘Holy Holy’ band and its performances has subsequently gone from strength to strength throughout the past couple of years – and they have even toured the US.
There have been many ‘guest’ celeb musicians and singers that have toured with the band over the last couple of years, such as Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet) – Marc Almond (Soft Cell) and Glen Matlock (The Sex Pistols) plus many more – and the current band comprises of Glen Gregory (ex Heaven 17) on vocals – renowned session guitarists James Stephenson and Paul Cuddeford – Jessica Lee Morgan on sax, guitar & backing vocals (Jessica is the daughter from the marriage of Tony Visconti to Mary Hopkin – who those of a certain age will remember sang Opportunity Knocks and then went on to have a massive worldwide hit with ‘Those Were The Days My Friend”) – And of course on bass is the one and only Tony Visconti and on drums is the legendary Woody Woodmansey – both of whom played on the original “The Man Who Sold the World” album.
So – last Wednesday I was extremely fortunate to get hold of one of the last remaining tickets for Holy Holy’s performance of “The Man Who Sold the World” at the prestigious “London Palladium” theatre – where the band proceeded to knock out the entire “The Man Who Sold the World” album – and if that wasn’t enough, they then banged out all the tracks off of the iconic “The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars” album.
Now, I’ve been to some historically legendary gigs in my time on this planet, but I have to say that this performance was right up there with the best of them – The Palladium was packed to the rafters and the band’s performance of all the tracks from the “The Man Who Sold the World” album, was ‘note-perfect’. The audience (of varied ages) was up on their feet and singing along to the choons, especially when the band played the entire ‘Ziggy’ album.
Bearing in mind that Woody Woodmansey is now 68 and Tony Visconti is 75, they were full of energy and you could see just how much the gig meant to them.
As someone who can say “I was there” way back in August 1972 when Bowie & the Spiders from Mars played, what has now become the legendary gig at London’s ‘Rainbow Theatre’ on the first leg of the very first Ziggy Stardust tour – I never though that I would witness another concert is good as that – but last week’s Palladium performance by Woodmansey and Visconti’s ‘Holy Holy’, is right up with there with the best of the gigs that I have been to during my time on this planet. The musicianship, the performance, the excitement and the entertainment created a special night, and one that all the audience, including myself – will never forget.
As the late great David Bowie would say:-
Oh no, not me – I never lost control
You’re face, to face
With the Man who sold the World
Hope the accompanying photos bring this little ‘good old London night out’ to life for you.
As well as ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ – Woody Woodmansey played drums on Bowie’s 70’s albums:- ‘Hunky Dory’ – The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars’ – and ‘Aladdin Sane’