On the evening of Weds 11th March 2020, London Shoes ventured off to what was once one of London’s most iconic music & art venues, particularly throughout the 1960’s and into the 70’s – the legendary ‘Roundhouse’ at Chalk Farm–London NW3.
The Roundhouse building wasn’t always a music venue – when it was first opened in 1847, it was hailed as being one of the finest examples of Victorian civil engineering, as it was a completely circular building 160 ft in diameter, with a cone-shaped roof supported by cast iron girders. Inside it were 24 ‘bays’, and a massive turntable wheel in the centre of it, that Railway engines could be rolled on to, then spun round and rolled out to a bay for either servicing or storage. Its architectural uniqueness was so popular in Victorian times that guided tours were set-up to enable the public to witness this magnificent building.
It was not the first time that my ‘London Shoes’ had been to the Chalk Farm-Roundhouse, as I published a blog on this historic London landmark onto my London Shoes website back in May 2018.
Although I never frequented the Roundhouse at its height of music popularity in the 60’s – I did go there once in the mid 1970’s during the punk era, to see a gig by the brilliant ‘Ramones’.
However – my visit this time was a little bit special – as the Roundhouse was hosting an event to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of a specific time in popular music history.
For this trek out it was a pleasure to be accompanied by Vince, my long-time mate of almost 50 years, who also just so happens to be my bruv-in-law.
In March 1970, ‘David Bowie’ was already an up & coming singer-songwriter -performer, and having scored a reasonably big hit with his single ‘Space Oddity’, and he was working hard to create his own niche in the music scene.
On 10th March 1970, Bowie’s newly formed band ‘The Hype’ were just one of the bands on the bill of ‘The Atomic Sunrise Festival’ being hosted at the Roundhouse-Chalk Farm.
For that particular gig, David Bowie took a bit of a risk by doing something a little bit different from other bands at that time – he dressed his 4 piece band up in costumes, to the theme of ‘super-heroes’.
David Bowie was ‘Rainbow Man’ – Bass guitarist Tony Visconti was (in a Superman type outfit), was ‘Hyper Man’ – Drummer John Cambridge was ‘Cowboy Man’ & newly acquired guitarist Mick Ronson, dressed in a ‘sharp’ suit, was ‘Gangster Man’.
History has dictated that the gig has subsequently been labelled as the potential birth of a music-genre that was to become widely known as ‘Glam Rock’.
Legend has it that at the front of the stage that particular night, closely watching the band’s performance, was one Marc Bolan, who a year later, became the self-styled king of Glam Rock.
Around that time, Bowie was writing material for his next album which was to be entitled ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ – which was eventually released in Nov 1970.
Playing bass on that album was Tony Visconti, who went on to be one of the most influential record producers on the 70’s & way beyond, and became a life-long collaborator of Bowie’s, right up until his death. Playing drums on that album was a newly recruited drummer from Hull, Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey.
Following its release, the album didn’t really break any records in the way of sales, but it did cause a bit of controversy. Its main cover had a photo of Bowie spread out on chaise-longue, wearing a ‘dress’ (which Bowie always declared was a man’s dress). An alternative ‘cartoon’ type album cover had to designed for the US market.
Because Bowie didn’t really have a ‘working’ band at that time, the ‘album’ material was never really played ‘live’.
Woody Woodmansey went on further to play drums on the next 3 Bowie breakthrough albums – “Hunky Dory” (1971) – “The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars” (1972) & “Aladdin Sane”(1973) – along with Mick Ronson (guitar) & Trevor Bolder (bass) – as part of Bowie’s highly acclaimed ‘Spiders from Mars’ band. Sadly, Bowie–Ronson & Bolder are no longer with us – so ‘Woody’ is today, the only surviving ‘Spider’.
So – fast forward 50 years, and last night, to the very day, was the 50th Anniversary of Bowie’s now legendary gig at the Chalk Farm Roundhouse.
A few years ago, prior to David Bowie’s passing – Woody Woodmansey & Tony Visconti (now aged 70 & 75 respectively) put together a touring band called ‘Holy Holy’ (the title of a failed Bowie single, released just prior to his Ziggy breakthrough) – whose set-list comprised of the (never performed live) ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ album tracks plus the entire ‘Ziggy Stardust’ album, and a couple of other Bowie crowd favourites on top of that.
For Tony Visconti, the highlight of the Roundhouse gig must be the fact that he was there, 50 years ago, playing bass for Bowie’s The Hype – a fantastic achievement.
For this special Roundhouse anniversary gig, ‘Holy Holy’ comprised of the following band personnel:-
Glen Gregory (lead vocals)-Woody Woodmansey (drums)-Tony Visconti (bass)-Paul Cuddeford (guitar) –James Stevenson (guitar)-Janette Mason (keyboards)-Jessica-Lee Morgan (acoustic guitar-sax-vocals) – Jessica is Tony Visconti’s daughter, from his marriage to Mary Hopkin, (another famous UK singer/performer).
Despite all the understandable anxiety of the Corona Virus, the Roundhouse gig was a sell-out – and the audience, made up predominantly of the 50+ age group thoroughly lapped it all up and sang their way through every track of ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ & ‘Ziggy Stardust’ albums, plus all the ‘extras’. All time classics such as ‘Width of a Circle’ – ‘All the Madmen’ – ‘Running Gun Blues’ – ‘Supermen’ & ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ title track, then ‘Starman’ – ‘Five Years’ – ‘Lady Stardust’ – ‘Moonage Daydream’ from the Ziggy album, plus many others.
An absolutely brilliant night of musical entertainment that meant so much, not just to the likes of legendary muso survivors Tony Visconti & Woody Woodmansey – but also to all the punters like me, who were around during the early 1970’s when we certainly experienced the best of times in terms of rock & popular music and the artists that created it.
Hope you enjoyed this little article and its accompanying photos.
Below is a gallery of ALL the photographs taken to accompany the ‘Holy Holy’ gig at the legendary Roundhouse-Chalk Farm-London NW3