From recording with David Bowie, to witnessing the formation of Holy Holy; Woody Woodmansey is well respected in his field. O2 Academy caught up with him to talk about the evolution of Holy Holy, working with a legend and why O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire is so special to him.
If we go back to when you were working on David Bowie’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, did you have an inkling that it would turn out to be as successful as it came to be?
"I don’t think any artist or band ever really knows whether they are going to be successful or not, or to what degree. There is no guarantee no matter how good you think you are. The only test is, does the audience get it and do they like it?
When we were recording Ziggy with David, we were all in a good place as musicians. There was a chemistry between us that I think is necessary to create good music. We had already recorded songs like ‘Life On Mars’, which we thought was amazing and we were all extremely proud of it, but it hadn’t necessarily shot to the top of the charts when it was released, so a part of you is thinking ‘what the hell do you have to do to make it’.
Bowie was on top form as a writer and every song sounded great, no fillers! We kind of took each song and tried our hardest to capture the spirit and the message to the best of our abilities. We had no idea that it would reach the heights it did and would continue to receive radio play 40+ years later. I guess there was an ‘all or nothing’ attitude with Bowie and the Spiders with the image and the stage shows too."
Talk to us a bit more about Holy Holy and its evolution.
"Holy Holy has been an organic evolution over the last four years. I was asked to do an interview in front of a live audience at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) in London, as part of their Bowie exhibit. They had put a band together to play songs from the first four Bowie albums who would go on to play at Latitude Festival. The band comprised of members of Spandau Ballet, Bob Geldof’s band, the Alarm and Blondie - they had named themselves Holy Holy after an early Bowie track. I met the guys and we got on really well and they asked if I would guest on a couple of songs at the festival. The gig was amazing, but I found it hard to stand in the wings and watch Clem Burke play me drum parts...I was thinking ‘not that one, I want to do that!’.
After the festival there were many gig offers to do more and at that point, Clem was back touring with Blondie, so they asked if I fancied the drum seat. I said yes as I enjoyed the festival so much, but I didn’t want it to be a ‘tribute type band’ so I decided to do The Man Who Sold The World album, as I remembered how much we’d wanted to play that album live and we never got to do it due to management changes and the financial situation at the time.
Tony Visconti had been the bass player and producer on that album so I got in touch with him and asked if he fancied touring. He immediately said ‘yes, wherever, whenever, I’ll be there’. He told me how David and him had always regretted not playing that album live. He suggested Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17 as vocalist and so we had a great band of musicians who were not only brilliant players and singers but were also fans of the music. A unique combination. We have done two US tours, Japan and three UK tours. We’re just preparing for a European tour which includes only two UK gigs, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire and Hull City Hall - to round off the City of Culture year up there."
Of course! You're back performing in London at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, do you have any fond memories of the last time you played at the venue?
"O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire has become a must for us. It’s a great venue, the audiences have been fantastic and it always reminds me of the last time Bowie and The Spiders played in London. It’s always an amazing night and this time is special because it’s one of only two gigs we’re doing in the UK."
How would you describe a Holy Holy show to someone who’s never seen you perform before?
"We play a two-hour show with songs from the first four Bowie albums. On this current tour, we are doing The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars in its entirety, something we didn’t even do with David!
The emphasis is on not only playing true to the songs but also capturing the spirit of the songs which is almost more important.
We also do songs from the other albums and a few surprises!"
You’ve chosen to share some songs with us; why these particular tracks?
- Width of a Circle - This is one of my favourites from The Man Who Sold The World, it’s so heavy and dark...and great to play!
- Five Years - It’s the first track on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars and really sets the atmosphere for the rest of the album. It was a musical challenge to find a beat that communicated that feeling.
- Moonage Daydream - A classic Bowie song that is ‘far out’ and creates an effect like no other song has ever done.
- Hang On To Yourself - This one was nearly always the opening track on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars shows as it kicked ass and communicated to the audience ‘you’re about to witness something wild and amazing, hang on!’.
- Ziggy Stardust - Just a brilliant song!
- Rock and Roll Suicide - I love the emotions this song evokes and audiences love it.
- Changes, Life On Mars, Space Oddity - These three are Bowie classics, nobody else could have written them. He was truly a cut above the rest, especially his ability to tell a story and point you in a direction but to not connect all the dots. The listener had to contribute to the song from his own viewpoint to make it complete. A true artist.
- Starman - This is the song that threw Ziggy and the Spiders into orbit. A futuristic song that was full of hope at a time when there wasn’t much hope around.
- Jean Genie - A basic rock and roll blues riff, the roots of the whole genre but with that unique Bowie twist. Almost rap before rap.
- Star - A great song about wanting to be a rock and roll star, again with a unique arrangement.
Don't miss Tony Visconti & Woody Woodmansey's Holy Holy, get your tickets below:
O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire: Sunday 5 November - Buy Tickets