Woody Woodmansey and Tony Visconti bring Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust to life and Getintothis’ Banjo is there to take it all in.
Some albums are firmly rooted in their time. The passing of time may have given them an old fashioned air that does not fit well in more modern days, they may have been part of a movement that has long since passed or the artist involved may have fallen from favour over the years. David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is not one of those albums. Time has not withered it and the album still sounds epic and surprisingly contemporary, partly because of the sheer quality of the songwriting and musicianship, but partly because its imporatnce and influence can still be heard echoing down the decades.
Part of this is down to Holy Holy, a Bowie-connected supergroup who are playing the album in its entirety on their latest tour. Centered around original Spiders’ drummer Woody Woodmansey and longtime Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti, Holy Holy are no mere tribute act, rather they are a celebration of Bowie.
When they appear, the band seem almost huddled together on the Phil’s stage, rather than spread out and take advantage of its size, as if their success and the move to bigger venues has taken them by surprise and they aren’t yet used to having the luxury of space. The stage’s main focus is Woodmansey’s huge drumkit with a Ziggy eye emblazoned on the bass drum and the legendary drummer proves to be worth watching as he flies around his kit.
Glenn Gregory, of Heaven 17 fame, has the unenviable task of stepping into David Bowie’s shoes, which must surely be one of the most daunting jobs in rock music. It would be easy for the crowd not to take to anyone attempting to fill in for Bowie, but as he walks on stage tonight he is greeted like a conquering hero. Thankfully, he does not spend the night as a Bowie imitator, but sings the songs as himself and displays a tremendous rock voice that lifts the songs and surprises many in the Phil tonight. He displayed the charisma, charm and class that this role demanded and for that we are thankful.
It is tempting to note that while Gregory is here to take over Bowie’s duties, it takes two guitarists to emulate Mick Ronson’s role in the Spiders. Often overlooked as Bowie cast off his old self and moved on, Ronson’s importance to Ziggy’s success cannot be overestimated. With a recent documentary on Ronson airing on Sky Arts recently, it may be that the time is right for a reappraisal of his mercurial talents and his role in Bowie’s success.
The Ziggy songs are greeted with huge cheers and dancing as the audience leave their seats and stand up as one, dancing and cheering. There is an atmosphere of an event in the air, possibly because this is the closest we can now get to seeing Ziggy live, a party to celebrate of one of the most iconic albums of our lives.
Once the Ziggy material has finished however, there is almost a pause in the levels of excitement and a slump in the audience’s reaction. Distressingly, Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud sees a lot of the audience sit down again, as if they are fine enjoying the Ziggy material, but draw the line at obscure b-sides.
The show is firmly rooted in Woodmansey’s tenure with Bowie until the encore, when they play Heroes. When playing their main set, this tether to a particular era seemed to be limiting, given the depth and range of material available, but on Heroes we perhaps see why – Bowie soon moved on to write material that had left rock bands behind. And while Holy Holy are an excellent rock band, the nuances and studio treatments of Heroes seemed difficult to convincingly reproduce, although to be fair to the band this is a problem Bowie had himself.
Altogether this was an uplifting, glorious gig and one that more than rose to the challenge Holy Holy have set themselves. And with a treasure trove of albums to work with, this will hopefully not be the last time we get to worship at their altar.