Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey with Holy Holy and guests at O2 ABC Glasgow, 20/9/14

“I wanted to prove I could still play bass”, Tony Visconti was recently quoted as saying, in reference to his decision to hit the road and play David Bowie’s 1970 album The Man Who Sold The World.

At the Q+A arranged for the previous night Visconti and fellow Bowie collaborator Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey describe the process of the creation of a record held in much higher regard today as it was back when the two last shared a stage some 43 years ago.

 

The Spiders From Mars drummer has enlisted the talents of the legendary producer, as well as a motley crew of performers which at times sees the band head count reach as high as 15.

This supergroup, dubbed Holy Holy (named after the 1971 single) plays an album largely ignored upon its release, indeed very little of The Man Who Sold The World was ever heard in public, in its entirety tonight at the ABC.

As part of Bowie’s band The Hype, Woodmansey and Visconti were previously deprived the opportunity to display these tracks live as the then relatively obscure singer swiftly moved on to record Hunky Dory on his own.

The majority of the Glasgow crowd that have gathered tonight may have seen better days but there can be little doubt the ABC is in very healthy numbers this Saturday evening.

Unfortunately, due to some misinformation on the venue’s part we miss out on the support slot from Tony Visconti’s son, Morgan.

Standing in for the main man, Heaven 17s Glenn Gregory swings onto the stage, looking almost as excitable as some of the diehards in attendance as the anticipation of album opener ‘Width of A Circle’ builds.

The opening track gives this Scottish audience an indication of what is in store for them tonight and justifies an endorsement of these shows from the Thin White Duke himself.

Firstly, any apprehensions over synthpop maestro Gregory’s aptitude to the role of Ziggy Stardust’s author are laid to rest as each note of the eight-minute metal-like epic is delivered perfectly in a fashion not too dissimilar to that of the recluse chameleon.

Secondly, it is warming to see a great deal of attention and care has been taken to recreate the sound of the record, small details such as the precise delicate chimes featured in the first half of ‘All The Madmen’ do not go unnoticed by many under ABC’s massive disco ball.

The magnificent in waltz circus-esque surrealism of ‘After All’ prompts a first bout of fist pumping and foot tapping from this evening audience as “oh by jingo” rings around the hall.

The man chiefly responsible for proceedings down memory lane, Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey proves he has lost none of those fine drumming chops through the passing of time during ‘Saviour Machine’, putting many a young pretender to shame, the affable big chap is at the heart of it all, a grinning leader of the pack.

Meanwhile, the quiet and unassuming presence of Tony Visconti receives the largest cheer so far as Gregory announces it is time for the title track.

That he almost manages to make people forget this is a song made famous by others, as opposed to Bowie himself, is testament to his talent as a frontman in his own right.

Without ever verging into an uncomfortable full on aping of the great man the Heaven 17 vocalist largely does a stellar job, with a clear connection between the two men in terms of phrasing, while they both boast a similar timbre.

With the crowd now built up into something of a gushing mess the passion displayed by the fans is matched in the superb delivery of Gregory as he blasts through the penultimate number of Bowie’s apocalyptic Nietzsche inspired album.

Of course such an apocalypse must end with ‘The Supermen’, which while ably carried out is notably one or two keys out, however I suppose this is to be expected at some point, indeed it is one of changes perhaps necessitated to accommodate the variance in range between he of cultural icon fame and Glenn Gregory.

Praise should come the way of guitarists Steve Norman and James Stevenson, who faithfully recreate all the Mick Ronson (whose sister and daughter perform also) harmonies and intricacies with aplomb.

Having been under the impression that this was an album in full cheerio, goodnight and goodbye affair I was pretty pleased that the gang (minus a now departed Visconti) had prepared another ten songs from around that era.

Taking on a bit more of a tributish vibe a revolving door of musicians (a list larger than this entire piece) had a pop at tracks from Aladdin Sane, Hunky Dory and the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust with Steve Norman on sax.

Highlights of this section include ‘Time’, ‘Five Years’, ‘Cracked Actor’ and a ‘Lady Stardust’ rendition sung by Steve Norman.

In among many a introduction and thank yous Tony Visconti (now sporting a Velvets & Nico top) re-enters the fray to contribute a cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light White Heat’ with the band.

If nothing else, tonight illustrates the gap between that dirty word of tribute act and genuine real mccoy can be bridged with some proper and passionate input from one or more of the original protagonists.

In this instance, much to this reviewers pleasant surprise, such events can actually serve a purpose other than a cheap cash in of another artists work and allows fans to experience songs which, lets face it, thee David Bowie shall never perform.

Words: Andy Quigley

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