Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey @ o2 Academy, 29th June 2015

Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey @ o2 Academy, 29th June 2015Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey @ o2 Academy, 29th June 2015

sold-the-world-poster-lg

First, a warning.  What follows is an unadulterated love of all things Bowie.  If you don’t like Bowie at all, this review will only serve to reinforce your opinion that all Bowie fans are deluded, misguided fools.  If you do like Bowie, then prepare to grab your diaries and make room for the time that this tour comes around again, because you will want to come and experience it.

There is not enough room here to go into the history of the album “The Man Who Sold the World”, but two things are very important to mention: when the album was released in 1970, few people really liked it (it failed to chart originally and only garnered interest in the wake of 1972’s Ziggy Stardust, and it is still for some reason not regarded as Bowie’s best) and more importantly, two of the four musicians who created that album are here at the Academy tonight playing it live in its entirety – legendary producer and bass player, Tony Visconti and most under-rated drummer of all time, Woody Woodmansey.  Visconti mentions the other two musicians during the show and the reasons for their absences – one being a global superstar, the other being the much loved and much missed, late Mick Ronson.  Mick’s presence is felt though, both in the beautifully recreated guitar parts by Holy Holy’s Paul Cuddeford and James Stevenson, and also in the outpouring of love from everyone in the room.  This is especially warming as Mick’s wife is in the audience and their daughter Lisa and niece Hannah are singing backing vocals (along with Visconti’s daughter Jessica Lee Morgan) – it is a real family affair.  And this feeling cuts through the whole performance: the show feels like an informal singalong at someone’s house, but with the best band in the world providing the backing.  They have been described as ‘the world’s most over-qualified Bowie tribute band’ by The stupid Guardian, but this is a very blinkered view of the tour and disrespectful to both Tony, Woody and their band, and the audience who are absolutely in tune with hearing this music played live… because, let’s face it, if Bowie ever does tour again, he is never going to sing these songs, and in fact, never did: ‘All the Madmen’, ‘Running Gun Blues’, ‘After All’, ‘She Shook Me Cold’? Bowie never sang them live.  And the thing is, these songs have lived in Bowie-fan’s hearts for decades, we love them and want to hear them.  The band is over-qualified?  No, perfectly qualified.  Tribute band, even when half the members are present?  No.  Unless The Who are a tribute band as well, with their two existing members.

The first part of tonight’s show is as advertised, “The Man Who Sold the World” album played in full.  From the first howls of feedback that introduce ‘Width of a Circle’, to Woody’s thundering tom toms of ‘The Supermen’, you know that any doubts that may have lurked in your black heart, fade away like light mist on a clear, crisp winter’s morning.

I guess my only doubt had been whether Glenn Gregory (of Heaven 17) would be able to fill the platform boots of Mr Bowie.  It is pretty clear, very quickly that there is a reason why he was Visconti’s first choice for the job.  Glenn manages to tread a very fine line between being himself and delivering the ‘Bowie voice’ often lampooned (albeit with a great affection) by the likes of Adam and Joe.  He holds his own through technically difficult tracks like ‘The Superman’ and ‘Life On Mars’, through tongue twisters in ‘Black Country Rock’ and ‘Width of a Circle’, and blasts out ‘Five Years’, ‘Rock n Roll Suicide’ and ‘Suffragette City’ as if the songs are his own – on the stand out track ‘She Shook Me Cold’ in particular, he finds a voice I never realised he had in him, it is raw and bluesy and totally believable.   Probably like the rest of us, Glenn has been singing these songs in his head for decades.  In fact, there are a couple of instances when I believe Glenn thought he was still singing along with the albums, as he fluffed lines as if he expected David’s voice to still be there on the record.

There are a few mistakes during the performance and ‘Black Country Rock’ and ‘Changes’ have to be re-started, but this is actually a refreshing change from so many over rehearsed shows I have witnessed recently in which everyone plays like a robot and there are no alterations from one night to the next.  The band are noticeably enjoying ever note of this set and are often just getting lost in the fun.  At one point I notice something strange on my face, and it is a mile wide grin that stays in place for the entire two hour show.

After a stunning rendition of ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ album in full, which includes an overly theatrical Marc Almond on the overtly theatrical ‘After All’, with the crowd joining in on the ‘Oh by jingo’s, the rest of the night is a selection of songs from Bowie albums that Woody Woodmansey played a pivotal role (and Visconti was ditched for Ken Scott) – some have said this is Bowie’s golden period, but I would argue Bowie was golden up to and including  Baal.

The setlist is below but maybe not quite in order because by the time Woody’s unmistakable drum intro to ‘Five Years’ kicks in, the rest of the night is a fantastic blur.

It is almost impossible to pick a highlight because it is all good, but when Lisa Ronson takes centre stage to sing ‘Lady Stardust’, not many things are better… ever.  It is not just her personal connection to this music through her dad, and it is not just that Mick Ronson died tragically before his time, it is that she puts her heart and soul into the performance: Oh how I sighed, when they asked if I knew her name, should be the words tonight.

Marc Almond also returns to the stage to recreate splendidly the medley from the Ziggy gig at Hammersmith Odeon in 1973: ‘The Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud – All the Young Dudes – Oh! You Pretty Things’.  He hams up the over dramatic ‘Wild Eyed Boy…’ beautifully and the band segues from song to song as close to that legendary live performance as could be possible.

‘Watch That Man’ is also a joy as Glenn and Marc practically chase each other around the stage.  The lack of ego within the band is frankly astonishing and the generous way the artists support and provide time for each other during the performances is wonderful to see.

The night finishes with Glenn introducing the last song of the night: “A quiet song,” he laughs before admitting, “Not really… this is Suffragette City!”  Cue the Gibson Les Paul Custom growl of the song’s intro.  Wham bam thank you maam, indeed!

The audience at this point are ecstatic and the whole band joins together at the front of the stage to take their bows.  Woody (Mick), takes the opportunity to thank everyone for their support and he is visibly overwhelmed by the huge response from the Birmingham audience.  I guess the thing is, for people who love Bowie, it is not just him – when you listen to the albums from 1970 to 1973, his band’s sound, which includes the artistry of Woody for the whole period and Tony during 1970, is woven into those songs and sounds, so it is their music not just David’s.  I remember first looking at the four faces on the inner sleeve of Ziggy and thinking this is a band not a solo artist.  Bowie never sounded like this again, so it is special that this period of his career is being given a new lease of life.

Oh and did I mention that Tony Visconti is up on stage playing bass!  Tony f**kin Visconti!  If that doesn’t impress you, then you need to head for a Google-search now.  Glenn said a number of times through the night – “this is Woody and Tony, do you realise how special that is!”  Yes!

“The Man Who Sold the World” may not have the allure of some of Bowie’s other work and some may even say it is inferior.  They are horribly mistaken.  Not only is it a fine collection of songs, it has a powerful undercurrent of what was to become heavy metal running through it.  It has moments of incredibly recorded guitar work and fascinating song structures and arrangements, with changing tempos and time signatures.  Under appreciated and underrated by many, but not tonight.  I look around and everyone is smiling and singing along.  I look up and Glenn Gregory is loving every word and note he is singing – he even throws in a few Ziggy high kicks for good measure.  I almost expect him to deliver Ziggy’s retirement speech before ‘Rock n Roll Suicide’.

If it isn’t clear how much I loved this show, then it may be that I am trying to be professional.  But seriously Woody and Tony, Glenn and Lisa, Marc and everyone, thank you.

If this is what can be done during Bowie’s retirement from live performances, then stay retired Mr B.  Now I am waiting for the Lower Third to get back together – ‘And I Say to Myself’ anyone?

 

(By the way if anyone knows where I can see the picture that was taken of the band with the audience behind them, please leave a comment.

Also, big thanks have to go to Birmingham Academy tonight, who responded to my tweets within moments to confirm my review pass.  Without it I would have missed one of the best shows of the year.)

 

Setlist from:

The Man Who Sold the World album in full (vocal on ‘After All’ by Marc Almond)

Five Years

Soul Love

Moonage Daydream

Lady Stardust (vocal by Lisa Ronson)

Medley from Hammersmith Odeon 1973:

The Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud – All the Young Dudes – Oh! You Pretty Things (vocal by Marc Almond)

Ziggy Stardust

Rock n Roll Suicide

Life On Mars?

Changes

Watch That Man (duet Glenn and Marc)

Time

Suffragette City

 

Review: Alan Neilson

Photo – courtesy of 02 Academy PR

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2 Responses to “Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey @ o2 Academy, 29th June 2015” Subscribe

  1. Martin July 1, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

    The selfie pics were taken on Gaz De Vere s camera and he is working on them so ,keep an eye out .

  2. Martin July 1, 2015 at 7:58 pm #

    The selfie pics were taken on Gaz De Vere s camera and he is working on them so ,keep an eye out .
    And I totally agree with your review .

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