Three years on from Bowie’s death, his bandmate Woody Woodmansey still finds the concept of him being “gone” utterly surreal.
“He’s probably in my thoughts most of the time,” says Woody, “but it’s the same for everyone – he doesn’t go away. The music we created has lasted the test of time. We never ever thought the music we made 40 years ago would still be on the radio.”
Together with producer Tony Visconti, drummer and “Spider Man from Mars” Woody are getting set to take their Holy Holy tour around the UK with an all star band including glorious Bowie-esque vocals from Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory. The group will perform Bowie’s material from 1969-73.
I ask Woody about meeting David for the first time, when he arrived at his flat in a big gothic building in Beckenham… “I had all these questions in my head,” says Woody. “Like: was he clever or thick? Could he write? Mick [Ronson] had raved on and on about him. I was expecting this curly-haired folkie from Space Oddity but he opened the door in a rainbow T-shirt, silver belt and red corduroy trousers and shoes he’d painted blue stars on. We chatted about music and I could tell he was intelligent. Then he picked his 12 string up and amazed me with his presence – he never flinched for a moment.”
Woody duly turned down the tempting offer of a managerial job at a glasses factory in his native Yorkshire to join Bowie down in London and make history. “The music industry had become so
boring and we wanted to give it a kick up the ****, which I guess we did!” laughs Woody.
I ask Woody whether his love of music started at school. “No! I didn’t become aware if music until after school,” he laughs his throaty, smoky cackle. “I just played Hendrix, Led Zep and Cream records, putting my finger on the vinyl to slow it down a bit and hear what the drums were doing so I could copy it. I only learned the rudiments later.”
This time three years ago, Woody and the band were playing the High Line in New York, not far from where David lived. “It was his birthday and Tony decided to call him. We played a bad karaoke version of Happy Birthday. The audience joined in and he loved that. He asked them what they thought of Black Star, which had come out that day and they went wild! We said we’d catch up soon but of course never did because two days later his son messaged the news. David had always seemed invincible. On the Ziggy tours he was barely eating and was often really ill but he always got on stage and smashed it. After the news we weren’t sure whether to carry on but David would have so we did, in celebration of him. And here we are now, still celebrating him. Our rider might be a bit less rock and roll but the spirit is just the same.”
● The Holy Holy UK tour runs from 8th to 24th February, including shows at Guildford’s G Live and London Palladium.