||WHEN HULL MET HEAVEN - A WHOLLY HOLY CELEBRATION OF THE JEAN GENIUS OF BOWIE
Woody Woodmansey & Tony Visconti's Holy Holy
London Shepherd's Bush Empire
Thursday 30th March 2017
2nd April 2017
Words and Pictures: Andy Rawll
Holy Holy sprinkled stardust on some of Bowie's greatest songs at a venue that I've never seen so packed, heard so much noise from the crowd and felt so much love in the room.
Formed in 2014 by last Spider standing, Woody Woodmansey and longstanding collaborator, Tony Visconti, Holy Holy celebrates the songs of David Bowie, from his eponymous second album in 1969 up to 1973's Aladdin Sane. Indeed, the presence of these key protagonists, from the life of one of our most beloved artists and a hand-picked all-star band, ensures both an evocative and authentic sound as well a respectful yet powerful performance.
"We're not a tribute band; we are the real deal" affirms sonic sensei Visconti and who are we to doubt him?
This is the second tour cycle for the band, having first assembled to perform the oft-overlooked 1970 psyche-prog masterpiece, 'The Man Who Sold The World' in 2014. The performance at the same London venue in June of that year was particular memorable, with guest performers supplementing the core band, notably Marc Almond on the torchy 'After all', Gary Kemp on a golden 'Starman' and even Daphne Guinness on ethereal backing vocals.
This time around the focus is on the acclaimed 'Ziggy Stardust' album, which the US Library of Congress recently selected for induction into their National Recording Registry, with the aim to preserve recordings for posterity that are of "cultural, artistic and historical importance to American society". Such is the universal recognition of that album, there is less need to embellish the line-up to draw-in committed and casual Bowie fans alike.
Indeed, the band has been trimmed to a magnificent seven-piece and yields a more cohesive and impactful performance without the distraction of a conveyer-belt of guests. In particular, this enables heavenly front-man Glenn Gregory to assert his authoritative vocals and masterly stage presence from start to finish. This really helps the pacing of the set and enabled him to deliver the songs with the spirit and attitude of Bowie, without needing to mimic that inimitable voice.
The iconic double-tracked Ronson guitar sound is reproduced powerfully and eloquently by the right-hand drive of James Stevenson (the Cult; The Alarm) partnered with the left-handed throttle of Paul Cuddeford (Ian Hunter). Never straying from the Ronno 'less is more' template, both players combine to deliver the rich melodic tone at the heart of Bowie's rock oeuvre with taste and control.
Given the focus on songs that pre-date the soul of 'Young Americans' and the eclectic Berlin trilogy, there's little need for fascist groove synths. Keyboard anchor-woman, Berenice Scott kept it classy, providing subtle fills and lush backing for cinematic songs like 'Space Oddity' and occasional piano flair, such as the tricksy fairground jazz accompaniment to 'Time'.
During the support set, we were introduced to the sibling talent of Jessica Lee Morgan and Morgan Visconti, both exemplary songwriters and performers in their own right. Their shared acoustic guest spot enabled them to alternate lead vocals and provided a beguiling mix of Jessica's edgy folk songs like 'I Am Not', and Morgan's darker prog-pop, like 'Can't Say Goodbye' (from his electro-pop release 'Ride') all underpinned by Christian Thomas's propulsive bass.
As well as previewing tracks from her forthcoming album 'Around the Block', Jess was kept busy throughout the evening as Holy Holy's Jill of all trades, adding supporting percussion, guitar and saxophone to the mix as well as providing a warm, compelling lead vocal on 'Lady Stardust'. Just as on the bonus live track on her album, it was a lovely to see Tony join son and daughter on-stage to provide backing vocals on 'This Is My Love Song To You'.
Woody's percussive verve is as well-known as his arachnid past and his playing was as powerful and inventive as ever. It's the other half of Holy Holy's rhythm section that is perhaps the least acknowledged. As documented in his fine autobiography 'Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy', Tony Visconti has not only an impeccable pedigree as a studio engineer and producer, he's also a trained and road-hardened musician and highly accomplished, sometimes uncredited, arranger.
It was great to see him front and centre on the 2014 tour, finally performing the bass parts he played on the original album. This time he steps up his playing to deliver lines originally recorded by the mighty Trevor Bolder during 'Ziggy', in his own cool, precise and melodic style.
Although centred around the complete performance of 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars', to use the full album title, the set included almost half of the songs from 'The Man Who Sold the World' with the title track and set opener 'The Width of the Circle' highlights.
If the first part of the show was a wildly-received homage, the second was a raucous celebration, topped by the 'Hunky Dory' holy holy trinity of 'Life on Mars', 'Changes' and 'Oh You Pretty Things'.
There was also a surprise in a mid-set medley including 'Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud', originally the B-side companion to Space Oddity, segueing into 'All The Young Dudes'. Although different styles and from different eras, this served to reinforce the unique timeless appeal and reach of Bowie's music that lives on 45 years from the release of Ziggy. Equally, with the plaudits for final album 'Blackstar' still reverberating around the cosmos, I get the feeling that somehow, somewhere, Major Tom can still hear us.
This was a gig that will live long in the memory of those that were there and remind them of those that sadly were not. As inspired by the final song of this momentous show: nothing will ever drive Bowie's music away, as unlike the rest of us, he will remain a hero for more than just one day.
HOLY HOLY – MAIN SET-LIST
Width Of A Circle
It Ain't Easy
Hang On To Yourself
Rock 'N' Roll Suicide
Wild Eyed Boy – All The Young Dudes – Oh You Pretty Things
Life On Mars
Black Country Rock
The Man Who Sold The World
Watch That Man
SUPPORT SET LIST
When I Was Young
Can't Say Goodbye
Always On Time
Show And Tell
JESSICA LEE MORGAN
What The Hell Was I Thinking
Waiting To Leave
I Am Not
You Get What You Deserve
This Is My Love Song To You
Holy Holy are playing the iconic Friars at Aylesbury tomorrow (Mon 3/4/17) marking the 45th anniversary of the World Debut of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars at the original Friars on 29th January 1972.
Remaining Holy Holy dates:
3rd April: Friars - Aylesbury
13th April: Philharmonic Hall - Liverpool
14th April: Foundry - Sheffield
15th April: Colston Hall - Bristol