“We’re not a tribute band; we are the real deal” says Tony Visconti about Holy Holy.  Given that he, in his role as David Bowie’s long-term producer,  and his band-mate, Spiders From Mars drummer Mick “Woody” Woodmansey, probably have more experience of working with the glam-era Bowie than anyone else alive, that is no hollow claim.

That said; the audience may be here tonight to see Holy Holy but we are also here because David Bowie can’t be. We, and the band, whether tribute band or real deal,  are here to pay tribute – not only to Bowie but to fellow Spiders From Mars Mick Ronson and Trevor Bolder – by celebrating Bowie’s music and the contribution that Visconti and the Spiders made to it.

Holy Holy are described as a supergroup, which may be slightly overstating their individual level of fame, but all of the members do have a track record as impressive musicians.  Visconti and Woodmansey are of course a given; vocalist Glenn Gregory fronted 80’s electro-pop pioneers Heaven 17; guitarists James Stevenson and Paul Cudderford have served time with The Cult and Ian Hunter amongst others; Keyboardist Bernice Scott features in the latest Heaven 17 line up and vocalist, guitarist and sax player Jessica Lee Morgan has a solid musical pedigree as the daughter of Tony Visconti and singer Mary Hopkin.

The band warm up with Width Of A Circle from The Man Who Sold The World before announcing that they will play the Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars album in its entirety.  Woody starts up the unmistakable drum beat that underpins Five Years.  Gregory faces up to an impossible task.  Quite simply, he is not David Bowie.  Wisely, he knows better than to even try to “do a Bowie” but manages to convey Bowie’s style without resorting to imitation. There is way too much respect here to allow this evening to turn into some sort of Ziggy Stardust In Their Eyes charade. 

   

Both Stevenson and Cudderford have the have the requisite heft and crunch in their guitars to replicate that glam rock grunt.  Visconti and Woodmansey are a rock-solid rhythm section.  Woody impresses with deft fills but is never showy.  Visconti’s training as a ‘cellist means he knows his way all around the neck of his bass and his playing is both melodic and rhythmically rooted.           

Soul Love is up next.  Jessica Lee Morgan switches from acoustic guitar to sax for the solo.  For all Bowie’s talents, he was a pretty rudimentary sax player and she captures his distinctive, reedy tone.  Crunchy power chords usher in Teenage Moondream and Jessica’s 12 string acoustic here and throughout the show reminds me how much of a contribution this made to Bowie’s overall sound during this period of his music.

As you would expect from an audience of Bowie fans they need no encouragement to sing along and Starman provides a perfect opportunity, particularly in the “lah lah” end section. There isn’t a song on the …Ziggy Stardust album much over four and a half minutes and so it comes as bit of a surprise to realise that with It Ain’t Easy we are already almost halfway through.  Morgan takes lead vocals for Lady Stardust before Gregory returns to launch into Star, Bernice Scott’s pounding piano taking centre stage.  The pace builds with Hang On To Yourself – twin guitar riffs and some particularly agile bass playing – and then it’s time for one of the most iconic guitar intros in pop history as Stevenson peals out the opening notes of Ziggy Stardust.  Suffragette City is given a relentless thrashing –in a good way- and all too soon we are into the final track, Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide. A classic album performed fat-free; to quote an earlier song: “Wham-bam, thank you Ma’am”.

But we are not finished yet, Holy Holy have a whole lot more to offer.  The band lurch into the Wildeyed Boy From Freecloud/All The Young Dudes/Oh, You Pretty Things medley from the Hammersmith Odeon 3 July 1973 performance.  Wildeyed Boy is a little scrappy but All The Young Dudes and Oh,You Pretty Things provide great singalong opportunities for the audience.  It’s sobering to think though that a good proportion of the young dudes and pretty things here tonight will have grandchildren approaching the age of the original Ziggy audience.

The remainder of the set is virtually an early Seventies greatest hits package: Changes, Life On Mars, Space Oddity.  Supermen, Black Country Rock feature from The Man That Sold The World, as does that album’s title track.  Watch That Man from Aladdin Sane brings the set to an end.

Having been promised by Glenn Gregory that if we make enough noise Mr Visconti and Mr Woodmansey will let us have another song, we get two: Time, again from Aladdin Sane and ‘Heroes’, without which I guess no David Bowie set would be complete.  Cudderford struggles a little to tame his ebowed lead lines, lacking the finesse that Robert Fripp brought to the original but no one is complaining (well, except me obviously).

Mick Woodmansey speaks to the audience to thank us for coming tonight and for our appreciation of Bowie, Bolder and Ronson;  it’s not difficult to imagine them smiling down in approval.  Ziggy and The Spiders may no longer be with us but while Holy Holy keep their memory alive, they will never be too far away.

John Scott

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