Holy Holy Bowie @ Colston Hall, Bristol, 15/04/2017

Bowie lives, of course. No individual who made such a long-term contribution to the glitter industry can be allowed to die. It was Ziggy that died in January 2016, so that Bowie could live forever. And the men in charge of the artistic expression of Ziggy Stardust’s corpse finally returned to Bristol, after a 45-year absence, to play his funeral march as Bowie-blessed cover band Holy Holy.

Holy Holy were formed in 2014 by men who believed that the people of Hull were finally for the concept of the song. Specifically Bowie’s songs - and more specifically, the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in its sequential entirety. An album which, despite winning cautiously positive reviews by the Guardian, was never toured. However, drummer and original Spider Woody Woodmansey and long term Bowie producer Tony Visconti have historically displayed less Dadaist inclinations than our David, and for several years now have been touring the album worldwide.

Since January last year, the project has taken on different, symbolic nature and is now promoted as a legacy event -  a Bowie mausoleum, a surrealist pantomime that refuses to die after Christmas - in order to demonstrate to today’s feckless, Instagram-fattened youth how crazy and recklessly beautiful music was in the 1970s. A pantomime, supported by a well-stocked cover band, but led by arguably the least compelling member of the original band: the drummer. Let the music play.

The Rise and Fall… is an undeniably great album. Most interesting possibly not for its bisexual hero’s fondness for interstellar cottaging (since as time passed it became clear how much of the narrative was stolen from William Burroughs LOL), but for its view into '70s London from the eyes of a young musician named David. "Five Years", like some of the other material that was intended for the album but didn’t make it there ("John I’m Only Dancing", "Jean Genie") could easily have blended in on Aladdin Sane or Pin Ups. The man hired to wear Bowie’s skin is Glen Gregory, formerly of Heaven 17 and now with a shaven head, in an obvious attempt to trick well-meaning people into forgetting that he was responsible for “(We Don’t Need That) Fascist Groove Thang” in 1981. Gregory does an interesting thing. He reveals, fairly subtly and (probably) unintentionally, how alpha-surreal most of Rise and Fall is. Bowie’s delivery, far less cock-oriented than Gregory’s (Ronson’s fellated guitar aside) mostly hid this, but Gregory (despite being a good rock singer) is just a lad singing some tunes about groupies. Wicked mate. It flattens the evening slightly, despite the material being sonically inoffensive. And no one cares of course. They’ve come for the memories.

After finishing Rise and Fall they do a number of other Bowie songs, written after the Spiders ended, that Holy Holy are magnanimous enough to ignore. They close the encore with "Heroes", and afterwards Woody Woodmansey, who hasn’t seen Bowie since 1976 (and who commented in the wake of Bowie’s death that the thing that tied the original Spiders together was a “dry Yorkshire sense of humour”) came to the front of the stage to thank the crowd for their “bopping”, congratulate the road crew for their various contributions during the tour, and forgot to mention his wife. Bowie would have loved a gag like that, the Yorkshire rogue. Reminiscing about the Spiders' original gig at Colston Hall in “1972, or was it '73?” Woodmansey observes how similar it is now, "but different outside”. Remarkable stories to hear first hand.

Bowie’s dead though, of course. Ashes to ashes.


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