Words By: Gerrod Harris

Woody Woodmansey-the original drummer for the Spiders From Mars, David Bowie’s backing band during his Ziggy Stardust era- has put together his newest touring outfit, Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy, a tribute band paying homage to Bowie’s work in the late 60’s to the mid 70’s during said era. The band also featured Toni Visconti, Bowie’s long-time producer and cowriter, from the sixties to his latest release, Blackstar, on bass. Along with Glenn Gregory (vocals), James Stevenson, Terry Edwards, and Paul Cuddeford (guitars), Berenice Scott (keyboards) and Visconti’s daughter, Jessica Morgan (backup vocals), Holy Holy were a more than capable band to pay such a tribute. With recent shows in the UK and Japan, when the tragic news of Bowie’s passing on Sunday, January 10th, 2016 (you can read my reflection on his career and artistry here), their first, and at the time only, Toronto show on Tuesday the 12th hung in a standstill; would they carry on with the show and truly celebrate the life of one of the world’s greatest artist, or should they cancel and mourn the loss of their close friend? Deciding that it would be what Bowie would want, the show went on, and sold out! With so much demand, a second show was organised for the following night, and it was here on the 13th, at Toronto’s Opera House where I joined yet another sold out celebration, which was as spectacular, as it was bittersweet.

From the very beginning, both Visconti and Woodmansey made it clear that this show was not meant to capitalize on Bowie’s passing as it had been organised long before hand, but it was, however, the first two shows since his death. Originally what was supposed to be a tribute to his music had become both memorial and a therapeutic performance for those involved as well as the audience. As advertised, the band played through Bowie’s 1970 album, The Man Who Sold The World, which both Woodmansey and Visconti’s performed on. Aside from the excellent quality of the material found on the album, The Man Who Sold The World was also a landmark album as it bridged the gap between the acoustic folk and the emerging electric psychedelic movement-two camps which did not see eye on their respective genres. Before this record, most musicians stuck to one, and it was almost blasphemous to blend the two. With this, it also paved the way from Bowie’s folk roots into his first major creative peak, where he presumed the identity of Ziggy Stardust, the space oddity who fell from a star down to earth. With three guitarists, Holy Holy added a modern heaviness, something missing from the album, to the deep cuts of the likes of “The Width Of A Circle”, “Black Country Blues” and of course, “The Man Who Sold The World”. Their performance level was that of excellency, and despite the fact that the only hit from the album was the title track, their play through went by in what felt like no time.

Gregory’s vocal work was phenomenal. He could hit the high notes with a great sense of power while emulating a tone resembling Bowie’s. He carried a great presence with him too and walked a line which paid tribute to the slithery nature of Ziggy while not becoming a parody or a close mimic. This was further demonstrated during the following string of hits from Bowie’s work in the early 70’s. With as much proficiency they performed an array of songs, including “Moonage Daydream consisting of”, “All The Young Dudes”, “Watch That Man”, “Five Years”, “Changes”, and “Ziggy Stardust”. Gregory teared up following an incredibly emotional rendition of “Life On Mars” where he sang it perfectly, but surely felt the love, support and adoration that the Toronto audience offered him. Ending with a bang, Holy Holy ended their set with “Suffragette City” and the crowd nearly exploded, so loud that I could not hear Gregory on the mic, as we all belted at the top of our lungs, “WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA’AM”!

Shows like this are a rare breed. I’m not one to normally go to a tribute concert, but given the recent circumstances, the chance to hear some classic Bowie from a number of talented musicians with various connections to him was one I could not pass on. I think it is safe to say that everyone else felt the same as I did: we recently lost a figure, an artist, whom provided a soundtrack to most of our lives, and we wanted, no, needed, a reminder that while he may have passed on, his music and legacy is still ours. Holy Holy certainly did not disappoint in that manner. They put on an incredible performance, staying true to the original music while putting enough of a fresh spin on it to prevent it from sounding like a cover band, and most of all, they captured a spirit of high energy. Naturally there was a heaviness in the air, one which felt damn suffocating, but Holy Holy did their absolute best to relieve that, bringing us all a little closer to Bowie. As if we were one, we swayed, and had some of the loudest sing-alongs as Bowie’s early work brought along a string of stories and memories, as I’m sure it did for many others in attendance. Thank you Holy Holy for carrying on with the show when you were more than justified to cancel, and once again, may you rest in peace, David Bowie.


Track Listing

1: The Width Of A Circle

2: All The Madmen

3: Black Country Rock

4: After All

5: Running Gun Blues

6: Saviour Machine

7: She Shook Me Cold

8: The Man Who Sold The World

9: The Supermen

10: Five Years

11: Soul Love

12: Moonage Daydream

13: Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud

14: All The Young Dudes

15: Oh! You Pretty Things

16: Changes

17: Life On Mars

18: Ziggy Stardust

19: Lady Stardust (featuring Jessica Morgan on lead vocals)

20: Watch That Man

21: Time

22: Suffragette City

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