If it were not for a prescient vision aged 18, seeing himself in his later years, comfortable, family surrounding, car in the drive, Woody Woodmansey may not have taken his place alongside Mick Ronson Trevor Bolder and David Bowie. Had he taken that job in Driffield starting Monday, he wouldn’t have had to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag for the next year, and he wouldn’t have been a part of, what many regard as, one of the most important moments in rock n roll.
Woody was three when he received his first drum kit his uncles told him ‘Make as much noise as you like kid.’ At 6 years old he staged a trumpet tantrum in Woolworths. Later as a teen, while playing football in an agricultural yard, he heard the sound of live music emanating from a disused air raid shelter, after being sent to retrieve the ball from a far corner of the yard. Intrigued he went for a closer look.
‘They’d kicked the football over the combine harvesters and out of sight so I beat my way through the nettles and saw the air raid shelter with the silver door with the words ‘The Cave’ on it.’
Lit by the light cast by a single red bulb, a rhythm and blues band were rehearsing. Woody Woodmansey tells this tale, like it’s an opening scene from a film adding detail and emphasis to convey just how momentous this moment had been. Within no time at all his mates have followed suit and began forming bands, gigging around Hull. He recalls some of the set list ‘Green Onions, Satisfaction and something called Swan Lake.’ That’s by some bloke called Tchaikovsky Russ Litten quips and the packed out crowd laugh. Russ is reprising his role of host and interviewer – as he did with the successful Lyricull series – and like then, the library is once more full of eager punters, hanging on to Woody’s every word.
Many people in the crowd will have known Woody’s story of drummer in the seminal Spiders from Mars with David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust era. His name and legend along with Mick Ronson’s have become part of local folklore. Responding to the on-going question about how to honour Mick Ronson’s place in rock n roll history, a stage, a statue, an iconic guitar sculpture, he says rather pointedly,’Nobody ever says let’s have a statue for Trevor.’ He reminds the crowd that without Trevor’s bass lines, Mick Ronson would never have played his guitar the way he did.
It’s this ‘inside the band’ story that Woody has over all the other pretenders who write about Bowie. Woody talks about knocking on the door of Bowie’s London home and this unearthly figure answering the door, wearing red corduroys, a rainbow t-shirt and bangles on his wrist. They sat down and David began to play him some stuff. Together with Mick and Tony Visconti they would go on to make the album The Man Who Sold The World. ‘When did you ditch the cheesecloth Woody?’ Russ asks.
There were definite moments of pathos tonight, made all the more so by Bowie’s recent and untimely death, a change in the atmosphere, as Woody describes Bowie’s descent into drug-fuelled psychosis.
‘He wasn’t there anymore, he had to be Ziggy on stage and off stage, for the media and press: it was like a mask he could no longer take off.’
There was a whole lot more to it of course, but you’ll have to read the book to find out about, all the ins and outs, about the early days touring as The Rats; the three takes rule in the recording studio; the bizarre food requests in The Plaza Hotel during a U.S. tour, sausage with ice cream, ballet with crisps and pop.
The audience listen, fascinated by the idea of three lads from Hull being educated in stagecraft and stage presence, costume and make up: taking ideas from the theatre and putting them in a rock band. Woody describes how some of the most memorable moments in music history came to be; that Top of the Pops moment during Starman; the time when Bowie tried to bite Mick’s guitar but it looked like he was going down on him, and that final electrifying performance in 1973, at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.
Towards the end of the evening Woody began to talk about the nature of creativity itself. He described how he thought all people had an innate creativity inside them, the only difference was that some people find an outlet, a platform, pick up an instrument, write, paint whatever and let it out.
The event didn’t finish till hours later, what with all the book signing and photographs, such is the affection and esteem folk have for Woody.
Buy My Life With David Bowie by Woody Woodmansey Here
Personal memories from the crowd tonight:
A few recollections of when the Rats played at Withernsea High School. Must have been 1969. I was charged with looking after the band, and they were mightily unimpressed with the catering. Paper plates,sandwiches, crisps and soft drinks only. No bar. My memories are not helped by the fact that a friend and I used to share a bottle of sherry before school dances.The Rats were a bit”heavy” for most of my schoolmates, but I loved them. Most of the kids preferred the disco. Philistines! … David Osgerby
I seem to have spent the last eight years immersed in Hull’s musical history working on Front Room Masters:Fairview Studios 1966-1973 and A Perfect Combination Fairview Studios 1973 – 1993. The Spider from Mars feature on A Perfect Combination and finally I got to meet Woody and hand over a copy in person and listen to his story.
From the back streets of Driffield to the Carnegie Hall, in just a few years was some journey. And great to hear Woody giving Trevor Bolder such credit for the Ziggy sound – it’s not all about Mick. I’ve always had a soft spot for Trevor since I bought my first Record from Bolder Record Bar on Gipsyville all those years ago.Memories are made of this… Andy Richardson. www.perfectcombinationhull.bandcamp.com