Right let’s get the elephant in the room out the way right from the start, shall we? Holy Holy are most definitely NOT a tribute band. The band declare this on the website, and tonight having waited a few years to finally see them live in the right type of venue (as in all standing, not seated) I do have to wonder why anyone would think otherwise. After all, this band features Woody Woodmansey the drummer from The Spiders From Mars along with world-renowned producer Tony Visconti and they celebrate the music of David Bowie, the music they worked with him on. This is not a bunch of failed rockers from Cleethorpes all donning wigs at the weekend pretending to be some band they most certainly never will be.
Do I need to go on? No? Good…..
First up tonight for those through the doors early choosing not to stay in the pub to watch Newport County’s soon to be ended FA Cup crusade we are treated to a short and sweet acoustic set from ex-I Am Kloot frontman John Bramwell. Welcoming a fast-growing crowd with acoustic tracks is never an easy task for any artist, but here tonight John does this with suitable aplomb and its credit to the strength of his onstage character and songs that he actually gets the room to remain pretty much in silence – albeit for some understandable chatter from the bar area. Not knowing any of the songs prior to tonight the single most striking thing I find about his performance is that it feels perfectly within the context of tonight’s headliners, with his songs being coloured with the merest hint of early Bowie. So, what did I make of it all? Well almost straight after the show a good friend of mine was quick to ask me via social media what I thought of John Bramwell, and all I could think of in reply was “impressive”, simply because he was just that.
With that tribute band matter already dealt with I will openly admit I had struggled with the whole concept of how Holy Holy might capture the true magic of Bowie live, and for me the whole reason why this particular concept works so well is because in Glenn Gregory Visconti and Woodmansey have found their perfect frontman, someone who whilst obviously being a fan, doesn’t try to be David Bowie. Playing the albums ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’ in full and in sequence it is Gregory who people ultimately look to as master of ceremonies and here beaming from ear to ear he ALMOST does the impossible making you forget that ultimately these are David Bowie songs not his own.
Of the rest of the seven-piece outfit guitarists Paul Cudderford and James Stevenson have their Les Pauls well and truly set to Ronson, whilst cowboy-hatted keyboardist Berenice Scott cuts a towering almost Corey Parks like figure up on her riser. Back out front, we have multi-instrumentalist Jessica Lee Morgan (the daughter of Tony Visconti) adding in all the subtleties and nuances whilst also making her father smile proudly during her version of ‘Lady Stardust’, the only song for which Gregory takes a breather. Plus of course there’s Woody Woodmansey, still very much a powerhouse of a drummer at 68 years young, and the mercurial figure of Visconti, who at 74 cuts the image of bassist half his age.
As already stated, setlist wise the almost two and a quarter hours the band spend on stage together tonight starts with the epic progressive hard rock of ‘The Width Of A Circle’ and ends with the New York influenced art rock of ‘Rock N Roll Suicide’ and its simply fantastic to hear these songs afforded the proper love and affection they so rightly deserve, and with the two albums played out in full and in sequence, this is so much more than a nostalgia trip .
‘Supermen’, ‘Moonage Daydream’ and ‘Starman’ are just some of my favourite songs aired tonight and it feels like everyone around me has their own favourites too, it’s just such a shame they don’t have time to play all of ‘Hunky Dory’ too.
Thankfully some songs from my all-time favourite David Bowie LP (‘Changes’ and ‘Life On Mars?’) do show up during the encore, but not before we are treated to the Visconti produced curveball of ‘Where Are We Know?’ from Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’, a song I think I’m right in saying you would otherwise never have heard performed live.
Ending with ‘Rebel Rebel’ and a few words from tonight’s sponsors (Woodmansey and Visconti) it’s impossible not the feel the genuine warmth the band have not only for the songs they have just played but also the fact that they are playing to a “proper” standing audience.
This ladies and gentlemen most certainly is rock ‘n’ roll.
Author: Johnny Hayward