Bowiefest Day One – Review

Today sees the start of a film festival that I had never dared dream happen. A festival celebrating the cinematic work of David Bowie. Despite thinking that this appealed to me, and me alone, tickets have been selling so fast the ICA have had to schedule further screenings of Labyrinth and The Hunger to satisfy demand.

For the next three days I will be watching ALL THE BOWIE (which I believe is the internet-approved vernacular) and reporting and reviewing everything for you lucky, lucky Failed Critics readers. There may even be something special for our podcast listeners…

Culture Now: Woody Woodmansey in conversation with Tom Wilcox

This is a film site, so I can won’t say too much about this wonderful event as it was purely focused on the music of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

What I will say is that Woody Woodmansey is a very warm and compelling individual, who shone a light on some dark corners of the era in question.

One of the most interesting things I learned this afternoon was that before recording Hunky Dory, Mick Ronson returned to his childhood piano teacher in Hull to ‘finish his studies’ and learn arrangement. His first arrangement after that? Life on Mars.

It was also interesting to hear the Bowie/Spiders creative process at the time. Ziggy Stardust was recorded in just a week, due to the fact the band never did more than 3 takes of a song. Woodmansey explains “When you do it a third time you’re repeating. Not creating.” In fact while recording the first take of Jean Genie, Trevor Bolding hit a wrong bass note. Although the band got ready to go again, Bowie said “that’s the take”. Bolding tried to explain that he’d made a mistake, but Bowie said he actually liked it. Fascinating insight.

We were also treated to an exclusive announcement while Woodmansey was discussing the influence Ziggy had on many contemporary artists. He and Bolder will be playing Ziggy in full at Hammersmith Apollo in April with guest musicians. I personally cannot wait.

Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture

If I had a time machine the first thing I would do wouldn’t be to go back and kill Hitler, or look at dinosaurs. No, I’d travel back to Hammersmith Odeon on 3rd July to see the last ever gig by Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

This was the infamous gig where Bowie “had to break up the band”, which was news to drummer Woody Woodmansey and bassist Trevor Bolder.

Tonight’s screening is preceeded by a few words from Mick Ronson’s sister Maggie. She shared with us her memories from the tour, and I’ll happily admit I nearly shed a tear in the cinema once more.

Once the film started I felt closer to the events than ever before. Not just because of the excellent screening facilities at the ICA, but because I’m watching it with a large group of people all here for the same purpose. We tap our feet in unison. We laugh at the same places during the intimate, almost cute, backstage footage, and we cheer and applaud like crazy at the end of every song.

What really comes across in this film is how much of a band the Spiders from Mars where, and how they were vital for Bowie’s sound at the time. He may have dispensed with their service services by the time Diamond Dogs was recorded, but you could argue he tried, and failed, to recreate that vibe for the rest of his career. Ronson especially takes centre stage on a number of occasions to showcase his incredible talent.

Finally, it was great to see a number of kids in the audience. You are never too young to watch this film. And you can never watch it too many times.

And that’s that for Day One. A nice easy start to the festival that highlighted what I already knew about David Bowie – that he’s a musical genius and the run of Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane is up there with any artists’ most creative period in human history.

Tomorrow we get our teeth into more complex and controversial arguments about Bowie’s worth as an actor.

Things I’ve learned today: The Ronson family still drink ‘Ziggy Specials’ – advocat, brandy, and lemonade. Ouch!

Quote of the day: “We liked Velvet Underground, but I didn’t think they played well. I didn’t think Lou sang well. Sorry Lou”. Woody Woodmansey on a major influence on the sound of Ziggy Stardust.

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