The Man Who Sold The World

Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey with Glenn Gregory perform David Bowie's “The Man Who Sold The World”
02 Academy, Liverpool, 18th June 2015

Reviewed by Bob Harrison

At the time of writing this review I had no idea nor did anyone else I imagine, that Bowie would cease to be after the 10th of Jan 2016. This review was to come out in September last year, but due to the financial situation at Nerve it has as yet not surfaced.

I thought the feature I wrote,when it eventually appeared would be out of date, and its relevance would be only of a curiosity, but events have proved otherwise. Since the news of his death in early January the media have gone Bowie mad filling magazines with features on him.

I hope this review will serve as an epitaph to David Bowie, and what he has achieved in his lifetime and his influence on artists and muscians worlwide.

Bob Harrison 2016

I'm sitting in Lime street station watching the fingers on the large clock move slowly round. Its my first gig in a while, but it feels more like a date, I'm beginning to get apprehensive, as I finger my costa tea all those gig memories come flooding back to me.

My reverie is soon shattered by some old beardy guy in the queue who cheekily quips “nobody here has been born before the 21st century” and yes,looking around me, we are definitely in a grey area here.

I'm among the beardies and neo pensioners to review The Man Who Sold the World for Nerve Magazine after waiting for my stage pass in something reminiscent of the film “Almost Famous” we start to move in.

“The man who sold the world” was born 45 years ago quite old now but blow the dust off and it reveals itself to be still a worthwhile listen, Visconti who produced and played on the original rates it as one of his best Bowie albums and, in terms of the Bowie catalogue tends to get overlooked, it stands neglected until tonight where Visconti and co will seek to redress that.

The album is dark and claustrophobic, the black cover illuminating or not the dark materials within. David Buckley in his biography of Bowie describes it as Gothic rock and roll (1) and in many ways “The man who sold the world” is a precursor to the gothic punk of the banshees and the cure with its taboo breaking subject matter magic gay sex death and madness.

It's no coincidence that the album recorded at the end of the sixties is so nihilistic Bowie rises from the ashes of the hippy revolution and from it a new culture of dystopian style emerges.

So, back to the gig, the band is starting to set up, three guitars really? and at this point there are lots of people on stage, making it difficult to see who exactly are the roadies and who are the band, when the roadie do eventually clear off, we still have a lot of people on stage, two backing singers, Mick Ronsons daughter and Tony Visconti's daughter, keep it in the family- so to speak, three guitars as mentioned, keyboard/synth player, visconti on bass and woody at the back on drums one of the guitarists doubles as sax player too - phew! and last but not least two lead singers Glen Gregory (Heaven 17) Marc Almond (Soft Cell).

The opening riff to “width of a circle” heralds the start of the show with its trademark eerie feedback the band are sounding good though. The introduction of the three guitars adds more power to the overall sound, and the general orchestration works well, we see the visible hand of Visconti here perhaps?

As an arranger and producer Visconti is second to none, apart from being a highly imaginative producer Visconti's forte is creating a band sound this he did this with T-rex on the Electric Warrior album made at about the same time, then again with Bowie's “The man who sold the world” where he begins to create the Bowie sound moving away from the rather fey folkie musicality of the previous album space oddity.

The band move confidently through Width of a circle Glen Gregory on vocals with neat suit and shaved head commands the stage, his vocal range is amazing! -not so much Ziggy more the thin white duke, showing a linear trajectory from “the man who sold the world” to “station to station” in its various obsessions with the dark side.

The album really works well live Visconti originally produced the album with this in mind, the supermen is particularly good, with guitarist James Stevenson doing his best mick Ronson impersonation in fact stevenson is slightly underused throughout this guy has talent and presence.

About three songs in Marc Almond bounces on to the stage to sing “after all”, Marc campy vocal style and brechtian swagger add weight to the song teasing out further possibilities in a brilliant bowie tune, other standout tracks are The man who sold the world (of course) with its brilliant spine chilling intro intact All the madmen with the spoken bit- done brilliantly by Glenn Gregory and black country rock one of my personal favorites on the album I was not disappointed!

Once the man who sold the world has finished the band move on to cover ziggy period Bowie Marc returns to camp it up again, this time with “Oh you pretty things” and “the wild eyed boy from freecloud” which he makes his own, and gets the baldy guys in front of me to camp it up along with him ( no mean feat!) for marc this is the hometown gig, as he originally hails from southport (near enough) he recalls to us the tale of being beaten up by thugs on the train as he was on his way to a Bowie gig in Liverpool, ending up at the gig covered in blood and stars, you wondered where all those soft cell lyrics came from, look no further.

The frantic pace of “moonage daydream” leaves the oldies in a bit of a daze, it's at this point they start searching for water as the place is now very packed and hot, as the band slam out Bowie hit after hit,we have a good gig situation on our hands, meanwhile on stage, James stevenson does another stunning Mick Ronson impersonation on “moonage daydream” you know the one where Micks foot seems to get stuck on the reverb pedal!

Meanwhile at the back, Woody Woodmansey powers away doing all the good drumming bits on the songs especially during “Ziggy stardust” with its various intricate drum patterns, the band also play what appears to be the BBC sessions version of “changes” this night has become quite special all of a sudden.

The wizard of Oz moment comes at the end,when Woody steps down from the kit to thank everyone, is this little guy with the strong hull accent the behemoth behind the drum kit just minutes ago?

So, has Visconti pulled the musical rabbit out of the hat yet again. well judging by the sea of hands outstretched and happy faces at the end of the gig it would appear so, but not yet, as I leave the main auditorium a bit knackered after the gig, thinking well the band are of for a well earned sleep, when I notice a long table with pens and chairs and an equally long line of people clutching albums and stuff it's not over yet, such is the life of the rock musician baby!

(1) The Quote is from David Buckley David Bowie the definitive story virgin press 2005

Further reading-
“strange fascination”
David Bowie the definitive story
David Buckley Virgin press 2005
“The man who sold the world“
Peter doggart -vintage 2012-

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