Glenn Gregory: The Man Who Sold The World
David Bowie released the album ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ in 1970. It was a hugely significant step as he tried to find a formula for more enduring success after his ‘one-hit wonder’ status following 1969’s ‘Space Oddity’.
No-one really knew what to make of it and not surprisingly, no-one bought it, but after his success with Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, fans sought it out. When they put the vinyl LP on the turntable (it’s what we use to do back then, ask your dad), they discovered an album so startlingly original and creative it was not surprising that it wrong-footed the music world. The album has now been given a new lease of life. Glenn Gregory, singer with our very own Heaven 17, takes up the story.
In 1970 David Bowie totally changed music and started off the Glam Rock era when took to the stage with Mick Ronson on guitar, and Tony Visconti on bass. After their Roundhouse performance they went into the studio, added ‘Woody’ Woodmansey on drums, and recorded the album ‘The Man Who Sold the World’. These musicians were the core of what became The Spiders from Mars and Tony produced the album, and many more Bowie albums since. Now Woody and Tony are reuniting to play the entire album live, and I’m really honoured that they’ve asked me to provide the vocals. As you’ll know, Mick sadly died in 1993, but his daughter Lisa, sister Maggi and niece Hannah are joining us on vocals. Mick’s guitar playing on the album is absolutely genius. I’ve never really noticed before how raw and aggressive the playing is, it’s almost like punk rock.
How did you become involved in the project?
I’d been working on an album by Stephen Emmer, which was produced by Tony Visconti. After we’d finished it, I got a phone call from Tony and he told about his plan and that he’d really like me to do the vocals. When I agreed, I thought was for just that one track, but I eventually realised he meant for the entire album. I’ve never really had the opportunity to sing in that style in my singing career, so it’s been fantastic for me. I’ve been rehearsing like mad on my own, in the studio, learning the tracks and I’ve really enjoyed it
How close will the songs be to the originals?
Tony is the maestro, and is pushing us all hard with an incredible attention to detail, so the music will be as close as it possibly can be, but I’m not going to imitate Bowie at all. It’s not Stars in Their Eyes, but I will be keeping his phrasing inside each song. We’re also planning to do some more early Seventies Bowie songs, to make the live set longer, although I’ll not reveal yet what they are! It will be a full evening of songs.
Steve Norman from Spandau Ballet is playing guitar and saxophone in the shows. How did he become involved?
The core of the band is a group called Holy Holy, which Steve’s been involved with for years. He’s a childhood fan of Bowie and The Spiders From Mars and he’s told me how excited and honoured he feels to be involved and to be playing with these iconic musicians. People just think of Tony as a producer, but he’s a multi-instrumentalist and is actually a very talented musician. There’s a recent YouTube video of him in a band playing ‘Young Americans’, which is absolutely fantastic.
Does anyone know what David Bowie thinks of what you have planned?
He’s 100% behind it. He’s been involved with the project since its inception and everything goes through him. All the announcements go on his website first, he’s fully aware of what we’ve got planned and has given it his full blessing.
I heard you making a guest appearance with another Sheffield celebrity, John Shuttleworth, on his radio show. How did this arise?
A couple of years ago we did a live charity event with Vic Reeves, Squeeze, and a few others, where we all did our own versions of John Shuttleworth songs. We chose to cover the classic ‘Dandelion and Burdock’ (what I’d give for a tiny slurp/Though it stung your nose, and it made you burp). Graham really liked our mock-Vienna Eighties electro-style version of it, and as he was doing a new BBC show he asked us to come and perform it. He wanted it to be heard by more people and I think it works really well.
You did Tramlines a few years ago. Any plans to do it again?
Yes we did. It was in front of the City Hall on the opening night. We’d love to do it again, and we actually thought of doing it this year, but we’d just done a show in the Botanical Gardens so it didn’t really fit in. I can tell you that we are coming back to Sheffield as Heaven 17 at the Plug sometime this year. Over the years we’ve done almost all the venues in Sheffield; even played a rooftop once, but we’ve never played the Plug, so we’re looking forward to that. We’ll be performing some new stuff at that show, and a full album of brand new material will be out early in 2015.
The Man Who Sold the World will be performed on Thursday 18th September at the O2 Academy