Woody Woodmansey: 'Bowie got lost in his creation - the monster took over'

Black and white head shot portrait of Woody Woodmansy wearing a baseball cap
(Image credit: Stephanie Rushton\/press)

One Friday in 1970, Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey was offered a job for life at Hull’s Vertex spectacle factory and given the weekend to consider his future. His decision was complicated by a Saturday-morning phone call from David Bowie, a ‘one-hit folk singer’ Woodmansey had never met, asking him to move to Beckenham and play drums in his backing band. Three years and three albums later (The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust), Woodmansey took another call, this time from Bowie’s manager, Tony DeFries, informing him that his services were no longer required. Which was a shock, not least because the call came on Woody’s wedding day. Forty-three years on, Woody recalls life as a Spider From Mars.

Do you believe in God?

I don’t believe in the Christian viewpoint of God sitting on a throne with a white beard. I believe in man as a spiritual being and ultimately the supreme being as a form of energy. I’m a practising Scientologist and have been since 1973.

What were you like at school?

I was a great student until I was eleven, then it went out the window. I just couldn’t see the purpose. Secondary school was all about seeing how many laughs I could get out of a class before getting the mahogany stick or slipper across my backside.

How integral to David Bowie’s success was Angie?

She was his muse in the early days and instrumental in getting him to follow his own creative path. It’s a shame she couldn’t cook. People used to ask: “Why’s David so thin?” We never thought to ask them: “Have you ever tasted Angie’s food?”

What’s your greatest regret?

I don’t have any. If I mess up, I try to take responsibility for that mess-up, figure out how I messed up and do better in future. For a week after not turning up for my Paul McCartney audition, I regretted it, but it’s a decision I can’t take back, so why worry about it?

The timing of your dismissal from The Spiders was extraordinary.

Yes, it was, and I didn’t see it coming. The management never saw Bowie and the band as the product, though they probably should have. And then Bowie got lost in his creation. The Frankenstein monster took over and he couldn’t take the mask off. After shows he’d do interviews and none of them wanted to talk to David Bowie – they wanted Ziggy Stardust, and he obliged. He didn’t come off stage and be a normal guy any more. He was still Ziggy, and you got in a taxi with Ziggy, and Ziggy didn’t pay the fare. You were sitting with the rock god, and the rock god didn’t want to talk about what takeaway you wanted.

What can you do that no one else can?

I can communicate as a drummer, and reach the individual in an audience, better than anybody else. And that’s really big-headed, right? [Laughs]

Was there ever any discussion of The Spiders sharing writing credits?

Never. It was just taken for granted we wouldn’t. Even on The Man Who Sold The World, where Tony Visconti, Mick Ronson and myself jammed the material into songs. David didn’t have completed songs or even completed chord sequences that joined up at that time, but we understood.

How do you remember Mick Ronson?

A very modest friend who was a good laugh, never took himself too seriously, but always wanted to do the best job he could do.

Where do you stand politically?

I’m not really interested in politics. To me, it’s like you’re choosing a meal and you can have either boiled dog or boiled mule. You’ve got to choose one if you’re going to eat, but then you can’t complain about it because you chose it. I’d rather not choose.

What in your life are you most proud of?

My marriage and family. And those albums and tours with Bowie. He was very prolific through that period – you’d hear him in the two different rooms where he wrote in Haddon Hall and every song was a fucking-hell-this-is-good. There were never any fillers. He was on a roll. When he finally grasped what he was supposed to be doing, it just seemed to flow out of him.

When did your parents realise you’d been right to turn down the factory job?

We played Bridlington Spa and my mum and dad came for the first time. It was the second UK tour, so it was pretty big by then, and my dad said: “By, lad, you can play them drums,” and that was the only comment I ever got.

What will be written on your tombstone?

‘See you later’.

(Spider From Mars by Woody Woodmansey is out now, published by Sidgwick & Jackson.)

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Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.