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Tick Tock, Tick Talk: James Stevenson of Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy

Mars Blomgren

Mars Blomgren

Maureen "Mars" Blomgren is a writer, photographer, painter, social media overlord. Mars is a loyal servant to her Pekingese named Henry. She's had her work used for album covers, posters, commissioned paintings, branding, merchandise and more. Mars has one of those new-fangled #blendedfamilies that she loves. Mars supports & promotes live music, animals and the truth. She is a proud Philly Girl that will defend the underdog till the end.
Mars Blomgren
Woody Woodmansey's drum kit of Woody Woodmansey's Holy Holy at The Birchmere Alexandria, Virginia Photo by Carlos Aranaga

Woody Woodmansey’s drum kit of Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy at The Birchmere, Alexandria, Virginia
Photo by Carlos Aranaga

For many, January 10th 2016 will be a day to look back on and say “Where were you when David Bowie passed away?” For the members of Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy, they were together on tour, celebrating David’s life, friendship, inspiration and music. They made the decision to continue the tour, playing in Toronto, Canada on January 12th to a sold-out crowd and with the world’s media watching and reporting Tony Visconti’s words: “There is no better way to work through grief than through music. Music is magic. It’s better than any pill to take, it’s better than any drug.”

Woody Woodmansey's Holy Holy Winter 2016 Tour Schedule

Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy
Winter 2016 Tour Schedule

Holy Holy formed back in 2013 as an idea from Tony Visconti (David Bowie’s long time producer and dear friend) Woody Woodmansey (Spiders from Mars drummer) and a vision to keep playing the music of Bowie live.With blessings and often promotion from David Bowie himself, Holy Holy set out to honor the music of a master artist. They chose to play in full an often overlooked yet splendidly crafted work from Bowie’s canon – The Man Who Sold the World, along with other Bowie favorites. Today as Holy Holy pulls into New York City to play The Highline Ballroom on January 19, guitarist James Stevenson took some moments to join The Chronopages’ Maureen “Mars” Blomgren to talk about recent days, the band and the omnipresence David Bowie.

Woody Woodmansey's Holy Holy courtesy of Woody Woodmansey's Holy Holy

Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy
courtesy of Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy

In light of David Bowie passing away on Jan. 10, the decision was made to carry on with the tour. Has the choice to keep playing helped with your own grieving process?

James: With David passing yes, it’s very, very emotional. Going out on stage and playing his songs, you get tears in your eyes… Particularly for some reason with me its ‘Five Years’, and ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’, I mean those songs are just so moving, so powerful, so yeah its been a very emotional experience, but its been quite a healing experience as well.

I need you flying, and I’ll show that dying
Is living beyond reason, sacred dimension of time
I perceive every sign, I can steal every mind
Don’t let me stay, don’t let me stay
My logic says burn so send me away

‘Savior Machine’, The Man Who Sold the World

Yes I believe it could be, not just for you and the rest of the band members but for the world as a whole. I hope that as many people as possible can get out to see these shows and enjoy it. I think it’s fabulous, what you guys are doing.

James: Yeah, I mean we’re gonna carry on doing gigs…

The band’s been playing for a few years now; how did you get involved?

James: Well originally, there’s a place in London called the ICA, which stands for Institute of Contemporary Art, and they were doing a Bowie season. Woody Woodmansey was going to be there talking about Bowie, and a guy there wanted to put together a band to play some Bowie songs. They approached Maggi Ronson, who is Mick Ronson’s sister, and she knew me and then I got others involved. So we had this kind of group, and we did a festival called the Latitude Festival, that was in July of 2013. That was the first show we ever did, but Woody heard about us, you know, because he was a part of the event at the ICA, and he said he’d like to come and get involved. He said he’d like to come to the festival, so he did and then after that Woody really got into it – he spoke to Tony Visconti and said look we should make a band to play The Man Who Sold the World in its entirety because they never had a chance to do that with David… so that was how it evolved.

I sing with impertinence, shading impermanent chords, with my words
I’ve borrowed your time and I’m sorry I called

‘After All’ The Man Who Sold the World

So you have been there since day one. It’s been a nice evolution, it’s been fabulous.

James: I am a huge Bowie fan, it’s been a huge part of my life. Its an absolute privilege to be able to go out on stage with Tony and Woody and get to play those songs. It’s a dream come true for me.

That’s quite amazing in and of itself. Some people just go to work and push numbers all day long; other people get to live out their dreams and do what they love to do. I wish more people in the world could pursue the thing that is their lovelight. It sounds like that is what you get to do.

James: Well absolutely. It’s been a very up and down thing, but I’ve always followed my dream. I’ve always been rather lucky because when one thing fell apart the next thing would crop up. I know lots of musicians who’ve been in the position where they have to go for money, they have just given up what they do and they’ve gone and got regular jobs. To me that’s just tragic in a way because you have to keep following your dreams. My favourite thing to do is just walk on stage and play guitar, and I’m really lucky to have had a lot of opportunities to do that.

James Stevenson of Woody Woodmansey's Holy Holy by Morgan Visconti

James Stevenson of Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy by Morgan Visconti

That is a beautiful thing. I have just a couple more questions:
You get to spend your days with only one motorcycle. Which would it be?

James: Ah well it’s my Triumph Thruxton that I have in the UK. If you look on my website, www.jamesstevenson.info, it has pictures of my Thruxton.

You get to spend your days with only one guitar. Which would it be?

James: It would be my ’75 Gibson Les Paul Custom Ivory that I bought in New York in 1980. Which I’ve had ever since. I’ve retired it from the road now. It just means so much to me that guitar, that if it got stolen or broken it would just break my heart. So I figure I’ll just use it in the studio you know? Though I did my first ever solo gig, and I took it out for that, I thought, you know, I need my old friend for this one. Yeah I made my first solo album (Everything’s Getting Closer to Being Over) a couple years ago, I want people to hear that as well, even though I’m a front man and a sideman, I thought if I don’t get out and do gigs on my own it’ll be my own fault you know, so that’s something I’ve gotta do as well.

Far out in the red sky
Far out from the sad eyes
Strange, mad celebration
So softly a super-god cries
Far out in the red sky
Far out from the sad eyes
Strange, mad celebration
So softly a super-god dies

‘The Supermen’, The Man Who Sold the World

My last question: What is the band Holy Holy to you?

James: Ahhh well it’s just a dream come true, I mean you can’t really call it a tribute band even though we play Bowie’s music, because Tony and Woody are the real guys…. We are fans, Bowie fans, but also I think we are legitimate fans to be playing this music, we are the torch bearers now, keeping his music alive.

Well thank you for that, and I think the world would probably thank you as well

James: The day the news broke … I had people ringing me up, my phone just went off the dial. I had people in England ringing me saying people were walking through the streets, but no one was talking, the pubs were completely silent. Such a huge thing and I dont think until his passing people realized what a massive impression he had on people’s lives. I mean when I am onstage playing Changes or whatever, I think how did this one guy write all these amazing songs – and on top of that he was a fashion icon and everything else too, he was an all around artist in the genuine sense of the word. There’s a thing going around the internet… it goes “If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”

I have seen that and I AM grateful, it is amazing. I am a huge Bowie fan myself… so my love for the man is just the same

James: Yeah absolutely, if not more than ever. . that’s how I feel. Tony Visconti said something to me, he said “I wish David could just come back for just one day to see what he meant to the world.”

So I cried for all the others till the day was nearly through
For I realized that God’s a young man too

‘Width of a Circle’, The Man Who Sold the World

Awe…that breaks my heart

James: It’s sad. It’s sad but true.

I’d just like to believe that he did know. I have to believe that he knew what an influence he had on so many different kinds of people.

James: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah… It does get upsetting talking about it…

It’s sad, it’s upsetting and it is very heartbreaking but you know what? It’s good to work through this and I appreciate you taking the time to talk to The Chronopages.

James: It’s been a pleasure. I appreciate it, I enjoyed talking.

Three dates remain on the current Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy Tour:

  • January 19 The Highline Ballroom, New York, New York
  • January 20 The Chameleon Club Lancaster Pennsylvania
  • January 21 The Wilbur Theater Boston, Massachusetts
David Bowie-The Man Who Sold the World courtesy of Parlophone Records

David Bowie-The Man Who Sold the World courtesy of Parlophone Records

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