This March, lead vocalist Glenn Gregory, an 80’s icon himself, will take to the stage to celebrate the music of one of his idols, the legendary David Bowie. ‘The Best of Bowie’ will encompass a selection of hit songs and cult classics from the Bowie back catalogue and he will be joined on stage by the all-star line-up of Holy Holy including the famous Bowie producer and bassist Tony Visconti, who played on Bowie’s first two albums and produced no fewer than 10 of his albums.
Sadly, Woody Woodmansey, Bowie’s early drummer, who was due to tour with the band is unable to make it as Covid restrictions at the time of inception made it difficult for him to join as he is unvaccinated.
Lead vocals could not be in better hands with Glenn Gregory, the legendary frontman of Heaven 17, the 80’s band that brought us the phenomenal albums ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ and ‘Luxury Gap’, two records never far from my playlists which with their class and style make Gregory the perfect choice to bring to life the vocals of Bowie with respect for the original style but also the individuality to bring something of his own to the party. Bowie would have approved.
The tour will start in Birmingham on 2nd March 2022, taking in Cambridge, York, Glasgow, Liverpool, Aylesbury, Bath and Cardiff before a finale on Sunday 13th March in London’s iconic Barbican, a venue renowned for its acoustics which will be the perfect place to draw a month of celebration to a fitting climax.
I had the pleasure and honour to chat with Glenn about the tour, Bowie and his massive contribution to the music of the eighties, a decade that never goes out of fashion.
EP: So, Glenn, with the tour coming up, it must feel like such an honour to play these iconic songs again. Are the gigs aimed at existing fans looking for their Bowie fix or are you hoping to introduce the songs to a new generation of fans?
GG: Actually, I’m not sure there is new generation of Bowie fans. I think you’re born a Bowie fan; I think it’s just always there. Certainly, in the audiences, they are of all ages.
I mean, teenagers all the way through to 60, 70 year olds. It’s everywhere. I think Bowie kind of transcended that thought that you that you might not listen to him, you might not be current, he just is.
EP: But, I guess, to an extent, all musical taste is something that’s passed down from generation to generation, it’s it in the records that you’re brought up with?
GG: I guess so, yeah. I mean, I find it hard as well, because in my case, I remember finding Bowie and being really happy that it was something that my Mum and Dad didn’t listen to, you know? So that you do get that as well, when you have to find your own place in the kind of musical tundra until you know what you’re listening to. I just think, that he’s been at the forefront of music for such a long time, David Bowie, that it’s very hard to imagine someone that doesn’t know who he is, you know? I mean, I’m sure there are fans who haven’t got a clue who The Rolling Stones are but you’d be hard pushed to find someone who didn’t know who David Bowie was.
EP: I have to think that Bowie was, obviously a huge inspiration for you, but your Heaven 17 album ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ is still a fantastic record all these years later and predates Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ by a couple of years. If you’re feeling cheeky, do you ever think your style may have influenced Bowie to move towards the ‘Let’s Dance’ style and I guess, from that, his move away from Tony Visconti’s production style?
GG: No, I’m sure we never managed to influence David Bowie. I don’t know where he got his influences from, and obviously you get influences from everywhere, but I’ve never really thought he’s taken anything from ‘Penthouse and Pavement’. It would be a lovely thought to think he had but it’s not something that I’ve ever considered.
EP: That’s very humble. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of the vaccination, you must be disappointed to lose Woody from the tour seeing that he was one of the original band members with Bowie?
GG: Yes, definitely, I mean it came at a weird time. Covid has messed up so many things and that’s just another one that’s gone by the wayside. Woody coined the phrase medical differences as opposed to musical differences. I think that’s very accurate. It’s just one of those things; we had to decide to carry on and the promoter wanted us to carry on and do the tour and so we did. But, I mean, Woody was an enormous inspiration, great fun. He’s a very funny guy, great stories and we’ll miss him but we just wanted to carry on
EP: It’s difficult, isn’t it? Obviously, you know, with the pandemic, you do have to think about the logistics of the tour. You have to think with your head as opposed to your heart, I guess?
GG: Yes, exactly. At the time when this was all decided, although things have opened up a little since then, you had to show vaccination proof before we went into venues. We had masks and a travel bubble that meant it made it difficult for one person not to be vaccinated when everybody else was. It just became untenable really.
EP: So, talking about that, this tour has obviously been a victim of the pandemic, but you must be buzzing to get out on the road again, with this. I mean, do you think the lack of live performance will make the reunion with fans all the sweeter?
GG: It is; I know it is for certain. I’ve done it with Heaven 17. We’ve played live concerts and you can see, it’s palpable; the enjoyment that people get from their fix of live music. Heaven 17 fans, for instance, I think we spent the first half hour of the gig just talking to people. It was like therapy; it was amazing to see.
EP: It’s great to see the resurgence, the way that 80s music has become so much more respected. I was brought up with this music and its lovely to see that era so respected now because I guess the bands that were making music in the 80s didn’t realise that they were making something with so much longevity.
GG: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, I remember when we were writing ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ and we made a deliberate and conscious decision to think about its future and how long it might last. But at the time when your 19, 20 years old, we were thinking, perhaps, that future proofing it was 10 years. That’s a long time at that point. We’re now on forty years of playing this music and I’ll tell you, absolutely, it is still as exciting and goes down as well, if not better than it ever did. They are great songs to sing as a lot of songs of that genre are. Indeed, they are classics now.
EP: I was chatting recently to Richard Drummie from Go West, and we were having the same conversation that the music that came from the 80s seems to have the longevity because they were really good songs. They weren’t just good tunes, good records, they were really well written songs. I think the fact that, you know, you get a lot modern covers of 80s songs and sampling of 80’s songs now show how accessible they still are even to modern audiences.
GG: Yeah, I totally agree with you, they are good songs and that is the word, songs, not just dance beats that get you excited. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s great to feel that in your soul and in your heart. But, there’s something about a four minute 80’s song that is just un put-downable really. It’s like a good book, you’re just going to keep going back to it.
EP: One of the things I was chatting to Richard about was that Go West are about to embark on a number of gigs with an orchestra and he was very excited about the way that the Go West music had translated into an orchestral piece. The Heaven 17 music especially, with its grand scope would really lend itself to that of orchestral treatment. Is that something you’ve ever considered?
GG: WelI, a lot of it was orchestral, ‘Let Me Go’, ‘Temptation’, ‘Come Live with Me’, ‘Best Kept Secret’ is orchestral. I think, you know, on that second album, ‘The Luxury Gap’, there’s probably only two or three tracks that didn’t have an orchestral treatment so obviously it translates very well. A while ago, we did actually do a tour in German with a full orchestra, 70-piece orchestra and a choir and an electric band, and we did 15 or 20 dates. That was amazing. That was a long time ago. My son will be 19 tomorrow and he was just talking about it and if we’d think of doing that again. And obviously we would and we’d love to and we know it would work because it was written in that way. Oddly enough there’s a lot of the Bowie stuff that would work with maybe not a full orchestra, but certainly the chamber type of orchestra. A lot of the Bowie stuff had lots of string to it as well.
EP: Again it was music with a great scope, wasn’t it? Bowie’s music could almost feel cinematic.
GG: Definitely it’s cinema scope, its wide and encompassing. Yeah, definitely. Those songs go places don’t they, they take you up and bring you down. Great, great songs. Both Bowie and the 80’s decade we’re talking about.
EP: With the Bowie tour, will it concentrate on the Spiders from Mars era or are you going to be raiding more of the back catalogue this time?
GG: There’s more of the back catalogue in this time. We’ve stuck more to Spiders in the past but the tenet now is that if Tony had a hand in it and originally if Woody had a hand in it then it was open season really and the fact that Tony spent so much time working with David, it really did open the book enormously so there’s some really good songs in there.
EP: Did you ever get to meet David?
GG: The only time I ever met David Bowie was in about 1977, 1978, something like that, and The Human League were playing at The National in London, at a kind of pub gig in London. I was there with them because we were all friends and there was a buzz went round the place that Bowie had come to see them. We thought no, not really but in fact he had and after the gig just before the band came off stage, during the last track, I was the only one back stage and the door flew open and in walks David Bowie beaming all over his face, looking so happy and excited. He grabbed me by the shoulders and said: “F***ing brilliant. They are f***ing amazing. They are the future of music. They are fantastic” and I was just kind of nodding going: “Yes David, yes David” and that was the only time that I actually met him.
EP: What a lovely experience. I was lucky enough to see David Bowie play live, and he was just unbelievable, phenomenally good live.
GG: Amazing. I mean, one of my very earliest gigs was Bowie. He played The Student Union in Sheffield and we obviously couldn’t get in because I was probably only 15, Martin would have been 17 but we made fake Student Union cards and managed to get in and see Bowie and that was one of my earliest gigs.
EP: Why do you think Sheffield was such a hotbed of creation with you and ABC, and Human League?
GG: Yeah, Jarvis Cocker, Arctic Monkeys, Thompson Twins, Cabaret Voltaire. There’s loads of artists. I think it’s a City that likes to do things. It’s not a City that has lots of venues either and it didn’t have back in the day. We would often have to travel quite far to go and watch a band. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve slept on a park bench because we’ve missed the last train. Because of that, or at least partly because of that, with bands, we kind of just did it ourselves and found pubs that would let us do gigs or we’d find a venue that we could use and have a party and put a gig on. It’s a very do it City, Sheffield.
EP: An incredible musical culture, pedigree. I think sometimes people forget that. I love the fact Sheffield got a mention on the cover art of ‘Penthouse and Pavement’
GG: Yes, exactly, Sheffield, Edinburgh, London. Absolutely.
EP: The Afterhere project that you’ve been working with, are we going to see some more music soon. Are there any plans for more music with Berenice?
GG: Yeah, definitely, we’ll be doing more Afterhere. At the moment Berenice and I are working because as you know we write for drama and TV and film. During lockdown we did a TV show called ‘Vigil’ with Suranne Jones, the submarine drama. We scored the whole of that and at the moment we are working on a series for ITV called ‘The Suspect’ and we do that as Afterhere so once we’ve got a bit of time when we’re not actually scoring stuff, there’s a couple of songs that we have squirrelled away and there will be another Afterhere album, yeah.
EP: It sounds like you’re very busy, man. Glenn.
GG: That’s all I ever do really. It’s my joy. I don’t have a hobby I don’t do anything else? I just love being in the studio writing music or out playing it. What I figure is kind of my hobby is playing live. I love that and it’s something like being on a school trip with your mates. It’s like “we’re playing live this weekend”, “We’ve got a gig in wherever it may be”. I love it. This year, we’ve got The Holy Holy tour starting in March, I think I get maybe a week off and then Heaven 17 tour Germany, fifteen dates in Germany, and then I come back and we’ve got a Summer of festivals and then we go to America for a Heaven 17 tour so this year there’s going to be a lot of playing live which is great because for the last two years it’s been very, very little.
EP: Thank you for the opportunity to chat Glenn, you’ve always been a hero of mine and to see one of my heroes do a tour of the music of another of my musical heroes is a dream come true.
GG; That’s very kind, Steve, thank you.
EP: Absolutely, ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ and ‘Luxury Gap’ are two of my favourite albums ever and to see someone I consider a legend touring music of another legend is brilliant so I’d like to personally take the opportunity to thank you for the music Glenn. Good luck with the tour and take care.
GG: Thank you for saying that Steve, it’s been a pleasure.