David Bowie’s drummer recalls moment he was ‘sacked in front of thousands’

Drummer Mick “Woody” Woodmansey played with David Bowie for years and was well acquainted with the Major Tom singer’s new-fangled ideas.

So when Bowie killed off Ziggy Stardust on stage in 1973, the 73-year-old musician was initially surprised but simply concluded that the announcement was a publicity stunt. How wrong he was.

Not only was the famous gig the end of the road for Bowie’s alien rock persona at the height of its popularity but also for the Spiders from Mars band members’ incomes, too.

This summer will be 50 years since the famous night Bowie played the Hammersmith Odeon and announced that he was “retiring” his extraterrestrial alter ego.

A new film of the final performance of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is being shown at the very same venue, now the Eventim Apollo, on July 3 to mark the anniversary.

READ MORE: How David Bowie made his death a ‘work of art’

Woody, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on May 16, said he and the band had no idea the actual fall of Ziggy Stardust was coming.

The last surviving member of the outfit said: “I was sacked in front of 2,000 people. I always thought to think ‘big’ but I never thought getting sacked that publicly was one of my dreams.”

Bowie first performed as Ziggy Stardust in 1972 in a pub in London before embarking on a world tour of unprecedented success. By the time he “retired the figure”, he had been touring for more than a year, and he and the band were at their “peak”.

Woody had been working with Bowie for a few years when Ziggy Stardust was killed off, starting from when the now legendary artist, who died in 2016, was still in “relative obscurity”.

Woody met Bowie when he was just 19 years old, and he was asked to play on his Aladdin Sane album. He said the superstar seemed like he was from “another planet” thanks to his unusual clothing.

He explained: “We built it up in America, Japan and the UK. It was at its peak really, we’d done just under 200 concerts at that point and we were hot. Especially those two nights, we were really on fire.”

During that now-famous last performance, Bowie told his fans: “Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.”

Although screams and cheers could be heard from the 5,000-strong crowd, Woody could still hear Bowie’s announcement.

But the magnitude of what he’d said did not hit home for some time.

Woody continued: “To be honest I thought it was a publicity stunt because he got quite famous for doing those.

“He would come and say ‘I’ve got an idea, we’re going to do blah’ and sometimes he would end up doing that and sometimes you never heard of it again.

“So it could have just been a spur-of-the-moment thing. So it took me nearly a week to find out he [was] retiring Ziggy’.”

In an interview with the Mirror on May 16, Woody told of how confused he was that Bowie was ending something they had spent such a long time building up and making a success.

Woody struggled in the wake of the news: “It was pretty hard and I was immersed in a black cloud for a couple of weeks.”

He didn’t speak to Bowie for a few years. But when the singer was recording his album Low in the late Seventies, he was invited to go and see him.

There, Bowie thanked him for the “thrill of the lifetime” with Woody describing their reconnecting as “like closure”.

The Eventim Apollo Hammersmith will host the global premiere of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars: The Motion Picture on July 3. The film is being shown in over 1,000 cinemas worldwide in July.

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