- 09 Jan 19
Back in 2017, Stuart Clark talked to Angie Bowie about the legendary artist as part of our 40th Anniversary feature.
David Bowie has been an enduring presence throughout Hot Press’ 40 years on Planet Rock. We talk to his ex-wife, Angie, about the making of a legend and the documentary paying tribute to one of his closest musical allies, Mick Ronson.
It may have been celebrating its fifth birthday the week the very first Hot Press hit the newsstands, but The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars was still a massively influential album in 1977.
None moreso than in punk circles where Rudi had pinched their name from the “Tony went to flight in Belfast/Rudi stayed at home to star” lines in ‘Star’; Mick Jones of The Clash was obsessed with guitar-grating Spider-in-chief Mick Ronson, and Generation X’s Billy Idol was rocking a peroxide version of Ziggy’s spiky orange feathercut.
“Bowie was the catalyst who’d brought a lot of us, the so-called Bromley Contingent, together,” notes Siouxsie Sioux. “And out of that really small group of people, a lot happened including Siouxsie And The Banshees.”
Add in the fact that a sizeable chunk of the Sex Pistols’ backline had been stolen by Steve Jones from Bowie’s 1973 Hammersmith Odeon killing off of his first alien persona, and the other Jones boy was as big an influence on UK punk as the Dolls, The Ramones and Iggy who, lest we forget, had both of his 1977 albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life, produced by him.
“Whether artistically or sexually, David made it okay to be different,” reflects Angie Bowie, Mr. B’s first wife and the mother of their son, Duncan. “Ziggy liberated a lot of people who up till then had been forced to live their lives in the shadows.”
Angie, who learned about his January 2016 death whilst appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, is relaxing in London following last night’s red carpet premiere of Sky Arts’ Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story.
Directed by early Bowie associate Jon Brewer, it enlists the services of Angie, Ian Hunter, Roger Taylor, Glen Matlock, Rick Wakeman and Joe Elliott to explain why the former Hull mechanic and groundsman was such a major part of the Ziggy success story.
“Pre-Ziggy, John Cambridge was playing drums for David and Roger Fry was our roadie,” she recalls. “They were both from Hull and, when the lead guitarist gig came up, suggested Mick who was in this band up there called The Rats. He’d moved down to London before to be in a group and been shafted, so he was in no hurry to try it again. While David was selling his artistic vision to him, I promised his beautiful mom, Minnie, that I’d iron Ronno’s shirts and make sure he ate. I always treated him like a younger brother, which was very odd because he was older than me. Minnie’s 93 now and very ill, but got a chance to see the film with her daughter, Maggie, and loved it. My involvement in Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story is the completion of my mission to look after Ronno who totally blew me away the first time I heard him in the rehearsal room. His playing was so insanely loud! The albums were fine, but I considered them advertisements for the live shows. I loved them a lot more on stage than I did on record. They made such a wild, edgy, raw sound. Nobody left without thinking, ‘That was one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever seen!’
Afterwards backstage, it’d be, ‘Whoa, another one bites the dust!’ They were buzzing from the adulation they’d got from the crowd. David was in danger every time he went to the lip of the stage because the kids just wanted a piece of him. It was an animal thing, by turns scary and exhilarating, which is how all good rock ‘n’ roll should be!” Rock lore suggests that Ronno had to be strong-armed into slapping the guyliner and lippy on.
“I wouldn’t say I was the sergeant in command, but I did tell them, ‘You’re not going out like a bunch of American rock ‘n’ rollers in dirty jeans and t-shirts!’” she laughs throatily. “David had learned about makeup from his time studying mime with Lindsay Kemp, but it was a while before the other guys got the point. When Ronno, who was already a chick magnet, realised the girls loved it he was, ‘Ay, up, where’s the blusher?’”
Asked whether David performing fellatio on Ronson’s guitar was something that happened naturally one night on stage, Angie looks at me almost pitifully and says: “You don’t think David giving head to Ronno’s guitar happened by accident, Stuart? The most important thing in those days was doing something outrageous so that you got in the papers and sold more albums. To be outrageous you had to plan it and have a photographer like Mick Rock on hand. We weren’t rock ‘n’ roll Gods, we were opportunists trying to steer the BBC in our direction after three years of them refusing to play our records. I still remember how incredibly frustrating that was, but eventually we won ‘em over.”
Angie was as surprised as everyone else when on July 3, 1973 David told a distraught Hammersmith Odeon crowd: “Of all the shows on the tour this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it the last show of the tour, it’s the last show we’ll ever do.”
“I was gobsmacked that (Bowie’s then manager) Tony DeVries had talked him into doing that,” she rues. “The band were incredibly hurt to be let go on stage of all places, but to lesser and greater extents all made their peace with David afterwards. In Ronno’s case, it lead to his working with Lou Reed, Ian Hunter and Bob Dylan and, just before he died in 1993 of cancer, Morrissey. One of the very last things he did was play on David’s Black Tie White Noise record, which I know meant a lot to both of them.” Killing Ziggy off was the cue for Bowie to descend into the full-blown cocaine addiction, which nearly brought forward the writing of his obituary by four decades.
“For the most part, making and touring Ziggy was light-hearted and fabulous,” she reflects. “It only got dark around ‘74/’75, which was very upsetting for everybody close to him. The darkness did, though, result in David leaving Tony DeVries. The drug problem was him lashing out against being told what to do by a man who was working him like a slave.
“I’m not going to play the grieving widow,” she concludes. “After David divorced me in 1980, we had little to zero contact but I was still deeply saddened by his death. There was a rumour amongst the British press that he was ill, but he was busy making a record and putting together a musical, so I didn’t pay it much attention. It felt like the end of a wonderful era that I was privileged to have been a part of at the start. If people didn’t live through it, they only have to look at Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story to realise how special it was.”