The Spiders from Mars

In the summer of 1972 I was Chairman of the Entertainments Committe at the University of Essex. One day I got a phone call from David Bowie's manager. He said that Bowie was touring later that summer, and he needed a gig in our area; were we interested?

Interested? We were desperate to say Yes. Trouble was, it was during the summer holidays, and the university would be like a ghost town. Would we be able to sell enough tickets? We'd just got our finances back onto an even keel, after a disastrous year in 1970–1 (under a different committee, I hasten to add). We were, I think it's fair to say, a bit risk–averse.

Tony DeFries (if that's who it was) was persistent, and very persuasive. He sent us copies of all Bowie's albums to date (Ziggy Stardust had just come out), and tickets to the upcoming gig at Earl's Court (it was the Ziggy Stardust tour). The whole Committee went along, and it was quite possibly the gig of all our lives.

In the end, we erred on the side of caution. We were all fans, and we knew that Bowie was going to be huge; but did the rest of the Essex student population? We doubted it – they were a notoriously conservative lot (with a small C, obviously – but that's another story). Ziggy Stardust was the first Bowie album to hit the charts, and Starman was only the second single – after Space Oddity, which was three years in the past. Would he be enough of a draw to tempt the student population back into the wilds of Essex, in the middle of the summer holidays? Would the university's summer infrastructure (security, etc.) be able to cope? Would they open the bar? (At Essex, all campus facilities were provided by the university, and the Union didn't run its own bar.) We doubted it, and we decided, with great reluctance, that we couldn't take the risk.

Why am I telling you this?

I'm telling you this to show that I was around at the time of Ziggy Stardust; not just that, but I was a big fan and, as Chairman of a university Ents Committee, I knew a bit about the music business.

The reason I wanted to establish these things is simply because I keep reading that Bowie's backing band was called the Spiders from Mars, and I don't think it was. They may have been referred to in the press as that; but that was journalistic licence. And yes, Bowie almost certainly did refer to them on stage as the Spiders; but that was part of the act. When Bowie was on stage, at that stage of his career, he was Ziggy; so naturally he referred to his backing group as the Spiders. But here's the thing: the records were credited to David Bowie – not Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – and so was the tour.

Bowie moved on from Ziggy in the summer of 1973; the schizophrenic aspect of the 'alter–ego' thing had got to be too much for him. His next album was Aladdin Sane, and it had the same line–up: Bowie, Ronson, Bolder and Woodmansey. This, to my way of thinking, just adds strength to my argument that Ronson, Bolder and Woodmansey were not the Spiders from Mars. They were just David Bowie's backing band – and they just didn't have a name.

For Bowie's next album – Pin–Ups – Woodmansey was replaced on drums by Aynsley Dunbar; and none of the so–called Spiders was on Diamond Dogs.

Wikipedia tells us that "Woodmansey [then] re–formed The Spiders from Mars for one album". But this, surely, is just Wikipedia re–writing history. What happened, if you ask me, was that Woody Woodmansey wanted to form a new band, but if he called it the Woody Woodmansey Band it wouldn't have meant anything to anyone (apart from those 'in the know'). So of course he called it The Spiders from Mars. Trevor Bolder was there on bass, but Mick Ronson had bigger fish to fry (and of course David Bowie was nowhere to be seen).

Like I said: I was there at the time, I was a big fan, I was involved in the music business (albeit as an amateur); and I'm saying that Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey were never known as the Spiders from Mars, except as part of the act (or by virtue of journalistic licence).

You might say, "So what?" Well ... I'm just saying, that's all. This is a quiz website, and the thing about quizzes is that you have to get your facts right.

© Haydn Thompson 2017