Week of August 6, 2000

Woody Woodmansey's U-Boat

Frankie Marshall - Keyboards, Synth
Phil Murray - Vocals
Phil Plant - Bass
Martin Smith - Guitar
Woody Woodmansey - Drums

Woody Woodmansey's U-Boat, Bronze (UK), 1977, BRON501 (reissued on CD in 2000, Castle ESMCD895)

Mick 'Woody' Woodmansey, if he never did anything else in his musical career, would always warrant a stitch in rock's rich tapestry for his role as drummer in The Spiders From Mars, the most revered of all of David Bowie's backing bands. He occupied the drum stool on Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold The World', 'Hunky Dory', 'Ziggy Stardust' and 'Aladdin Sane' albums, and, alongside the prodigiously-bewhiskered bass player Trevor Bolder, provided the rock solid foundations for their bass man's musical flights of fancy. Of course, after the transitional 'Pin Ups' album (on which Woodmansey's presence was not required, his role being filled by Aynsley Dunbar), Bowie would pursue a chameleon's path, changing musical styles with bewildering speed. In truth, the rocker that Woodmansey undoubtedly was would not have suited albums such as 'Young Americans', or 'Station To Station'. Plus, the Spiders' lead guitarist, Mick Ronson, had embarked on a solo career that never really flew, Ronno then finding himself first as the (brief) replacement for Ariel 'Luther Grosvenor' Bender in Mott The Hoople, and subsequently as guitar foil for erstwhile Mott mainman Ian Hunter in the Hunter-Ronson Band. All of which left Bolder and Woodmansey as the keepers of The Spiders From Mars name.

Replacing Ronson with ex-Kestrel guitarist Dave Black, and recruiting vocalist Pete McDonald, the band cut one, eponymous album for the Pye label released in 1975. It failed to fan up what sparks may still have glimmered after the Zigmeister had left the auditorium, and so they called it a day. Bolder joined Uriah Heep, then had a brief stint with Wishbone Ash, before rejoining the Heep, where he has remained. Woodmansey, however, took the bold step of forming his own band, Woody Woodmansey's U-Boat.

Woodmansey succeeded in securing a record deal with the Bronze label, formed by record producer/artist manager Gerry Bron. Uriah Heep were signed to the label at the time, so there was clearly a strong link between The Spiders From Mars' rhythm section and the imprint. The Bronze label was enjoying a successful run as a major-distributed, independently managed imprint, with acts such as the aforementioned Heep and Motorhead both doing well. Bron's history as a record producer went back to the late sixties, where he had handled sonic chores on such albums as The Bonzo Dog Band's 'Gorilla' and 'Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse'. He had also worked with acts as various as Osibisa, Colosseum, and Gene Pitney. It was Bron who produced Woody Woodmansey's U-Boat, cut at North London's Roundhouse Studios between October 1976 and March 1977.

The band U-Boat comprised a crew of relative unknowns besides Woodmansey on drums and vocals. Singing lead was Phil Murray, on keyboards was Frankie Marshall, on bass Phil Plant and on guitars and vocals, MacKintyre Duncan. Apart from a superficial sonic resemblance to the hallowed Mick Ronson style of lead guitar, there wasn't a great lot to remind the erstwhile Spiders fan of Woodmansey's former band. U-Boat's style was somewhere between a light progressive rock and the more stylised likes of Queen. Bron applied a light production touch, very clean sounding, and Murray had a strong, clear voice. In truth, though, the material, composed entirely from within the band's ranks, was undistinguished. Tracks such as 'Oo La La', in which Woodmansey reprised the double snare crack that propelled 'Star' from 'Ziggy' grooves along purposefully enough, despite the somewhat questionable tone of the lyric. The likes of 'I'm In Love' showcase the band's strong instrumental talents, but tracks such as 'U-Boat' and 'Rock Show' - songs about the 'rock and roll life' - rarely tend to be of interest to anyone except those involved in it.

If nothing else, the sleeve of the album - a humorous comic-strip creation a-la The Groundhogs' 'Who Will Save The World' ensured the contents were at least well-dressed.

The whole album is pleasant enough, but its rather polite, determinedly trad-rock with a few angles approach was never going to be a winner during the time of its release - Summer 1977. All around, the punk wars were raging. You were either on the New Wave charabanc or you weren't (at least as far as the music press were concerned), and, although factions within it, such as Siouxsie & The Banshees and Generation X would be quite happy to acknowledge Bowie's abiding influence, it was always going to be a tough call for Woodmansey's outfit. The album was largely ignored, and when it wasn't, it was roundly panned, but them's the breaks, I guess.

The band split up soon after, and although Woodmansey carried on playing the odd session and guesting at events such as the Mick Ronson Tribute concerts, he has largely retreated from the music scene. He is now a Scientologist. For more information, you should try www.5years.com, dedicated to the Bowie 'Ziggy Stardust' era, and has links to Woodmansey's own website. As for the rest of U-Boat's crew, little is known of their current whereabouts.

Alan Robinson, May 2000 
Taken from the reissue of "Woody Woodmansey's U-Boat", Castle ESMCD895

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