Glenn Gregory, an English singer, song writer and multi-instrumentalist with Heaven 17 chats with Kevin Cooper about a new Heaven 17 album, meeting David Bowie, Afterhere’s latest album Addict, and next year’s Holy Holy Tour.

Glenn Gregory is an English singer, song writer, and multi-instrumentalist whose music career spans more than 30 years. He came to prominence in the early 1980s as co-founder and lead singer of the new wave and synth pop band Heaven 17.

The band released eight studio albums, but by the late 1980s their popularity had declined and they broke up in 1988, but reunited in 1996, and played their first ever live concert in 1997. Marsh left the band in 2007, but Ware and Gregory continue to perform as Heaven 17.

Outside of Heaven 17, Gregory has been a member of the bands Ugly and Honeyroot. He has also established a career in soundtrack music, writing for radio, TV and film. He creates scores in a private studio built at the bottom of his garden.

He is also a member of Afterhere, a duo formed with Berenice Scott. They have provided the music for the big budget ITV drama, Vanity Fair. Scott also plays keyboards with Heaven 17 and also tours with Holy Holy, a super group who perform the songs of David Bowie from 1969 to 1973.

Whilst busy learning the songs from Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World and The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Glenn good morning, how are you today?

Good morning Kevin I’m very well thank you, how are you?

I’m very well thank you and firstly let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it really is an absolute pleasure speaking to you once again.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at the moment is extremely busy but I would rather it be that way than me sitting at home twiddling my fingers (laughter). The devil, idle hands and all of that (laughter).

Well you and I last spoke on 5th April when you were busy getting yourself in shape for the forthcoming 35th Anniversary Tour of The Luxury Gap (laughter). How are things going, are you still doing lots of singing alone in the car?

(Laughter) absolutely. I am so fed-up with the whole situation as I have never done so much bloody singing in my life (laughter). As you know there will be a Heaven 17 tour at the end of this year and then we have got the Holy Holy tour coming up in late January early February so as you can imagine it’s all about balls in the air at the moment (laughter). I recently looked at all of the advertising for that tour which is all over the website and it said ‘Ziggy Stardust and The Man Who Sold The World’ and I was like ‘what, both albums’ (laughter). I called up the tour manager and said “has the tour advertising been printed wrong” and he replied “oh no, that’s what Woody (Woodmansey) and Tony (Visconti) want to do” (laughter). I just thought ‘Jesus Christ’ (laughter).

So you have finally seen that it is both albums but if you look closely and carefully at the small print it also says ‘other selected tracks’ (laughter).

(Laughter) yes, exactly. I think that gig is going to be over two and a half hours long.

You should always remember to read the small print (laughter).

(Laughter) yes, exactly.

I was going to ask you about the tour later but as you have brought it up let me firstly ask you just how did your involvement in Holy Holy come about?

It was just one of those right place right time moments I think to be honest. I had been working on an album called International Blue with a guy called Stephen Emmer who is a Dutch artist. I had written and sung four songs on that album, and it had different artists on it and Tony Visconti was producing it down at the Abbey Road studios. So I was working with Tony at that time on that project and one day he said to me “do you know Glenn that sometimes when I am mixing your voice you really do sound like David (Bowie)”. That really was amazing and I was like “oh thank you Tony” (laughter). Then a week later after that actual day in the studio, Woody had contacted Tony asking him if he would be interested in joining him in his latest project The Man Who Sold The World live on stage.

At that moment in time that particular Bowie album had never been performed in its entirety live on stage. It had always been under the shadow of Ziggy Stardust so they had performed some of the songs from that album but they had never performed the whole album. Tony admitted that he would be really interested in doing it so he met Woody here in the UK to discuss who they could chose to sing it. Because Tony had been working with me on my voice and it had somehow clicked in his head that I somehow reminded him of David, he just suggested me and Woody said “yes that might be interesting, that could work” so I got the call from Tony asking me if I was interested in singing The Man Who Sold The World.

I was confused at the time because I thought that he was talking about just that song at some sort of celebrity gig somewhere (laughter). So I said to him “is there anything else that you would like me to learn and sing” and it was at that point that he said to me “no, I want you to sing the whole album and maybe a few other of David’s songs from around that time” (laughter). All of this was happening on my birthday; I had just picked up my little boy and we were walking home from school and I just said “wow that really is a fantastic birthday present mate. Yes I would really love to do that” (laughter). So it really was a case of me being in the right place at the right time. Joking apart, I feel really honoured to have been asked to do it.

I personally feel that Tony Visconti’s pedigree is as good as it gets regarding David Bowie and he could have pretty much have asked anybody I think and he would have got a yes. So I really am very honoured to have been asked to be a part of it and to be singing it. I have to be honest and say that it is a slightly dangerous area because there will always be someone out there who will say that it is just a tribute act but it really isn’t that at all. It is Woody Woodmansey who is the last surviving member of The Spiders From Mars and Tony Visconti who played bass on The Man Who Sold The World album and who also produced a hell of a lot of albums for David. It really is part of the band, and it feels really good.

Did you know that the name Holy Holy comes from the B-side to the single Diamond Dogs which was released in January 1971?

Wow was it really Diamond Dogs, ah right well you have taught me something this morning. I had no idea.

It was later put onto subsequent album and CD releases as a bonus track. A track that is not as well-known as a lot of other material from David wouldn’t you agree?

Yes I would, it really isn’t that well known at all. I find it to be a weird little song. We have played it live a couple of times but we have dropped it since. So that is where the name came from is it, well I have to say that I do quite like the name actually; it kind of works.

Knowing that you and I would be speaking, I have recently been playing the two albums in question and I have to be honest and say that, in my opinion, The Man Who Sold The World wasn’t David’s best work was it, having been totally overlooked by the majority of the media?

Yes, I totally agree with you on that and it ought to have been, because what you have to remember is that Ziggy Stardust came out almost immediately after The Man Who Sold The World. Space Oddity had already been a hit and so everything seemed to get waylaid. To be honest with you I have always loved that album I really have. I bought a copy when I was fifteen years old and totally loved it. It was a lot heavier than David’s previous albums and in fact, it was almost art meets progressive rock in places. It is great to sing live actually, I mean The Width Of A Circle, what an opening track with that guitar. It is almost ten minutes long and it is just gorgeous although it does leave me somewhat breathless (laughter).

You have briefly touched on it but the good thing to come out of The Man Who Sold The World was the fact that David had by then got the nucleus of The Spiders From Mars together. He had got Woody and Mick Ronson playing on there. At that stage things were changing.

Yes they were, most definitely. He was already moving towards losing his alter ego through his music and the band so yes, it was all starting. Whenever I speak to Woody and Tony about those times with David it sounds as though it was such a laugh. They tell me that they really were great times. Woody tells this really fantastic story in his very own Hull accent about the time that they were in the studio recording Ziggy Stardust in a residential studio somewhere (laughter). They were all working and then Mick Ronson came in and said “I am going to walk into town Woody, do you want to come” and Woody said “yes why not. Are you wearing eye make-up?” to which Ronson replied “yes I am” and Woody said “okay I will go and put mine on” (laughter). And then the two of them went off to the local butchers for some meat (laughter).

(Laughter) that simply doesn’t happen anymore does it?

No it’s sad to say but those days have well and truly disappeared.

David’s next album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars really did catapult him to the next level.

Oh yes, totally and completely. That really is David’s seminal album. At the same time his costumes became more and more bizarre and outrageous. It all started to come into focus from that point.

A lot of people say that The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is the most influential album of the 1970s and I think that you and I would agree on that point.

Yes it is. I personally think that it is one of the most influential albums of all times not just the 1970s. The only other albums that I can think managed to come even close to The Rise And Fall are Roxy Music (1972) and For Your Pleasure (1973) the very first two Roxy Music albums. To me those two albums touched a similar nerve. All three of those were really fantastic albums.

I think that I was fortunate, if you can call it that, to actually see the best and worst of David Bowie. I saw his Serious Moonlight Tour back in 1983 at the Milton Keynes National Bowl which, as everyone knows, was absolutely fantastic. However, I then saw his Glass Spider Tour at Wembley Stadium in 1987 and all that I can say is, what a bloody train crash that was (laughter). David was later reported to have said that the Glass Spider Tour was the worst thing that he had ever done and that he took great delight in setting fire to the spider in a field in New Zealand after the tour had finished.

Well I didn’t manage to see the Glass Spider tour which thinking about it was probably for the best. However, I did subsequently read just how bad it really was. The Serious Moonlight tour however, in my opinion, took David to yet another level.

What can we expect from the show; what format will it take?

You know what; it’s really a kind of old school rocking rock show. You have got two great guitarists in James Stevenson and Paul Cuddeford; they both love Mick Ronson so he has really influenced both of them. James and Paul play Mick’s parts together fantastically. Then you have got Woody Woodmansey on drums who still hits those skins harder than anyone else that I have ever met. And I have to tell you that Tony’s bass playing is exceptional. What else Tony does is very similar to the stories that you hear about the late James Brown, who when anyone played a note wrong he would just look at them and dock their wages immediately (laughter).

There is always that kind of thing going on whenever we go out onto the stage which means that everyone is so going to get it right (laughter). It’s loud, it’s real and it is just proper. I come off the stage and I am simply done, I really am. The shows are sometimes over two hours, this one is most probably going to be even a bit longer (laughter). Everybody gives their all. There is so much love from the audience because you are playing songs that they have loved and grown up with or have recently discovered. There is a lot of youth in there as well; it is not all people of a certain age.

We all know that Bowie’s influence goes far and wide. My son is only fifteen but he could probably sing all of the songs that I sing. He knows them all as well. So there are all of these people and whenever I look at their faces you feel buoyed by it all. It is so exciting. I would say in a sentence that the show is old school rock and roll. It is a 1970s rock show. At the moment I am running between five and ten miles every day because that is how I learn the lyrics; I put just one song on my iPod, have it on repeat and I just go. So usually I am out there for around two and a half hours first thing every morning singing; that’s how I get the songs into my head.

That reminds me of the old Tommy Cooper joke, he said that he runs ten miles every day and by the end of the week he is seventy miles away from home (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) very good (laughter). Have you managed to see the show yet?

No not yet, but I am hoping to see you in Birmingham on February 13th next year.

Honestly you will love it. You really will not be disappointed. The sound is fantastic, and it is just a really good, entertaining show. I promise you that you will get a really great gig if you manage to come along and see the show.

I know that you met David on several occasions. Would you say that you managed to get to know the real David Bowie, David the family man?

No, I didn’t really know David that well at all. I knew a lot of the people who were around him, and I did manage to meet him a couple of times but you have to remember that when he wasn’t recording or performing, David really was a very private man. He wasn’t the sort of person who would share that side of his life with everyone. The very first time that I met him, it was in a tiny pub in West London. It was a typical rock and roll pub, a really scruffy place it has to be said and the original Human League were playing and I was there with them. I was backstage in the dressing room and somebody rushed into the dressing room and said “David Bowie’s here” and there was a really weird buzz around the place.

I just said “oh don’t be silly, David Bowie’s not here in this dodgy little pub in West London” (laughter). However, low and behold he was, he had come to see The Human League. Just before the end of the last number I was sitting on my own in the dressing room when the door flew open and in runs David who grabbed me by the shoulders shouting “they are fucking brilliant, they are the fucking future of music, they are amazing” (laughter). I just looked up at him and said “yes David” (laughter). When the band came off stage we all spent close to three hours in that dressing room and it’s amazing to think that after all of that time I will be standing on stage singing many of David’s songs.

I do feel really genuinely honoured because for me David was part of my growing up as well. Having said all of that I am not trying to sound like David or be like David, I am just doing it as me. However, David really did influence me in the way that I perform and sing in many ways. I don’t try to sound like him at all; I just do it in the way that I do it.

It goes without saying that David has been a massive loss and whenever I look around I simply cannot see anyone stepping up to the plate and replacing him can you?

No I can’t really. Even throughout the time that he was here I don’t think that there was ever anybody that could hold a light to him really. He really was a pretty unique character.

And for him to go out in the manner in which he did was typical David Bowie.

(Laughter) yes, absolutely. For him to have released that album whilst going through what he was going through, it has to be said that it really was amazing. For the album to do so well and then for him to simply go, it was like ‘wow what a way to go’.

Moving on and coming right up to date, you and Berenice (Scott) have released a new album under the name Afterhere.

Yes we have and as you rightly say it is Berenice Scott and me under the name of Afterhere. As you know Berenice plays the keyboards in Holy Holy and Heaven 17 but we also work together writing and recording film soundtracks and TV scores under the name Afterhere. I think, to be honest, that Berenice and I have spent more time together in the last five years than we both have with our respective partners (laughter) with all of the touring together with all of the work that we have done. The album is called Addict and I have to say that it is beautiful. It is mainly Berenice singing, although I do sing on a couple of tracks.

It is a collection of songs that we have put together over a couple of years whilst we have been working together in the studio. There is a new adaptation of Vanity Fair which has been made by Amazon in collaboration with ITV which really is a blockbuster with a worldwide release date. It has got everybody in it, and they have used one of the songs from the album called All Along The Watchtower and they are using that for the whole series. It will be heard for two and a half minutes at the start of every episode. And I have to say that I feel that it works really well, this really weird version of All Along The Watchtower out there amongst all of the bonnets and frocks (laughter). It really does work so well.

Obviously depending upon the reaction to the album, do you have any thoughts on touring it?

It’s a nice album with some tremendous songs so yes, I really would love to tour it.

I have to ask you, is there anything in the pipeline in relation to a new Heaven 17 studio album?

(Laughter) that is very good timing; we did actually have a meeting with the record label yesterday. So yes, it is looking like it might well happen.

And if it does happen, what time period are you looking at?

It will most probably be late next year if it is going to happen with this particular label. We were talking about that as well yesterday.

On that note Glenn let me once again thank you for talking the time to speak to me today. Good luck with everything that you are currently doing and I hope to see you soon.

Thanks’ Kevin it’s been a pleasure as always. It’s nice to be fit and working on it, it’s good fun. You take care and I will see you in Birmingham.