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Trevor Bolder: Bass guitarist with David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars and heavy rockers Uriah Heep

Bowie’s famous ‘it’s the last show we’ll ever do’ announcement came as a shock to the band

Pierre Perrone
Saturday 25 May 2013 00:56 BST
Ziggy and the Spiders: Bolder, left, with David Bowie, Woody Woodmansey and Mick Ronson in 1972
Ziggy and the Spiders: Bolder, left, with David Bowie, Woody Woodmansey and Mick Ronson in 1972 (ITV/Rex features)

The bassist Trevor Bolder backed David Bowie in the early 1970s during the most important and productive chapter of his career, when he created his alien alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and changed the face of popular music with his 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.

Bolder had joined guitarist Mick Ronson and drummer Woody Woodmansey to help Bowie record a BBC radio session and stayed on to make Hunky Dory, the 1971 album featuring “Oh! You Pretty Things”, “Changes” and “Life On Mars?” but it was Ziggy Stardust which captured the imagination of teenagers in Britain and beyond. Bowie wasn’t exaggerating when he sang about “jamming good with Weird and Gilly” – his nicknames for Bolder and Woodmansey – “and the Spiders From Mars” on the album’s title track. The Spiders were a tight band and Bolder’s supple, inventive, melodic bass lines added an extra dimension to cuts like “Moonage Daydream”, “Hang On To Yourself” and “Suffragette City”.

Bolder, Ronson and Woodmansey reluctantly followed the template of Bowie’s futuristic, androgynous fantasy and glammed up too, with eye make-up, flamboyant outfits and stacked heel boots. “It slowly worked into a band with costumes,” said Bolder, who dyed his hair jet black and sported spectacularly long white muttonchops when the Spiders appeared on Lift Off With Ayshea and then Top Of The Pops to perform “Starman” in July 1972. The latter became infamous for Bowie wrapping his arm around Ronson, while the follow-up single, “John, I’m Only Dancing”, featuring the same backing trio, kept up the androgynous playfulness the singer had introduced by wearing a dress on the cover of his 1970 album The Man Who Sold The World. “I always thought Ziggy was a bit like a cartoon character,” mused Bolder, who also recorded the album Aladdin Sane before Ziggy famously “broke up the band” at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973, his “it’s the last show we’ll ever do” announcement surprising his musicians as much as his fans.

The bassist stayed on to cut the covers album Pin Ups, Bowie’s homage to the ’60s groups who had inspired him, but then found himself “phased out of the scene” by the star and his management. “The bigger he got, the less we actually saw him. He separated himself from us towards the end – he was like a solo artist that didn’t need us,” Bolder recalled in a rare interview in 2003. “I don’t think that he’d have got up there as fast as he did without the Spiders From Mars. Many still think it was the best band he’s ever had.”

In the mid-1970s Bolder helped Ronson, who was being groomed by Bowie’s manager Tony DeFries as another potential teen idol, to make two solo albums, Slaughter On 10th Avenue and Play Don’t Worry. However he remained resentful of Bowie’s nonchalance towards his former associates. “Bowie did Diamond Dogs and he didn’t use us. When it all finished, we had no money, and I had a family. He just didn’t give me the percentage I was on,” said the bassist, who recorded a Spiders From Mars album with Woodmansey in 1976 before joining heavy progressive rockers Uriah Heep as a replacement for John Wetton.

Save for a short period with Wishbone Ash in the early 1980s, again taking over from Wetton, he remained a constant with Uriah Heep, the longest-serving member after the guitarist and sole original Mick Box. Bolder helped the group conquer new territories like Russia and reach a new level of popularity in Germany, where Innocent Victim, the second of the 12 studio albums he contributed to, became a million-seller. With Heep he blossomed as a songwriter, composing several of their successful ballads, and he also produced their 1991 album Different World.

Born in 1950 in Kingston upon Hull, Bolder came from a musical family. He followed in his father’s footsteps and took up the trumpet, an instrument he would later return to in order to embellish Hunky Dory and the Ronson albums. By the time he was seven he played in a brass band and soon added the trombone and the cornet to the range of instruments he had mastered with the intention of joining the Royal Marines as a musician. The advent of The Beatles changed all that and he formed a group with his brother Ian on guitar and took up the bass. Bolder name-checked Jack Bruce of Cream and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac as well as Paul McCartney and The Who’s John Entwistle as the bassists who most influenced him, stressing that his approach to the instrument evolved out of his training on the trumpet. “I adapted the trumpet stuff to the bass, playing melodic parts,” he explained. “I never wanted to just be a bass player plonking away, I always wanted to have the edge to the sound and be able to play with a melodic feel.”

Having played blues covers with various outfits, he joined Ronson in the Rats and then Ronno, the group the guitarist formed after a spell backing Bowie with Woodmansey and the bassist and producer Tony Visconti as The Hype in 1970. Ronno gave up their deal with Vertigo when they threw their weight behind Bowie, which explains Bolder’s resentment about his Spiders From Mars earnings.

Bolder and Woodmansey teamed up with Joe Elliott and Phil Collen of Def Leppard as the Cybernauts to pay tribute to Ronson, who died in 1993. Last year Bolder and Woodmansey were at the unveiling of a plaque in Heddon Street, London, the location of the famous Ziggy Stardust cover. In January 1972 the musicians stayed indoors because it was cold, leaving photographer Brian Ward to immortalise Bowie on his own under the K. West sign.

Shy and unassuming when I met him with Wishbone Ash and later Uriah Heep, Bolder opened up when talking about his beloved Hull City. He was a dynamic presence on stage but never got round to issuing a solo album. He remained a musician’s musician, hailed and admired by the likes of Midge Ure, Gary Kemp and John Bentley, the Squeeze bassist he had taught. He died of pancreatic cancer.

“Trevor was a wonderful musician and a major inspiration for whichever band he was working with,” Bowie said in tribute. “But he was foremostly a tremendous guy, a great man.”

Trevor Bolder, bassist and songwriter: born Kingston upon Hull 9 June 1950; married firstly Ann (marriage dissolved; one son, one daughter), 1989 Shelly Reich (one son); died Cottingham 21 May 2013.

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