Mick Ronson: This band will be a world beater
Michael Benson • Disc • 20 October 1973
Mick Ronson, ex-Spider, shines a light on his new band as he edges away from Bowie.
“This band is going to be a world beater,” enthused Mick Ronson, when I joined him for a mixing session at Trident Studios last week. Ronson huddled over the vast control panel flicking switches and confiding in the two technicians who sandwiched him, was listening to tracks on his forthcoming solo album. He's confident that it's going to be a success and it rubbed off on me. I’m possibly more confident than he is now.
Such is the power and talent of this ex-Spider. He has now to stand on his own and he's meeting the challenge in the same zestful way that helped to turn Bowie into a legend. Next year is going to be the year of Michael Ronson. Be told now, because I’m sure he'll climb higher than he has done in the last couple of years during that immaculate wave of Bowie-ism.
It was little more than four months ago when both he and David trod the boards of Hammersmith's Odeon for the last time. Since then they’ve recorded a new Bowie album at the Chateau in France and been holidaying in Italy.
The past month has been spent by Ronson recording a new album with his new band. Again they went to the Chateau to realise the songs in Ronson's mind.
The band is an impressive line up consisting of Trevor Bolder, former Spider bassist, Aynsley Dunbar, ex-John Mayall bluesman and Mother of Invention drummer, and Mike Garson, one time piano tutor and more recently a temporary Spider on Bowie's last British and American tours.
Ronson is a hard man. He knows what he wants and he fights until he gets it. His technicians seconded that opinion and one could sense such a feeling inside the studio. Although pretty loose, hard work and the aim for perfection are the only two things that really matter to him.
As we sat there, Suzy, his batman and guardian angel, brought in a large lump of fan mail. There were presents too, a spider, a bottle of Spitz and some floor polish? Needless to say there were bracelets by the dozen, but Mick appreciates them and the thought behind them.
“After I'd finished David's album, I went on holiday. Just lying out in the sun all day and getting plenty of time to think prompted me to form my own band. I knew the people that I wanted for it and when I set out to do something - then I do it. I came home and got the lads together. The Chateau was booked for a month and we just went out there to see how things would work out,” explains Mick as we walked to the front lobby.
Once seated, Suzy comfortably planted on his lap, Mick continued to chat about the beginnings of the band.
“When we arrived at the studio we'd never played together, except for backing David. Aynsley had played on David's album, so we knew each other quite well. We knew straight away that the band was gonna work out and we got cracking immediately.
“l don't want a band that's going to be together for a short time, I need one that's going to stay together for a few years at least. If I couldn't get a fixed band, then I wouldn't have formed a group,” Mick tells me with abounding confidence.
The album, which is scheduled for release next January is even in its raw, un-mixed, un-cut state a true masterpiece of fine music, kindled by the fierce flames that burn around Ronson. “l was in total command on this album, but with musicians like Trevor, Aynsley and Mike they insert their own feelings into each piece of music. As time goes along, I'm sure that they'll get more into the say of what's being done. This album has everything in it. It's a rocking bluesy, jazzy mixture. There's even a George Gershwin instrumental called Slaughter On 10th Avenue, where Mike Garson plays some of the best piano I've ever heard on a record,” he explains.
A single is also planned to precede the album by a couple of weeks. “There's about four songs on the album that could be used for singles, but at the moment we haven't given much thought to one.”
“As things are at the moment, it'll probably take something like two years to break the band. Mind you, we'll be starting at the top and then trying to climb higher,” he says. When I asked how he planned to achieve such a task, Mick smiled and secretively said, “It's easy to me.”
The album is the main thing in Ronson's life just now. Last week alone he worked a solid 80 hours on it, yet his appetite for hard work is insatiable.
“I thrive on hard work. It makes me stronger when the work gets harder. This band is going to make me a lot steadier and at the moment it's the only thing I’m thinking about. When the album's completed I've got to start concentrating on getting an act together for when we go out on the road next February.”
What, I asked him, has his band to offer after the incredible success he's had with Bowie?
“I don't want to give too much away at the moment, but I can tell you that we'll have a pretty elaborate stage act. It'll be based on the theatre and we'll appear in costumes. We'll also have our own lighting effects.
“I’ll not be wearing silver tights and things like that,” he explained.
Ronson is clearly beginning to edge his image away from Bowie, but he'll be still trying to cater for Bowie fans, who without much doubt will be amongst his early followers.
“This band is going to appeal to everyone. Obviously David's fans are going to expect something that's connected with David and we'll possibly be doing Moonage Daydream on stage.
“But just as the album shows, we'll be playing to everyone, Mums and dads, Bowie fans, progressive fans, right to boppers. We expect to have girls screaming at us from the front and that's just the kind of audience we want,” explained Mick.
Ronson's music has a remarkably wide range of appeal, wider if I may say so than Bowie's.
“I've written three of the songs on the album, while David wrote one, American songstress Annette Peacock another, and so on. Although we recorded eight tracks in France, of which all will be used on the album.
“When we come to play them onstage, obviously there's going to be problems, but we've ways of substituting strings. The music is very exciting and visually it'll be different from anything that's been done before.
“I've still the enthusiasm I had when I was working with David. I always have to put everything I've got into what I'm doing; otherwise I wouldn't be able to do it. At the moment I really feel confident that things are going to work out. There's no chance of failing,” he says.
Mick Ronson and the rest of the group begin rehearsals in late November and will continue right up until Christmas before unleashing themselves on the British public.
“10 to 15 concerts are being planned for us, all of which are the largest venues. He simply couldn't start playing small clubs end things again. We've got to start at the top-and climb from there,” Ronson insists.
At this moment the phone rings and Bowie's on the other end. Both he and Mick chat for about five minutes. David is spending the day in bed and generally devoting his time to songwriting.
When the conversation is over, Ronson appears to be a much happier man. When I asked why, his secretive smile told me I wasn't going to find out. Prompted by the call, I asked Mick what he did on his days away from the music business.
“I get very little time to myself. I've had one day in the last month and I spent that by doing a bit of shopping and watching television. I really love television! I'll have to get Suzy to go out and get me a portable one. His shopping, unlike his music is slightly more indecisive. He spent his shopping trip buying a tin opener and a set of pots and pans.
“When I'm home I like to be quiet. I sometimes write songs, when I'm not watching TV or something.” His home is a flat in Beckenham, but even there he can't get away from his showbiz world.
“There are always a load of girls hanging around outside and every time I walk past the window they start screaming. It's nice though, that they should care enough to do it,” says Mick.
The pressures put upon Ronson are enough to make most mortals quake, but he stands as steady as a rock. The work hours alone are enough.
“People think we earn our money the easy way and for nothing, but when they start saying that they're just talking rubbish. You've gotta be strong in this business and get stronger as you go along, otherwise you're sunk without trace.
“Luckily the set up I belong to is like a big family. They protect us. They protected David, when journalists wanted to interview him purely about his sex life and not his music, and they'll protect me. They make me feel very secure and things have worked out pretty well up to now,” confides Ronson.
The conversation slid back to the band and what he plans to do with it.
“We’ll be exactly what we are – no messin'. America obviously figures heavily in the future and we'll be touring there in March. Americans aren't that well up in the music scene and usually they accept what you give 'em.
“If I had to make a choice of making it either Britain or America, then I’d have to choose the States, because the scope there is so much greater. There'd be more for me to do in America, but I could never live there. America is alright just as long as you know you can come home to England again,” he tells me.
So what of Ronson's future with David?
“Well now we don't have to rely on each other. We'll continue to work together, because David will still be making albums. I know that when David has something he wants me to help him with, then I'll adjust my schedule and he'll adjust his, so that our individual things won't be interfered with.
“If David hadn't quit then I wouldn't have got a band together, but now I've got a band of my own I’m determined to do things properly, that's why it's going to be successful.
“There is a lot of other things I can do, but they'll come later. At the moment all my energy's channelled into this band, that's why it's going to be the best,” says Mick.
Currently he's in a position of climbing Everest and then attempting to reach even higher. I asked him how he felt about this situation?
“Starting at the top doesn't worry me. I’m not frightened of having to live up to anything. For me this comes easy, because I'm never satisfied with anything I do. I guess it'll be that way until I die.
“If we release a single, then it'll have to be a hit. I'll put just as much importance on it as I do an album, because it would have to be successful. I don't let anything go by the wayside.
“I don't want to settle down into one type of music either. I like to vary my music and the instruments I play. In time, the band will enlarge. I was tempted at the very beginning to bring in a brass section and a vocal group, but now that we've managed so well with just the four of us, that's the way it'll stay.
“Other people that might play with the band in the future will be regarded as outsiders,” he explains.
With a tightly knit band, and a superbly inventive and refreshing album on the way, Ronson is going to show those who've called him a faggot and the like, that's he's a far greater talent than most people think. Next year is going to prove it once and for all.
“This band is the best band to come, into creation for a long time. When we get on the road and the album's released people are really going to take notice, because they won't have heard a band like this one. Like I said - it's going to be a world-beater,” concludes Mick, bubbling with confidence and enthusiasm.