Student house in Hull designed as tribute to Bowie and Spiders from Mars

A tribute house that pays homage to David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars is a musical education for students in Hull. Sharon Dale reports.

Photographs of Bowie and Spiders from Mars are displayed in the themed student house.
Photographs of Bowie and Spiders from Mars are displayed in the themed student house.

The students about to move into Auckland Avenue, Hull, weren’t even a twinkle in their parents eye when Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars burst into the charts in 1972. But they are about to receive a extraordinary education on one of the most exciting moments in musical history.

Their rental property is a remarkable bricks and mortar tribute to David Bowie and one of the greatest bands ever to come out of Hull. All three of the “Spiders” – guitarist Mick Ronson, bass player Trevor Bolder and drummer Mick “Woody” Woodmansey – grew up in and around the city where they honed their talents before stardom called.

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The story is told through a themed interior with Seventies-style furniture and fittings, specially commissioned artwork by Lucy Thorpe, framed lyrics, original gig posters and photographs. There’s also memorabilia in the form of drumsticks, drum skins and posters donated by Woody Woodmansey. He is the last surviving member of the band that worked with Bowie to captivate a nation with outrageous costumes, androgynous looks and a mind-blowingly original sound.

Commissioned art work is part of the decor

The idea of a rental home that pays homage to this rock phenomenon came from Richard Stott, the managing director of Hull-based Kexgill Group, one of the largest private owners of student accommodation in the UK. The property is one of 100 student houses acquired by Kexgill in a £20m deal with the University of Hull, which is aimed at upgrading the accommodation and creating a smart new University Quarter.

Mr Stott is a huge fan of David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars and wanted to celebrate Hull’s connection with the band that played a pivotal role in the creation of classic albums and iconic songs, such as Life on Mars, Starman and Changes. He says: “Seeing them for the first time on Top of the Pops was a defining moment for me. Last year my wife bought me Woody Woodmansey’s autobiography for Christmas and that gave me the idea of doing a themed house,” said Richard, who estimates that the decor has cost an extra £10,000 on top of a £50,000 renovation budget. I don’t think enough people realise that the Spiders were from Hull and this will be a permanent reminder. I did it because I am a huge fan. It won’t make any extra in rent but it will make people smile and it felt like the right thing to do.”

He praised Kexgill’s interior designer Jane Scorah and added: “She’s done a fantastic job and there’s been a huge amount of interest from fans, including some from Norway who sent gig photographs that have never been seen before. We’ve also designed our own blue plaque for outside the house.”

While many landlords would worry about the tributes being trashed by hard-partying students, Mr Stott has no concerns. “The students we have chosen have promised to look after the house and they’re really interested in the concept. One of them is a drummer so he is especially excited by it. Plus students are far more serious these days. One of their must-haves is an American-style fridge freezer because a lot of them are really into cooking. It’s a world away from the stereotypical idea of students.”

The house has a 1970s-style interior

Woody Woodmansey, 67, is officially opening the house today, Thursday, and said: “It’s really something special to see one of the most exciting periods in your life immortalised in a liveable time capsule.”

He was a factory worker by day and an ambitious young musician by night when he got a call asking if he’d like to be in Bowie’s band. The rollercoaster ride ended when Bowie retired Ziggy in 1973 but Woody built a successful career playing drums for everyone from Art Garfunkel and Dexys Midnight Runners to Paul McCartney. He lives in West Sussex and is still working. He and musician and producer Tony Visconti founded Holy Holy four years ago to play Bowie songs with the late star’s blessing.

Woody hopes that the Spiders themed student house in Hull will help keep the music fresh in the minds of younger generations and adds: “What I really hope is that our story will inspire young people to follow their dreams. I want them to think, ‘If three lads from Hull can do it, so can we.’ ”

*And where were The Spiders?

Woody Woodmansey

The Spiders started life as members of The Rats, a popular band in 1960s Hull. They jacked in their day jobs and part-time gigging for a shot at stardom. Moving to London and working with David Bowie brought them the fame, recognition and one of the most memorable moments in the history of Top of the Pops.

Former gravedigger Mick Ronson, Mick “Woody” Woodmansey and bassist Trevor Bolder played on some of Bowie’s greatest albums, including Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and Aladdin Sane. Woody is the only survivor after his bandmates and Bowie passed away.

His favourite Bowie songs are Life on Mars because ”There was nothing like it and when I first heard it I knew David was really something special”. He also loves Moonage Daydreamer, which features a guitar solo that reminds him of the brilliance of his old friend Mick Ronson.

The plaque outside the student house owned by Kexgill