“Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly.” (David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust, 1972).

In the interest of context, we have to at this point go back a year to early May 1993 and specifically to Madison Wisconsin. Nazareth were playing a gig here and we were joined by Greg Lewerke from Vault Management, an LA-based company. Greg had flown in to help with some tour accountancy matters which right away made him not very interesting to my bandmates and road crew.

Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson

I, on the other hand, was very interested in hanging out with him as Greg Lewerke was currently the personal manager of the Hunter/Ronson Band, or Ian and Mick to him. I wasted no time in showing him my address book with Mick Ronson’s phone number in it and asked if it was still current.
“I’ve never actually called him,” I explained after he’d acknowledged the number was correct. “It’s just good to know that I could if I ever wanted to, know what I mean?”
He nodded that he understood.
After agreeing to meet in the hotel bar after our gig for a ‘Hunter/Ronson Fan Fest’ as I put it, we parted company: Me to do a gig, him, who knows but it was probably boring.
“Getting some tax advice?” said Pete as we left the hotel bar as was our wont, pre-gig.
“He’s really cool.”
“Really? In what possible way?”
“He manages the Hunter/Ronson Band Pete. That makes him cool.”
“Ye mean he manages that curly-heided guy who canny sing and that average guitarist you like?”
“Let me tell ye, Uncle Pete,” I cautioned, “I’d leave Nazareth in a heartbeat and pish in your mouth if I was offered a job sniffing the exhaust fumes of the truck taking the Hunter/Ronson Band’s underwear to the laundry.”
“You serious?”
“Nah, but I’d probably need to think about it.”

Mick Ronson

That night I played a bit more ‘Ronson-ish’ and got back to my hotel room excited to join everyone in the bar after the customary shower. Then a knock came to my door. It was Greg with two bottles of Heineken.
“Can I come in?”
“Hey, Greg! Yeah, I was just thinking maybe by the end of the night you could gimme Ian Hunter’s phone number and I wouldn’t ever use it either, like Mick’s.”
“Sit down Bill.”
“Okay. What’s up?”
“Mick’s gone. Passed away last week. April 29th to be exact.”
Now I knew he’d been battling cancer, but last I’d heard it was in remission so this was unexpected.
“I know he meant a lot to you so I reckoned you’d be better off playing the gig tonight before I told you.”
“Right. Thanks, Greg. Can you go now?”
“Sure. See you in the bar?”
“Yeah, just gimme a minute.”
I never made it to the bar. Instead, I rolled myself into a ball in the bathroom and cried til I couldn’t cry anymore.


Trevor Bolder

Now move forward a year, while we were recording in Germany, and I got a call.
“Hey, Billy Boy! Trev here. Listen, there’s a gig being organised at the Hammersmith Odeon in memory of Mick. You in?”
The more observant amongst you will realise the Trev here was Mr Bolder, my good friend and bass player with Uriah Heep, but also part of the original Spiders From Mars alongside Woody Woodmansey and Mick Ronson, and Dame Dave of course.
“Great idea, Trev.”
“Yeah, I’ve been asked to reform the Spiders with Bowie.”
“Fuckin’ hell!”
“Aye man. Me and Woody are well up for it.”
“So what can I help with? Tune your guitar?”
“Nope. I want you to be Mick.”
“Wait? What! Why?”
“Cos you remind me so much of Ronson. I’ve told you before you dumb fuck! You play like him and even sometimes look like him onstage. I’ve told you before you dumb fuck!”
“Aye, you have mate. Twice just now.”
“Yeah sorry. Are you in?”
So, I’m being asked to play Mick Ronson at the Hammersmith Odeon with Trevor Bolder, Woody Woodmanssey and David Bowie.

What else could I say?

“See you there, Trev. I’m nursing a semi.”

“Michael is very special. He’s my Jeff Beck.” (David Bowie interview, 1971)
Unknown newspaper 3.94
Unknown newspaper March 1994

The date for what was now officially ‘The Mick Ronson Memorial Concert’ was April 29th 1994, exactly a year after Ronno’s passing and it was a guaranteed sellout. Not only was the Thin White Duke performing with The Spiders (featuring a big-nosed Scottish guitarist) but elsewhere on the bill were such luminaries as Ian Hunter, two Rogers: Taylor from Queen and Daltrey from some Mod outfit, Steve Harley, Glen Matlock from The Pistols, Mick Jones of The Clash, Tony Visconti (who was playing with Mick’s original band from Hull, The Rats) Bill Wyman, Captain Sensible from The Damned and, er, Rolf Harris. “You probably haven’t heard of him,” said Trevor during a phone call to me, “But some Yorkshire bloke called Bill Nelson wants to join us for a couple of Spiders’ songs. If you want to let him play a solo that’s up to you.” So folks, for one night only, I was to become one of my heroes in charge of another one of my heroes? Shit, all that was missing was Alvin Lee asking to play the spoons!

Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey

Rehearsals began at John Henry’s studios in North London where Trevor introduced me to Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey for the first time:
“Oh, hullo,” said he. “Good to meet you. Trev’s told me a lot about you, Bill.”
“Thanks, Mick. Good to meet you too.”
“Call me Woody. Only me Mam calls me Mick.”
“I’d rather not, Mick. I don’t know you well enough to call you Woody.”
“Bloody Hell, Trev! I like this C*nt.”
Then Trevor dropped the bombshell: “Bowie ain’t coming.”
“What? Why?”
He then showed us the fax (yep, they existed in 1994) from Bowie’s people:
“David sends his sincere apologies, but unfortunately he will not be able to attend the Mick Ronson Memorial concert next week. He is unfortunately behind schedule with the recording of his new album.”
“Shit!” I exclaimed.
“What a C*nt!” Woody added.
“We’ve got a backup,” said Trevor.
“A backup for David The C*nt Bowie?” Woody subtly enquired.
“Aye. Joe Elliott from Def Leppard. He’s up for it, but can’t make it til the last few days of rehearsals.”
“That’ll work. I’ll handle the vocals til he gets here,” I offered.
This was acceptable to all.
“Excuse me!” said a voice on the payphone next to us in reception. “I’m trying to talk here!”
“Sorry, mate.”
I recognised the guy. It was David Lee Roth. Yes, back in 1994, not only did fax machines exist, but a member of Van Halen was conducting his business on a payphone.
“Who’s that C*nt?” said my new friend from Hull.

Hammersmith Apollo, London 28.4.94 L-R Woody, Billy, Trevor, Phil & Bill
Hammersmith Apollo, London 28th April 1994. L-R Woody, Billy, Trevor, Phil & Bill

Rehearsals began with just me, Trev and Woody (and Trev’s mate from Uriah Heep, Phil Lanzon, on keyboards for a few numbers) and we sounded great. Within 10 minutes, we’d all gelled enough for Trev to yell at Woody, “Told you!”
“Aye, he’s Ronson right enough. And sings better than that C*nt Bowie an’ all.”
High praise indeed. Then Bill Nelson showed up and I was beside myself with hero-worship, but he was so humble even after I’d told him of my visit to Wakefield and meeting his Mum back in 1977.
“Your amps sound so much better than mine,” he said after we ran through a few songs together.
“Aye. I’m using old 50 watt Marshalls.”
“Ah, that would explain it.”
“But you can too, my hero,” I possibly replied.
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to cause a fuss.”
It was then the Mick Ronson power bestowed on me kicked in and I summoned a roadie to, “Get him what I’ve got, please.”
And with this gesture, Bill Nelson became my friend. Then Joe Elliott showed up. Another Yorkshireman. Joe, as it turned out, had not only been Mick’s friend, but had also been instrumental in producing his Heaven & Hull album shortly before his death, so deserved a certain respect. Joe would hear none of it. “Thanks for covering for me, Billy. You’ve saved me a lot of time.” Big Joe had brought his bandmate from The Leps with him, Wee Phil Collen. Just what we needed, another guitar player. “You’re still in charge, Billy,” said Trev. “They’ll play what you let ‘em.” As it happens we three axe victims got along so well I didn’t have to tell anyone anything. Even after Bill and Phil had requested their solo choices, I was still left with the lion’s share.

Hammersmith Apollo, London 28.4.94
Hammersmith Apollo, London 28th April 1994

After the final day’s rehearsal at the Hammersmith Apollo, we all got together in the hotel bar along with Ian Hunter and Tony Visconti. Ian and I spoke at length about his upbringing near Peacock Cross in Hamilton, Scotland. I had no idea we’d both lived in the same town once upon a time and also shared a fondness for its local fish and chip shop, Equi’s. In fact, every time he plays in Scotland, Ian still makes a point of parking his tour bus at Equi’s and treating his band members to a fish supper and some ice cream. “Small world innit?” Mr Hunter mused. There was, however, a problem. Rumours were circulating mainly due to a comment made in passing by Maggi Ronson, Mick’s sister, that David Bowie may show up on the night after all. Apparently, his people had asked which songs we’d be playing.
“What’ll I do if he does?” asked Joe.
“Fuck him, you’re our singer now,” said Woody.
“He let us down, the C*nt.”
“But it’s David fuckin’ Bowie! He’d need to sing at least some of our set,” said Joe, and we all nodded in agreement, except Woody.
“Right,” he announced.
“If he shows up we’ll let him do one song.”
“But which one?” one of us asked.
“Oh, I dunno,” said Woody before adding:

“Whatever song he’ll still be able to sing after I’ve kicked the C*nt’s balls in!”

“Billy Rankin (Guitar), currently with Nazareth and ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Billy is a great admirer of Mick Ronson’s style and consequently was the first on Trevor’s invitation list.” (Excerpt from Mick Ronson Memorial Concert programme, April 29th 1994)
Signed Mick Ronson Memorial Concert poster
Signed Mick Ronson Memorial Concert poster (Billy top right in silver)

If you were going to be unkind, then pointing out that neither my name or picture was even on the poster advertising the Mick Ronson Memorial Concert would probably do the trick, but that one small mention above from the official programme should tell you differently: I WAS on the poster cos, after all, I was leading the biggest and greatest band (to true Ronson fans at least) playing on the night. I was in The Spiders From Mars and I was going to be, in my mind and those of my bandmates, Mick Ronson. Who gives a fuck if some blokes from Queen, The Who, The Stones, Def Leppard, Be Bop Deluxe, The Clash, Cockney Rebel and The Sex Pistols were playing? And who cares (besides Joe Elliott) if David Bowie shows up? (He didn’t.) Not me. No Siree, Bob! (Oh that reminds me: Whispering Bob Harris was compèring.) Having said all that, I kinda get it. The concert was not only celebrating Mick’s life. It was also raising much-needed money for cancer research so who would be enticed into buying a ticket advertising the appearance of a guitarist from, let’s face it, an old ’70s rock band who’d never even touched the UK charts in years.

Probably just his mother.

Anyway, getting back to the hotel bar after our last day’s rehearsal, our entourage had doubled due to the arrival of our numerous spouses. Trudi Hunter joined Shelley Bolder, June Woodmansey, Carla (soon to be ex) Elliott, Emiko (about to be Mrs) Nelson and Mary Rankin. But that last one almost didn’t happen. Mrs Billy was flying into Heathrow earlier in the day but, due to a bomb scare, the London Underground was closed, meaning I was unable to make the journey to meet her arrival as we’d arranged. After reciting this dilemma to my fellow Spiders, everyone pulled together a kitty of cash sufficient to cover my taxi fare to and from the wife’s pick-up point, but then Joe Elliott did the unexpected. Reaching into his pocket, he tossed a set of keys to me. It was for his Porsche parked in the hotel’s underground car park, and he simply said, “Go get her mate.” That was the point when I realised I was in a band with a bloke I belonged in a band with.

Hammersmith Apollo, London 28.4.94
Hammersmith Apollo, London 28th April 1994

28th April saw our soundcheck/dress rehearsal come about and it was spectacularly unspectacular unless you were a true die-hard fan. We ran through a few songs during which the out front soundman became my new bestie when, after asking me to play for level and I did, unleashing the full force of my 50 Watt Marshall stack, simply replied, “That’s fine, thank you.” Also addressed was who would play what solos in the songs with multiple options. Trevor sorted this with his unflinching belief in my position:
“If Billy points to you,” he told Bill Nelson and Phil Collen, “Then you play a solo.”
“If he points to himself, then he’s pulling Rank…in. Ooh, I made a funny. Clear?”
It was.
The only omission from our planned set was a full 7-minute rendition of Slaughter On Tenth Avenue which the organisers deemed too long. Everyone was gutted cos we’d nailed it pretty good, except Woody. “Fine by me. Load of shite anyway. What was the stupid C*nt thinking?” Yes, his use of the C-word knew no bounds, even if it referred to his old bandmate and the reason we were all here at all. In the glorious sunshine behind the Hammersmith Apollo, the various Rock legends involved congregated and, unless you believe Barry’s recollection of events, we were all soundchecked without problems. Back at the hotel, I got busy teaching Woody some well known Scots phrases and he was getting good at them. For example: “Come ahead ya dobber! Ah’ll pure kick yer melt in!” (Let’s fight now! I shall emerge victorious!) and “Button it, Ya Jaikey Basturt!” (Be quiet, you fatherless drunkard!) and his personal favourite “Away an’ Lie in Yer Pish!” (Begone and roll around in your own urine!) It would prove useful later.

Mick Ronson Memorial Concert poster 29th April 1994
Mick Ronson Memorial Concert programme Hammersmith Apollo 29th April 1994
Mick Ronson Memorial Concert programme Hammersmith Apollo 29th April 1994
Mick Ronson Memorial Concert programme Hammersmith Apollo 29th April 1994
AAA Pass Hammersmith Apollo 28/29th April 1994
Hammersmith Apollo ticket 29th April 1994
Mick Ronson Memorial Concert album cover
Mick Ronson Memorial Concert album booklet
Mick Ronson Memorial Concert album booklet
Mick Ronson Memorial Concert album booklet
Mick Ronson Memorial Concert album booklet
Mick Ronson Memorial Concert poster

Moving forward to the gig itself, I arrived at the Hammy with Mary in good time and, after finally being allowed in (check Barry’s story on the details) I was walking upstairs in the backstage area when who was walking down, but none other than Rolf Harris. Nowadays a convicted paedophile, but back then he was a well-known family entertainer with several comedic hit singles to his name including Jake The Peg and Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport. Not the sort of guy you’d expect to meet at a Rock concert. Lost for words cos I couldn’t say, “Hey, I’ve got all your hit records,” I simply pointed at him and exclaimed, “You’re Rolf Harris!” to which he forced a smile and walked on by. Next time we crossed paths was when The Spiders had just finished our set and were walking offstage. Rolf was in the wings applauding our performance so, as I went by, I pointed at him again and this time yelled, “You’re Rolf Harris!” The future Big Paedo (he was much taller than expected) fired me a sideways glancing scowl and was definitely far from pleased. “Fuck him,” I thought. “He shouldn’t even be here and I’ll never see him again.”


All The Young Dudes. Rolf Harris slightly obscured behind Billy
All The Young Dudes. Rolf Harris slightly obscured behind Billy

The third and last time I saw him (apart from in the news years later when he was behind bars) happened as me, Trev and Woody were relaxing in our dressing room. One of the organisers, Will Palin (brother of Monty Python Michael) burst in and said, “Ian Hunter wants everyone on stage for the encore, hurry guys!” Someone handed Woody a tambourine and he ran to take his place beside Queen’s Roger Taylor at the drum kit. All The Young Dudes was in full swing and many additional mic stands were being set up front of stage.
“Just find a spot and join in,” Will was telling us all, so I found the nearest mic stand which was already quite busy only to find myself standing next to, yep you guessed it.
“You’re Rolf Harris!” I screamed in his ear. This time he violently recoiled and If looks could kill? Well, let’s just say he could’ve been in jail much sooner than he was, for the murder of a big-nosed Scotsman.

As the encore came to an end and Ian brought the band to a finish, something else happened onstage. Woody went to shake Roger Taylor’s hand, but Roger ignored him.
“The snobby little C*nt!” raved our Woods back in The Spiders’ dressing room.
Sensing his anger and an opportunity for some future funny memories, I made a suggestion.
“He’s next door, Mick. Go tell him.”
“You’re right Billy mate. Come on then!”

Woody & Rog
All The Young Dudes. Woody & Rog

Entering the Star’s dressing room, we ignored the Hunters, Daltreys, Wymans and Rolfs, and made a beeline for Queen’s drummer who was in mid-celebration of a job well done. And, to be fair, it WAS a great night. Everyone had worked their arses off from crew, security, PR folk, musicians, the lot and it had raised a shitload for charity. All because of a mutual love and respect for Mick Ronson. That didn’t matter a jot to Mick Woodmansey at this moment.
“Oi, C*nt! You snubbed me back there!”
“What? Sorry, I didn’t catch a word of that. Would you care for a drink or something?”
“Oh My!” I recall thinking. “This should be good.”
“Never mind all that, ya C*nt!”
“Oh, good comeback Mick!” I also recall thinking, then I thought out loud, saying, “Do it, Mick!”
Clearing his throat, my star pupil on the subject of Scots language locked faces and eyes with his drummist counterpart and announced in his best, but far from perfect, Caledonian:

“Away an’ Lie in Yer Pish!”

Width Of A Circle, Hammersmith Apollo 29th April 1994 (solo by Billy)

Angel #9, Hammersmith Apollo 29th April 1994 (solo by Billy)