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In January 1970, drummer John Cambridge came back to Hull in search of Mick Ronson, intent upon recruiting him for a new David Bowie backing band called Hype. He found Mick marking out a rugby pitch, one of his duties as a gardener for the Hull City Council. Having failed in his earlier attempts in London, Ronson was reluctant but eventually agreed to accompany Cambridge to a 3 February meeting with Bowie in London. Mick attended a Bowie show at the Marquee, with Tim Renwick of Junior's Eyes playing guitar. Mick had a quick jam with the band afterward, and Bowie invited him to appear on John Peel's Sunday Show on 5 February. The intervening day was spent at Haddon Hall, rehearsing material with the group.
[Mick Ronson, to Kevin Cann] 'I didn't know anything, none of the material. I just sat and watched David's fingers. I really didn't know what I was doing, but I suppose it came across okay.'
Hype signed to Phillips records as a separate group, and received a small advance which was mainly used to purchase equipment. Hype played their first gig at the Roundhouse on 22 February 1970, in support of Noel Redding's band Fat Mattress. The group dressed up in superhero costumes, with David Bowie as Rainbowman, Tony Visconti as Hypeman, Mick Ronson as Gangsterman, and John Cambridge as Cowboyman.
[David Bowie, to Melody Maker] 'I'm very happy with the band. Although we're all happy with the setup, I can't see it becoming a really permanent thing. I want to retain Hype and myself as two separate working units whereby we can retain our own identities.'
Hype play about a dozen dates in February and March, including a homecoming of sorts at University of Hull on 6 March 1970. For the occasion, Benny Marshall joined the group onstage to reprise his harmonica solo on 'Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed'. John Cambridge played his last concert with The Hype on 30 March, and returned to Hull to join The Mandrakes. He was replaced in Hype by another ex-Rat, Woody Woodmansey. In early April, Mick made his first official appearance on a David Bowie record when they recorded 'Memory of a Free Festival' at Advision Studios. Later that month, the band used Advision and Trident Studios to begin recording Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World album. The sessions lasted through most of May.
[Tony Visconti, to MIL] 'Hype ended virtually on the last day of recording the album The Man Who Sold The World. David acquired Tony DeFries as a manager and one of the first things he told David was that he had to drop the band. Mick and Woody went back to Hull, and I had already moved out of Haddon Hall. In all fairness to David, he wanted Hype to succeed and be self sufficient. We were to open for him, then back him at his shows. He was very encouraging. But The Man Who Sold The World was so badly received at the time.'
After recording The Man Who Sold The World, Mick and Woody decided to split with Bowie. They returned to Hull and recruited singer Benny Marshall to join Ronson, Woodmansey, and Visconti in Hype. But a dispute soon arose with the record company over the subject of advance money for Benny Marshall. The label insisted that since the group had already been given an advance, Marshall would not receive anything. Marshall decline to sign the contract offerd to him, and he was eventually paid as a session musician.
The group entered Advision Studios in November 1970 to record an album, but the sessions were largely unsuccessful due to a lack of material. Tony Visconti came up with 'Clorissa', which he sang, and the group recorded another song called 'Invisible Long Hair'. Mick and Benny contributed a hard rocker called 'Powers of Darkness'. Eventually, Tony Visconti began to look outside the group for material. He came up with 'Fourth Hour of My Sleep', written by an artist he had produced called Tucker Zimmerman. (This 'Zimmerman' writing credit has often been mistakenly attributed to Bob Dylan.)
[Tucker Zimmerman] 'I happened to be in London for a couple of weeks, staying with my friend Tony Visconti who at the time was recording Mick Ronsonís group. I remember Tony was living in Putney at the time and he said they needed a tune to go on the B side of their single. Mick came over and we talked for a couple of hours. The band just needed a throw away. So I dug into my mental reserves and remembered most of a song Iíd written in Rome in 1968. I added a new verse that night, demoed it in Tonyís home studio and they took it into one of the major studios in the West End the next day. I dropped by later in the evening and they had just finished taping the song and had decided it would be the A-side. Tony and I did the final mix, we all went out to dinner in Chinatown at midnight and that was the end of that small episode.'
By the time a single was finally released, Hype had been re-christened as Ronno. 'Fourth Hour of My Sleep' b/w 'Powers of Darkness' was released on the Vertigo label to an indifferent reception in January 1971. A promotional film of the group was shot, but has never seen the light of day, and the partially recorded Ronno album was never completed.
Tony Visconti's production duties - which had increased significantly when Marc Bolan's 'Ride a White Swan' became a hit - prevented him from fulfilling his bass playing chores with Ronno, so Ronson and Woodmansey brought in their old friend Trevor Bolder from Hull. (Although many sources report that Bolder was a member of the Rats, this is not the case.) The band rehearsed for several months and played live dates, including the Cavern in Liverpool.
[Keith Cheesman] 'I played in other bands with Trevor before I joined the Rats, and Trevor was always on the scene in other bands while the Rats existed. He did once play a few songs with the Rats at one gig when I couldn't play after receiving an electric shock, but I can confirm that he was not ever a member of The Rats.'
[Trevor Bolder, to W&G] 'We used to rehearse in this village hall in a place called, funnily enough, Woodmansey. We did that for about four months and then we went out and did some gigs. We were going through the Bronze agency at the time, and we played all the main places. Bronze, who had their own label, didn't really want to get involved while we were tied up with Philips so they didn't push us all that much.'
Although the Ronno single failed to impress, things with David Bowie were beginning to heat up again. In May 1971, he called Mick and asked him to recruit a rhythm section to help record his next album, which would become Hunky Dory. Ronson's first choices were Rick Kemp and Ritchie Dharma from Michael Chapman's band, but the image conscious Bowie reportedly didn't like Rick's receding hairline. Mick then made a call to Woodmansey and Bolder.
[Mick Ronson] 'It [the Ronno single] did nothing at all. Vertigo offered us a simple deal - here's a studio, go and make a record. That was it. And when the single flopped, things simply fell apart. Then David called and asked us if we wanted to come back and do some more stuff with him.'
[Trevor Bolder] 'I went down to London with Mick and Woody, but I didn't think I was going to be playing on the record. I assumed David was going to use Herbie Flowers on bass. We traveled down on the Sunday, and David had a radio show booked for the Monday. He told me he wanted me to play in the band, so I had to learn the entire set of songs overnight!'
While most of Ronno was in London with David Bowie, singer Benny Marshall remained in Hull with a promise from Bowie that he would be restored as Ronno's singer in due time, and the two groups would co-exist much in the way that HYpe and David were meant to co-exist. The success of Hunky Dory put those plans to rest, however.
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