02/07/2013 18:27 BST | Updated 31/08/2013 06:12 BST

Remembering the Demise of The Spiders from Mars

Forty years ago this week on 3 July 1973 those attending a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon reeled in shock by an announcement of the lead singer of a band which had reached a peak of success at the time.

Forty years ago this week on 3 July 1973 those attending a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon reeled in shock by an announcement of the lead singer of a band which had reached a peak of success at the time.

The band was David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars and just before commencing the last number of the set, 'Rock 'N' Roll Suicide', Bowie made the following statement:

"Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it's the last show we'll ever do. Thank you."

The Hammersmith Odeon gig was the culmination of a tour that had commenced some eighteen months earlier on 29th January in the Borough Assembly Hall, Ayelebury.

Though initially low-key it developed in line with the increasing popularity of Bowie and his Spiders from Mars into a must-see show by summer 1973. As well as playing extensively around the UK - including matinees in some big cities in the later stages - Bowie and the Spiders also played shows in the US and Japan.

By the end of 'The Ziggy Satrdust Tour' Bowie and the Spiders from Mars were the biggest sensation in the rock world and the Hammersmith Odeon gig was intended to be a celebration of their exalted status.

Tickets were like 'gold dust' and the atmosphere of frenzied excitement was aided by the attendance of celebrities of the time such as Hollywood actor Tony Curtis and pop singer Lulu.

The fact that the concert was being filmed by American documentary-maker D.A. Pennebaker added an even greater sense of frisson to the occasion.

Bowie had only told a very small number of people of his intention to makes his announcement.

Significantly, he excluded two members of his band, drummer Mick "Woody" Woodmansey and bass guitarist Trevor Bolder who, sadly, died of cancer only a couple of weeks ago.

If you watch the footage shot by Pennebaker you can feel the shock and amazement of the audience.

Sadly because the vast majority of the footage is concentrated on Bowie we see little of the Spiders.

However, the third 'Spider', the gifted lead guitarist and sometime vocalist Mick Ronson, who also died of cancer twenty years ago in 1993, had been informed of Bowie's announcement which, as the lyrics of 'Ziggy Stardust' had presciently predicted, 'I had to break up the band'.

Ronson had apparently been promised that he would be supported in his career as a solo artist.

Bolder is reputed to have mouthed to Woodmansey, "He's f**king sacked us!"

In the immediate aftermath of Bowie's announcement there was speculation that he had decided to quit music which, given he'd spent almost a decade desperately trying to become successful, would have been surprising.

This was not Bowie's intention and he immediately went to France to record the album of cover versions Pin Ups though many believe it was simply to complete a contractual requirement.

Nonetheless, Bowie's announcement of the end of his alter ego Ziggy Stardust presaged a period of intense and creative activity he wrote some of his most seminal tracks.

It is also accepted that David Bowie's influence during, and subsequent to, his Ziggy Stardust period was absolutely seminal and, many would argue, made the origin of other genres of music such as punk rock, new wave, new romantic and electronic somewhat easier than it might otherwise have been.

Today Bowie occupies a mythical status and is regarded as one of the truly elite of the rock and pop world.

However, the role of the three Spiders from Mars is should not be forgotten.

As someone who grew up listening to Bowie I have always been an admirer of his ability to be a human chameleon and transform himself. I can remember seeing him on Top of the Pops and, like many young boys in the early 1970s, being enchanted.

No one of my age who saw the appearance when Bowie put his arm around Mick Ronson during 'Starman' in a vaguely homoerotic way will ever forget it.

Bowie made it hip to be radically different.

Few musicians would not have been envious of the Spiders from Mars; they were idolised almost as much as Bowie. If you look carefully at the old footage of their appearances on Top of the Pops you can see the youthful delight of young men who believed they were in the 'big time'.

But the Spiders were simply a backing band. And though they looked almost as exotic as Bowie - apparently they had to be persuaded to wear some of the costumes - they were always second to him in every sense.

I never thought about it at the time but they were never interviewed; it was always Bowie's voice we heard.

In recent years when they were asked about their experiences in making the seminal album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars that you realise they all came from Yorkshire and had known each other when playing in various bands together.

Where the Spiders originated should have had no bearing on anything but one cannot help feeling that their broad Yorkshire accents would have made them seem too ordinary when compared with Bowie who always seemed to be ethereal and which made him perfect for the 1976 film The man who fell to earth.

What made the Spiders so influential was that they were the musicians who played on what may be regarded as his best albums; Hunky Dory (when Bolder took over from Tony Visconti who would become one of the world's greatest music producers), The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Aladdin Sane.

Their sublime talent helped Bowie in his transition from being a relatively unknown but talented and eclectic folk-musician, he'd tried other genres including being a Mod, to fulfilling his cherished dream of becoming the rock sensation Ziggy Stardust.

As is often the way this transition brought out the best and worst in Bowie.

As his confidence grew he used his theatricality and willingness to shock through his outfits which are currently the 'must-see' show at the V&A museum.

But his relationship with some of the Spiders deteriorated; most especially Woodmansey who finding that he was on a fraction of the money being paid to backing musicians who been brought in later than them, had the temerity to ask for a rise.

Bowie's decision to break up the band was undoubtedly influenced by a desire to move on which, to be fair, he had done many times previously. He instinctively felt that he could achieve more on his own.

Woodmansey when interviewed in the last year explains that by the end of the tour in the summer of 1973 Bowie's creation of Ziggy had become so dominant that it was hard to know which persona he was playing when off stage.

Bowie probably realised that for his own sanity he needed to disown the character.

After a storming rendition of 'Rock 'N' Roll Suicide' Bowie was briefly hugged by a fan who'd managed to get on stage before saying "Thank you very much. Bye-bye. We love you" and so consigned Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to rock and roll history.

Mick Ronson remained on good terms with Bowie for the rest of his life.

However, for the other two members of the Spiders from Mars the impact of being told so publicly that their services were no longer required took its toll.

Bolder was invited to play on Pin Ups but never featured again after that. Woodmansey would never again play drums for Bowie.

There were rumours of the Spiders forming a band in their own right but the closest this came to fruition was in 1975 when Bolder and Woodmansey played together in a band for one album which then promptly disbanded.

Though the three Spiders subsequently enjoyed success they never again experienced being part of rock and roll royalty as was the case when they were in Bowie's band.

Mick Ronson was sought after as a musician and producer. Trevor Bolder became a long-term member of Uriah Heep and Woodmansey played drums in a number of bands.

As always, there is the classic 'What if?' question.

What would have happened if David Bowie had not made his announcement back in July 1973?

Would Bowie and the Spiders from Mars have gone on to even greater things?

Would the albums that Bowie went on to make have been even better?

Of course, we will never know.

But I'd invite you to join me in raising a glass to the all-too-brief period in the early 1970s when Bowie and his incredible Spiders from Yorkshire were the best act in the world.