DAVID BOWIE – ” Toy ” Box Set

Posted: January 6, 2022 in MUSIC
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On January 7th, the day before David Bowie’s birthday, Toy will receive its long-awaited official standalone release in Toy:Box, making the legendary unreleased album available on three CDs or six 10” vinyl records. Toy was recorded following David’s triumphant set at Glastonbury 2000 performance. Bowie entered the studio with his band — Mark PlatiSterling Campbell, Gail Ann Dorsey, Earl SlickMike GarsonHolly Palmer and Emm Gryner — to record new interpretations of songs he’d first recorded from 1964-1971. David planned to record the album old school with the band playing live, choose the best takes and then release it as soon as humanly possible in a remarkably prescient manner. Unfortunately, in 2001 the concept of the surprise album release and the technology to support it were still quite a few years off, making it impossible to release Toy, as the album was now named, out to fans as instantly as David wanted. In the interim, David did what he did best; he moved on to something new, which began with a handful of new songs from the same sessions and ultimately became the album Heathen, released in 2002 and now acknowledged as one of his finest moments.

Pianist Mike Garson recalls David Bowie being “pissed off” after his “Toy” album was scrapped by his label Virgin/EMI back in 2001. Garson wasn’t too happy about the turn of events either.

The album was recorded by Bowie and his band in 2000, following a tour that culminated in a landmark performance at the Glastonbury Festival. The studio sessions featured some new material but also re-recordings of songs from the early part of Bowie’s career — including Davy/Davie Jones singles such as 1965’s “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving” and “I Dig Everything,” which came out a year later. Some of the songs appeared on subsequent albums and compilations — “Uncle Floyd” as “Slip Away” and “Afraid” on 2002’s “Heathen”, for instance — but “Toy” itself has languished in the vaults until it was included as part of the “Brilliant Adventure” (1992-2001) box set in November and in the “Toy:Box” set, which arrives on Friday.

You don’t pass on a David Bowie album,” Garson, who’s hosting the virtual A Bowie Celebration on Jan. 8, tells UCR. “[Bowie] was upset, but within months [the songs] were all online. I’ve been hearing those songs for 20 years. People get ahold of everything, one way or another. But I’m so glad it’s coming out now.”

Toy, produced by Bowie and band member Mark Plati, features one of the singer’s most potent backing bands, including long time members Garson and guitarist Earl Slick, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and drummer Sterling Campbell. Gerry Leonard also played guitar during the sessions, while frequent Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti created string arrangements. Plati recalled the sessions as “a moment in time … the sound of people happy to be playing music,” which was Garson’s takeaway as well.

“It was very free-flowing, playing live together in the space [Sear Sound in New York City],” he remembers. “We’d just come off a tour, so we were in good shape. The camaraderie was great. David was in good spirits, healthy, joyful. Everything was just the way you’d want it to be.” That said, Garson acknowledges some mixed emotions about Bowie’s desire to revisit his early material.

“I liked the fact that he was being respectful to his earlier catalogue, but I wasn’t a big fan of some of those older songs,” Garson confesses. “I love ‘Conversation Piece’ and ‘Shadow Man,’ but I didn’t like the songs. But I figured we’re a good band, we’ve been on the road for months and months, let’s make it better than when he was a kid writing them. And I think we did. They’re not ‘Life on Mars?’ or ‘Space Oddity,’ but they’re good. They’re fun.”

Now 20 years after its planned release, co-producer Mark Plati says, “Toy” is like a moment in time captured in an amber of joy, fire and energy. It’s the sound of people happy to be playing music. David revisited and re-examined his work from decades prior through prisms of experience and fresh perspective — a parallel not lost on me as I now revisit it 20 years later. From time to time, he used to say ‘Mark, this is our album’ — I think because he knew I was so deeply in the trenches with him on that journey. I’m happy to finally be able to say it now belongs to all of us”.

The seeds of Toy were first sown in 1999 during the making of an episode of VH-1 Storytellers. David wanted to perform something from his pre-Space Oddity career, so he reached back to 1966 and dusted off Can’t Help Thinking About Me for the first time in 30 years. The song remained in the setlist for the short promotional tour for the hours… album, and in early 2000 David and Plati compiled a list of some of Bowie’s earliest songs to re-record. Included in Toy:Box is a CD of alternative mixes and versions including proposed B-sides, later mixes by Tony Visconti and more. The third CD features Unplugged & Somewhat Slightly Electric mixes of 13 tracks. Says Plati: “While we were recording the basic tracks Earl Slick suggested that he and I overdub acoustic guitars on all the songs. He said this was a Keith Richards trick — sometimes these guitars would be a featured part of the track, and at other times they’d be more subliminal. Later while mixing, David heard one of the songs broken down to just vocals and acoustic guitars; this gave him the idea that we ought to do some stripped-down mixes like that and that maybe one day they’d be useful. Once we put a couple of other elements in the pot, it felt like it could be a completely different record. I was only too happy to finish that thought some two decades after the fact.”

“Toy” was recorded following David’s triumphant Glastonbury 2000 performance. Bowie entered the studio with his band, Mark Plati, Sterling Campbell, Gail Ann Dorsey, Earl Slick, Mike Garson, Holly Palmer and Emm Gryner, to record new interpretations of songs he’d first recorded from 1964-1971. Included in the box is a second set of 10”s of alternative mixes and versions including proposed B- Sides (versions of David’s debut single ‘Liza Jane’ and 1967’s ‘In The Heat Of The Morning’), later mixes by Tony Visconti and the ‘Tibet Version’ of ‘Silly Boy Blue’ recorded at The Looking Glass Studio time at the of the 2001 Tibet House show in New York featuring Philip Glass on piano and Moby on guitar. The third CD/set of 10”s features Unplugged; Somewhat Slightly Electric’ mixes of thirteen Toy tracks.

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