INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Disc FEBRUARY 17, 1973 - by Caroline Boucher
THE REAL MACKAY
Roxy Music have come a long way and will go a lot further, all in a very short space of time. It is fitting and indicative that they should win the "Brightest Hope" category, and that Virginia Plain was voted as the fourth best single of the year. The band themselves are pretty pleased about it, and they've had enough adulation to turn most heads... they've been the darling group of the year; Mick Jagger expressed a wish to produce their next album; their faces are plastered all over every European magazine.
At the moment they're in the middle of recording their second album, which has about another fortnight's work on it. When I saw Andy Mackay last week there was a break in recording and Bryan had gone off to rest in the country. The album promises to be good, and they've already done the next single - Pyjamarama. The B-side, Pride And Pain, has been written by Andy (Bryan has done almost all the writing to date).
"Most of the tracks on the album are a bit longer than tracks on the first album - obviously we feel freer now," says Andy, who changes the front of his hair colour almost as often as his clothes. Today it is yellow with a green tuft . "With the first one we were a bit more tentative. We've done one very weird thing with a reggae drum beat and completely atonal sax; I stopped myself playing in key."
Andy is unusual in that he is a classically trained oboe player. There aren't many oboe players in the rock field, probably because it's the most difficult woodwind instrument, and Andy alternates between oboe and sax onstage. There's a nice oboe section on Pride And Pain.
"I do write a lot. In fact, I'd like to write more if I got more good ideas. I work differently from Bryan; since I was trained as an Academy musician I'm able to write my own arrangements and I can work away from the piano and write down tunes from my head, which is an advantage as it means I can write anywhere. I've got a lot of songs that aren't suitable for Roxy, and I'd very much like other people to do them. I'm handing some over to the publishing company to hawk around. Some of them are almost Tom Jones-type-of-things. I've got a lot of things that are partly finished, things that I may work into music at some stage - I'm not in any hurry to get my things out really. Mainly because I find it takes all my energy to be a performing sax player, and I like to devote all my energy at any one time to whatever's my main activity. I can see I won't be on the road forever and that's the time I'll sit down at my grand piano surrounded by manuscripts and finish various compositions."
Onstage, Andy and guitarist Phil Manzanera work strikingly well together. Andy thinks that Phil's joining made a noticeable change in the band. "He's the only guitarist I can work with playing things together. He's also prepared to play simple things when required, which is rare for a lead guitarist - most guitarists want to play lead lines. I go round to Phil's house and try out different styles against rough mixes and things. He prepares his things very carefully, which is nice."
Eno is an increasingly emerging force in the band, partly for his extremely photographic face, partly for his wizardry with electronics - but the band tries to maintain a very democratic outlook. "I don't think he influences the band more than anyone else: Eno has a lot of ideas, but I think they tend more towards sounds than actual musical ideas. I think possibly each direction will get stronger. Avant-garde things will get more avant-garde; rock things will get more rock. I can't see a definite direction for this album yet though."
They're using two producers for the album - John Anthony and Chris Thomas. "At one stage we were thinking of producing it ourselves, but then we thought we'd like a producer. It's a difficult job, I wouldn't want to produce us; we're all far too arrogant about what we're doing. With six people all saying things, it's not at all easy - we've too many ideas, our problem has always been to reconcile the diverse elements."
Roxy Music does have an outstanding arrogance about them, which comes over quite strongly at concerts. Andy doesn't think it's a bad thing. "When I'm taking myself as an audience I'm never particularly impressed by excessive humility. If you elect to go up onstage and perform music, you should have a lot of confidence - I think one has to tread the thin red line between confidence and arrogance. It's essential to produce a reaction from an audience regardless of whether it's a good or bad one. I remember one of our early gigs at Liverpool stadium when we were supporting Rory Gallagher. First of all the audience booed us and shouted. Gradually we won over half of them and they clapped and the rest booed, it was really extraordinary. I listened to a tape of it the other day."
One good thing they found about their recent first American tour was that it was nice to be in front of an audience with no preconceived ideas. "By the end of the English tour before we went, audiences were getting to the point of applauding, however well or however badly we played. So it was nice to have such direct contact with the audience in America." They return for another tour after the European tour in May.
Another treat in store for the next album is the cover. Bryan has designed most of it, and he's very fussy about the total concept of Roxy Music. But it does feature a certain model called Amanda Lear, who is very beautiful and used to be a he. She won't be as prominently displayed as Carrie Anne was on the first album, and will be accompanied and surrounded by a veritable wealth of good photography, but nonetheless is food for thought. With such ideas, those boys will go far.