INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Disc SEPTEMBER 16, 1972 - by Caroline Boucher
ROXY: GLAMOROUS PAUPERS
Or Virginia may be plain but she's expensive
Bryan Ferry was lying in the bath, sad, nursing his diseased tonsils and reflecting that perhaps Roxy Music hadn't had such a bad run for their money. The single hadn't been on the radio all morning, his voice had given way to a reedy croak, the end seemed nigh. Then the telephone rang with an announcement that Top Of The Pops wanted them to appear and life looked bright again. Such are the ups and downs of Roxy Music, barely out of nappies as far as groups go, yet breaking all the rules of established patterns with their success.
The main down at the moment is Bryan's tonsils - a vocalist in a group that's not yet a year old cannot afford to be dumb, so for the last few gigs recently he kept on singing. At the Rainbow gigs with David Bowie the roof of his mouth was inflamed and his tongue cracked, but the show went on. With a new album to be recorded and a vital first tour of America looming, he doesn't reckon he can have the offending tonsils removed until January 1973.
The extraordinary thing about Roxy Music is that they've still only done about three dozen gigs, and yet are remarkably well known. Their first album bounced comfortably into the chart. Their first single is receiving a lot of attention. The reason for this is careful planning. I first met Bryan at a friend's flat last year. He was broke and had got together a band called Roxy Music with some very good ideas, some rather hazy tapes and was wondering where to go next. The record companies he had taken the tapes to had laughed politely, but Bryan was still determined. He got a bank loan of £3,000 and bought some equipment - the best they could afford and a reasonable van. Most of the rest of the band were still holding down full-time jobs, so Bryan - a former art student of no mean reptute - was doing the job of manager, foot-slogger and whipping boy.
Their luck changed after they did Sounds Of The Seventies and had some decent BBC tapes to take around. A management company raved, signed them up; a recording contract was secured with Island and the band have flourished. The joy about Roxy is that they weren't just selling themselves but a whole musical concept. This is mostly the reason for their success. They have chosen an evocative name, they are a total concept of music, appearance plus good artwork for albums, posters, etc., that combines a taste of the '50s with the future.
Four months on we're a lot wiser, says Bryan, who now looks the part all day long. He's dyed his hair darker and admits to cultivating a sophisticated, terribly British air. One feels a bit smug, although I shouldn't say so I suppose, because people said to us, 'Oh, you can't do that, it takes three years to get a hand off the ground,' but we've done it. It proves that record companies haven't a clue. It's like everything we wanted to happen has happened right down to the month.
Bryan does most of the writing for the band because being such a total concept it is important that the music should fit exactly and not come from a number of different sources. Surprisingly, the idea for the single, Virginia Plain, dates back to 1964 which was Bryan's first year at Newcastle University studying art. He did a painting, still in existence somewhere, of a girl with flowing, wavy hair on a vast cigarette packet with a dream plain background so that the title could have referred to all three subjects.
Lyrically the song is the best thing I've done but not the easiest to follow because there're lots of little ideas and bits of ideas. The overall theme is an American dream type of thing that British people have, and I have. I don't know why I remembered the painting so clearly - I've just always had a strong thing about it. It was a part of the whole early Warhol movement of the time - of wanting to have a huge studio and live in New York. The face of the girl in my painting was based on one of Warhol's stars at the time, Baby Jane Holzer - she's referred to in the lyrics.
They are beginning to get letters in asking for explanations of the lyrics. One man from the Liverpool area wrote in saying he thought Bryan's lyrics were like painting books where you were left to fill in your own colours. Bryan was very flattered. They're also getting a lot of letters asking to manage their fan club, and asking whether or not they're married. They're also thinking about the next album - there's quite a lot of good material over from the first one, and Bryan has ideas for the artwork. Ideally be wanted to re-do his painting of Virginia Plain and put it out as a cover for the single but there wasn't time, but he wants to get into posters to give things for free.
But while their careers couldn't be rosier, the cold fact remains that Roxy are still on £20 a week each which isn't much after rent and satin jackets, and they're still hideously in debt.
The album was done cheaply, that only took five grand. But we're twenty grand in debt still. We've got three roadies now, six of us in the band, our PR man, and a lot of our equipment is still in its infancy. It could be much tighter than it is. But they have high hopes of America and certainly the whole schmaltzy act should go down a bundle there. After seeing The Black And White Minstrel Show recently - which Bryan thought was utterly amazing and stood on his seat to applaud - his ambition is now to play a Las Vegas hotel lounge, like The Sands, and flay everyone. There is still a lot of Britain left for them to play, but Bryan says he considers them to be a North-East band because he's from there and so is the drummer. Who needs Lindisfarne when you've got the real thing?