INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Melody Maker AUGUST 3, 1974 - by Steve Lake
KEEPING ROXY FRESH
No, Roxy Music haven't split: they've just been involved in individual projects Andy Mackay and Bryan Ferry have made solo albums-but what of guitarist Phil Manzanera? Steve Lake went along, to find out...
There isn't anything quite like that pop phenomenon, the meteoric rise from rags to riches, to cause hackles to rise among a nation's greasy, if worthy, truckers. And there's probably never been a band, in the entire history of rock, that's made that skyward move as rapidly as did Roxy Music back in '72. Rock by numbers. In a nutshell, that's the hard-grafting rock circuit view of Roxy. A foppish delight to tickle the fancies of Chelsea dilletantes and debutantes over cups of Earl Grey tea, perchance, but without any musical substance. I mean, no dues paying, right?
Well, wrong, actually. Mackay and Ferry may well have their roots in teaching institutions rather than grass roots funk bands, but drummer Paul Thompson for one slugged his way through singularly mediocre outfits like the Influence and Smokestack for longer than he cares to remember.
Which brings us to Phil Manzanera. For Phil's entrance on to the musical scene, with a band called Quiet Sun, was at a level of virtuosity sufficient to send most yawninducing pub rockers scurrying back to the brickyards that spawned them. Genuinely ahead of their time, members of Quiet Sun went on to play with Robert Wyatt's Matching Mole, Mal Dean's Amazing Band and Gong. (Demon bass player Bill MacCormick also mysteriously wound up as Liberal candidate for Beckenham, but that's another story.) Suffice to say that when fingers are pointed, one person that's not going to have a troubled conscience is Manzanera.
"See, I've never had any doubts about my musical knowledge or taste," said Phil quietly, sounding more modest than that statement might look in print. "I've always been able to enjoy things that are supposedly 'heavy' or difficult, and enjoy equally the most straightforward pop singles, the kind of stuff that most musicians would never admit to liking. But I can understand the prejudice against us, because I know that I'm always suspicious of unanimously rave reviews in the musical press."
In the studios, the problem caused by the lack of a permanent bass player doesn't exist because John Gustaffson late of Quatermass plays all the bass tracks, and admirably, too. Roxy'd sign him up for good at the drop of hat, but Gus has a more lucrative commitment with Shawn Phillips, one of America's premier folkies. Anyhow, mention of studios is as good a way as any to digress to Manzanera's recent recording activities, that is, Andy Mackay's In Search Of Eddie Riff, John Cale's forthcoming album and a new Roxy Music venture. What had Phil learnt from the Cale sessions, on which the Roxy guitarist functioned as producer with the artist and Eno?
"The unexpected, basically. Working on the album involved a whole new way of thinking. Much of it was very tense, continually bringing forward ideas and suggestions. And even if ninety-nine per cent of them were unworkable or impossible, still struggling on. We used Archie Legget on bass, 'cause I'd enjoyed his work on Kevin Ayers' albums, and Archie brought along Freddie Smith who played all the drum tracks apart from one which Charles Hayward (the original Quiet Sun drummer) played. It's an excellent album, actually. Every single song on it is a winner. If John can just keep it together and latch on to the media side of the business it's all there, y'see. If people just get a chance to hear it, I'm sure they will all rush out and snap it up ecstatically."
At this stage, it's difficult for Phil to say too much about the new Roxy album, being halfway through recording at AIR Studios; they've been there since July 1, and are working Monday through Saturday in systematic manner. This time, there are five of Ferry's songs, and Manzanera and Mackay take two credits apiece.
"We're only just past the sketch stage at present, the tracks are gradually being built up with overdubs until the picture emerges complete. But with Roxy, the style or the sound is always very difficult to pinpoint. I mean, I'd love to be able to tell you that there's five uptempo rockers and four laid back country tunes, but it's never that easy."
Manzanera, curiously, feels that there's a parallel between the way that free jazz musicians work and the way that Roxy record.
"With Free music, basically, you have to accept what comes up for better or for worse, and at the outset, nobody knows exactly what's going to happen. All right, we arrive at the studio with our various demos, but it's never a case of 'Oh, if it doesn't work we'll try something else.' Y'know, this is it. No alternatives, and you have to make the best use of the material that you have. And you keep sifting, putting synthesizer here, or violin here, and it's just a continual growing process, until you realise you've finished."
And part of the reason that it generally works so well is that Roxy aren't a band that hangs out together when they're not on tour. A case of the family that doesn't play together stays together. "We keep it fresh by doing lots of other activities when we're not together, and then when we finally do meet up, there's a new wealth of experience to bring to bear on the music."
And for the future? Well, in the tradition founded by Eno, Bryan Ferry and Andy Mackay, Manzanera is making tentative plans for his solo debut album.
"I realise that quite a lot of musicians would be shocked if I put out some of the things that I wrote with Quiet Sun, so. I think that's what I'll do." As yet, Phil hasn't approached any musicians to work with him on the album, but he says he'd love to have MacCormick play, and Mike Ratledge, too. "I've heard that Bill's just about given up playing bass, but even if that's true, I'd like to have him around while I'm recording, just for his ideas. As for Mike Ratledge, that'd be a purely selfish choice. There's few things that I enjoy more than long Mike Ratledge solos, so I'd be happy to have one on the record."
Any plans to work live outside of Roxy gigs? "Well, I have had offers to do that. John Cale asked me to play the Rainbow gig with Kevin Ayers, Nico and Eno, but I figured that with Ollie Halsall and Mike Oldfield there, I wouldn't really be needed and anyhow it was a crucial time in rehearsing for the album. But sure, I'd like to do the odd concert providing I could get to do them with some musicians that I admired. I would be into doing a gig with me being promoted as the star, though."
Being reminded of Phil's catholic tastes by the economy and excellence of his record collection, I asked if there were any guitarists that he still turned to for inspiration. "Not necessarily for inspiration, just out of pure interest... I like the playing on the Maria Muldaur album, there's some beautiful Amos Garrett solos on that. And Fripp is great. He's really the master of technique as far as I'm concerned, and I wouldn't try to compete with him. Of course, my biggest embarrassment was saying that Randy California was the world's best and then having to eat my words when he came over here for that Spirit tour and played so awfully."