INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Melody Maker MAY 12, 1973 - by Richard Williams
ROXY IN PARIS
In which our heroes dally with Dali...
Staying at the George V is one of life's great experiences, at least to a traveller who savours his changing environments. In each bathroom is a monogrammed bathrobe (many have been known to disappear, and it is said that the hotel employees discreetly search each guest's baggage before departure, simply removing any contraband without a word to the offender).
Its halls are hung with Louis XIV tapestries, and the onlooker is forced to wonder if the Renoir which hangs casually in a glass case in the foyer, is in fact, absolutely genuine. The hotel's cellars secrete bottles of Calvados distilled during the Napoleonic Wars, more than a century and a half ago. It is, in a word, expensive. Not, you would think, the place for a young British rock group, still fighting on the up-curve.
The logistics and economics of rock tours are curious indeed. Roxy Music will make no profit at all from this tour, just as they made no profit from the highly successful British tour which preceded it. They insisted on staying in the best hotels, one of their attendants sighs.
Roxy Music, on tour, are sybarites devoted to the higher levels of pleasure. There are no ludicrous banalities like an antique Persian rug for the bass-player's feet, but still their enjoyment doesn't come cheap. It's got to the point, you see, where tours don't make money by themselves. A manager, or a record company, sinks about £30,000 in to the first two years of a new band's life, paying for equipment and subsidising tours and recording. If all goes well, the third and fourth years will see the investment recouped - and more. The big money comes, eventually, from record sales, and tours are strictly about promoting these sales.
In Paris, Roxy are surrounded by record men from Island in Britain and Phonogram in France - all guarding their investment, sniffing and poking it like a farmer with is new pig.
Their stay begins well. Amanda Lear, who appeared with cheetah and pillbox hat on the cover of For Your Pleasure, has arranged for them a meeting with her friend Salvador Dali. They meet the great surrealist at his permanent apartment in the Hotel Meurice.
Dali - who, after his recent encounter with Alice Cooper, is obviously continuing his lifelong process of rejuvenation - by contact - has invited a TV producer with his camera and crew, but they don't show. Never mind: while the group take tea in a curious paper-walled circular enclave, the old artist jockeys a couple of photographers, posing the musicians around him. It's noticeable that, every time a shutter clicks, Dali's eyebrows arch into that familiar bug-eyed look with which, to the outside world, he's permanently endowed. After all these years, the reflex is positively Pavlovian. A master self-publicist, says Bryan Ferry, not uncharitably. Takes one to know one, honey...
Another member of the group impishly expresses the desire to cut off one of Dali's curling waxed moustaches, as a piece of conceptual art. Photographs taken, tea drained, the group take their leave and return to the hotel. The first to leave, an hour later, is Lloyd Watson, the MM contest-winning singer and slide guitarist, who is now Roxy's preferred concert-opener.
In a smart brown slim-line suit Lloyd taxis into the stage entrance of the Olympia, the great old music hall on the Boulevard des Capucines, where the ghost of Piaf haunts the decaying backstage area. The dressing-rooms and artists' bar at the Olympia appear joyless, with peeling paint and rusty pipes and piles of debris, but the place has a life of its own, bequeathed by decades of famous performers.
Tonight's audience is already seated, and Lloyd straps on his Gibson to face them. There's a mix-up and he isn't announced, but taking his life in his hands, he leaps on stage and bops into Jumpin' Jack Flash, his guitar revving with the powerful ease of a Laverda 750. Lloyd is the ideal warm-up act. He presents no threat to the bill-toppers, but his personality and the extrovert strength and ability of his playing carry him through the toughest situations. Tonight is tough. An Olympia audience always contains a large element of what Alf Ramsey would call animals, and they're out to crucify Lloyd.
He gets cheers at the end of songs (particularly after his imaginative version of Lou Reed's I'm Waiting For The Man), but during It Takes A Lot To Laugh the boos and whistles rise, filled with inelegant Gallic contempt. Lloyd steams on, though, and despite random outbreaks of thunder from the PA he wins in the end. Where others would have fled in despair, he demonstrates the virtue of honest perseverance.
In the wings Roxy await their entry. Several of Ferry's elaborate stage suits were stolen during their British tour, so tonight he's wearing a flared gold brocade D'Artagnan coat hired from a theatrical costumier. There's no longer much to say about their act. It's exactly the same as we saw in Britain, and that's their policy. Nothing in the profile of the set is left to chance, only the audiences change. Either they like it or they don't.
It's the detail that keeps them interesting, fourth or fifth time around. On Do The Strand, for instance, they slip in a couple of bars of 3/4 time behind the line "Weary of the waltz?" while Eno's treatment of the guitar and alto sax sound is always novel, often by accident. During Editions Of You, when his synthesizer conks out during the solos, he merely smiles.
Paul Thompson hasn't had enough credit yet: he's as strong and driving as you could wish, but few listeners have yet commented on his inventiveness, which is considerable. The range and variety of his fills and punctuation are crucial to the band, and - with John Porter's bass - he holds them together superbly.
Ferry, of course, is now the master of stagecraft, and destroys this crowd though his command of charisma inducing devices. His only fault is a tendency to sing uncomfortably sharp during the loud passages (the final section of In Every Dream Home A Heartache is a good example). But his vocal control on Beauty Queen, with its brilliant lyric is stunning: "Deep into the night, plying very strange cargo, our soulships pass by..." He takes obvious delight in the aptness of "Louis Seize 'ee prayfair... laissez-faire le Strand!"
After the gig, a meal has been arranged at an old-fashioned brasserie. Roughly forty people turn up, stuffing themselves with veal and snails and bruised strawberries and vin rouge. Eno discovers an ancient barrel-organ affair which produces a din of unparalleled anarchy, and then encourages Lloyd to get drunk. Lloyd, the extrovert of the party, makes speeches, climbs up the walls, throws knives, and finally appalls the tail coated waiters by climbing out of one window, along a ledge on the outside wall and back in through another window. It's all part of the act, brothers, yells Lloyd, as he disappears backwards out of the, window, simultaneously juggling with a half-full wineglass. He returns, to a chorus of cheers, while the waiters swiftly put up the shutters, and strengthen them with wooden cross-bars.
Meantime, Bryan Ferry confides that he's still planning his solo album, which he'll record between the end of this tour and their next visit to America in the autumn. It's still going to be a my favourite things affair, and so far he's picked Cole Porter's Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye from 1944, and songs from Marvin Gaye, Erma Franklin, Smokey Robinson and others. The trouble with doing something like Tracks Of My Tears, he says, is that the original was so brilliant and it's hard to touch it. I might put nine or ten songs on each side, if I can.
Led by a couple of French girls who might be go-go dancers, the party leaves the restaurant - to the undisguised relief of the waiters - and heads for a small discotheque. Five years ago, Paris had the world's best discos, reverberating to the walls of Aretha Franklin and James Brown. The shock tonight, though, is that people here are dancing to stuff like Crimson's Schizoid Man. A swift raid on the disc-jockey's box, spearheaded by Phil Manzanera, yields a bunch of 'progressive' albums and not one single in sight. Eventually, the DJ is bludgeoned into playing Bill Withers and Dr John. Eets foony, he says, bemused, all zee groups want to 'ear zee fonky musique. So he spins Bogus Man, while Ferry parodies his own stage movements on the dance-floor, partnered by Ava Gardner's double in a strapless frock. Next day, as the party prepares to move off, the George V counts its bathrobes and sighs.