INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Melody Maker NOVEMBER 18, 1972 - by Richard Williams
IF YOU THINK ROXY MUSIC ARE A HYPE, YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN AT THE HARDROCK LAST WEEK...
Well, we never expected anything like this.
He's lying. You can tell by his voice that Bryan Ferry is acting. But maybe the audience have never heard him talk before and maybe they don't care, anyway. They just carry on bawling and stomping and leaping up and down urging an encore.
What would you like to hear? say's Ferry, all got up like Joselito in his wasp-waisted Suit of Lights.
Virginia Plain... Virginia Plain... Virginia Plain.
Sorry... what's the name of that again? Oh boy, he's really milking them now. In fact be nearly takes it over the top - but just in time they crash into the thudding rhythm of their hit single, fighting the crowd's unison clapping, which speeds up until it crashes and disintegrates against the wall of Paul Thompson's driving percussion. What's your name/Virginia Plain/... A second of silence, and then a shout.
I wish that shout had been heard those people in the music business who think that Roxy Music are a hype. Its a claim I've heard many times, and always from people involved with the kind of unimaginative loser bands who nearly strangled rock a year or so ago. You know the kind I mean: those bands and managers whose honesty and integrity last just as long as their obscurity, and are banished by one hit record. Roxy Music never claimed any honesty. The concept would be meaningless to them, because they have a clear vision of what rock entertainment is about and it's not abort integrity, or any other kind of facile morality.
When Roxy leave out their hit side from the set, knowing that it'll be demanded as an encore, it's a device and they wouldn't deny it. The jeans-and-sweat shirt brigade do just the same - but try getting them to admit it. It's they who're the pretentious ones, not Roxy. Let no man think, though, that Roxy are without fault. Uncritical approval is not what's all for at this time, as we'll see later.
The gig was at Manchester's Hardrock emporium, last Thursday night. True to Mancunian form it was pouring so hard that the car park resembled a yachting marina, but the place was packed with good-humoured folk. Rock auditoria are not normally noted for their excellence, and few seem to have come to terms with the requirements of electric music for either players or audience. But it seems that the Hardrock is just about the best yet: built in a semi-circle, the theatre is half-seating and half-standing, but the latter half sat on the floor anyway, and the view and sound in all parts were more than adequate. Roxy were using the Hardrock's own PA system, for some reason, and also the house lighting equipment, because the stage is too low to take their own complex set.
The faithful were called out of the bars and into the arena by the sound of a marvellous piece of orchestral music on tape. Written by a neglected genius named Pachebel, it's an utterly lovely thing, with a logic tempered by sweetness s slightly reminiscent of Eno's favourite piece of music. Bach, and it happens to be Eno's favourite piece of music. Pachebel was allowed to run on for a good ten minutes before the synthesizer was ignited to produce that nightmarish warping and woofing noise which introduces The Bob (Medley) on their album. Shadowy figures took the stage, the greatest response being reserved for the lad with the dye In his hair and a twinkle in his fingers. Eno! Eno! they roared. And the odd thing is that the loudest roarers were thickset bearded lads who looked as though they'd just come from thrashing the All Blacks on the rugby field. To see them yelling for this slight blond youth was, indeed, strange.
Their standard set for the present tour consists of all the numbers from the album, except Bitters End, with Virginia Plain as the encore. Like other critics, I was mildly disappointed by the lack of new material - but it should be pointed out that many people are seeing Roxy live for the first time on this tour, and want to hear the music they already know. But they must add and subtract soon, for songs like Would You Believe? and If There Is Something are becoming over familiar (through records, gigs, Top Gear, etc.). However, there's much to commend in the way they treat the established repertoire. Not content to stick to the format of the recording, they expand specific areas of each song, usually instrumentally; but without any of the longeurs usually engendered by interminable solos. Phil Manzanera's guitar bears the solo brunt, and is sometimes effectively stylised, but when you're not exaggerating like, say, Mick Ronson does, it's hard to make the point that what you're doing is a recreation or an allusion. But he manages, most of the time.
The highlight of the solos, in fact; is almost never the soloist. It's what Eno does with the sound of the instruments that can lift what would otherwise be a very average bit of playing into other worldly realms. On If There Is Something for instance, he tinkered around with the tones of guitar and alto sax in a series of tinglingly dramatic fandango-style cadenzas, adding real point and attack.
What they really must learn, if they're to fulfil their potential, is that the music must come first. At the moment they're naturally preoccupied by the success of their visual image, and sometimes they forget that when the music is as contrived as theirs is, everything has to be absolutely right. Any mistake or malfunction seriously undermines the whole act, destroys the illusion they work: so hard to create. Too frequently for comfort, there were little mistakes or sloppiness in tuning.
The gig proved two things: (a) that the Hardrock is an excellent venue, maybe the best in the country from the audience's viewpoint, and (b) that Roxy are going to be okay. A little more of that attention to detail chaps and the doubters will be silenced.