INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo APRIL 2018 - by Tom Doyle
PLAYING TO THE GALLERY
Art rock's Year Zero dawned with the preening glamour and po-mo jive of Roxy Music's debut album. Four decades on, as it re-emerges with revelatory demos and stomping live tracks, its makers recall the water bombs and mystery blondes, the prog, the pop and the penury. "It was a chance of a lifetime situation," they tell Tom Doyle.
1971 and the twenty-five-year-old Bryan Ferry, a diffident art graduate with side-flicked and moderate- for-the-times collar-length hair, had driven alone from London to the 11th National Jazz And Blues Festival in Reading. On arrival, he'd somehow wangled his way into the enclosure in front of the stage - not exactly the exclusive or pricey 'golden circle' of modern times: more a few feet of muddy earth divided from the bulk of the audience by a row of waist-high metal barriers.
On the rickety-looking platform before him, over three days, passed a procession of the hirsute, heavy and improvisational: Arthur Brown, East Of Eden, Colosseum, ably supported by the likes of Daddy Longlegs, Clouds, Universe and Warm Dust.
Today, Ferry doesn't remember any of them. But he does, of course, remember the girl.
"A blonde," he smiles. "She was spectacular. Then in the slow traffic leaving, I saw the same girl in the car in front of me."
Back in London, an intrigued Ferry sometimes spotted this mystery girl's red Mini Clubman parked outside the Georgian townhouses of Wilton Crescent in Knightsbridge. "The number plate of the car just seared itself into my memory," he remembers. "So I put her in the song."
The song was Re-Make/Re-Model, track one, side one of Roxy Music's eponymous 1972 debut album. In its lyric, the girl was openly worshipped by Ferry as "the sweetest queen I've ever seen" before her number plate - CPL 593H - provided the chorus's unlikely chant-along hook. These days, it might be an act worthy of a restraining order - or at least a privacy action. Back then, there was possibly no more potent way to woo someone than sending a coded message of desire through the medium of revolving twelve-inch plastic.
Sadly, although he'd immortalised her on vinyl, there was no response from the subject of Ferry's admiration. "I never met her... she was probably into a different kind of music," he softly chuckles. "Probably never heard it. She probably wouldn't even know the number of her own car."
Nonetheless, Re-Make/Re-Model introduced what was to become a recurring lyrical theme for Bryan Ferry - pining for the unattainable female - as well as providing a stunning curtain raiser for everything that Roxy Music were about. With its driving, Velvet Underground-inspired groove, the track was a retro-futuristic collage of sound, not least in its miniature solos where each member of the band was given a few seconds to identify their particular influences: drummer Paul Thompson's thunderous Bonham-like triplets, bassist Graham Simpson's nod to Day Tripper, Brian Eno's future music bleeps and sax-player Andy Mackay's blast of Wagner's Ride Of The Valkyries. Guitarist Phil Manzanera aped the bendy riff from Duane Eddy's version of the Peter Gunn Theme, before Ferry offered a demented trill of freeform jazz piano.
"Everyone was tasked with having their own little moniker," remembers Manzanera. "But just as a concept. So many people have said, 'Fuck, wow. It sums it all up in one track, everything that was best about Roxy.'"
In the midst of all this pop art fun and noise, Bryan Ferry showcased not the louche croon to be found elsewhere on the record, but its angsty flipside: an R&B singer in the throes of an anxiety attack.
"It's funny," he says now. "It's kind of searching for a voice really. The music I listened to, like early blues, is very passionate and intense. And I thought,Well, that's how music has to be mainly.
"I think the playfulness of collaging different musical styles is one of the most interesting parts about it," he continues. "And it's the same with the voice. Y'know, it's like, What am I? Where are we going to? Who are we?"
Here and now, the seventy-two-year-old Bryan Ferry sits in the white cube basement of his HQ and studio in Olympia, under an enormous framed print of his former paramour Jerry Hall, from the cover of Roxy Music's 1975 album, Siren. One-on-one, Ferry remains a slightly uneasy mix of quiet self-assurance and - with eye contact coming only in short snatches - a still-lingering shyness. "Uh..." he gently laughs at this latter trait, "nothing's changed, no..." On the table before him lies a proto copy of the four-disc super-deluxe reissue of the Roxy Music album, replete with one-hundred-and-thirty-six-page book, demos, outtakes, radio sessions and live footage, including their rarely-seen November 1972 show at the Bataclan in Paris.
Ferry has been fastidiously involved in every aspect of its creation, checking paper stock and dispatching his assistant, Millie Thompson, to the Prague factory where it was being made, to ensure that it is every inch a product befitting the Roxy name.
"Well, it's good to keep an eye on it, 'cos it's an important part of my career," he says. "It's an important album for me."
The members of Roxy Music haven't shared a stage since their reunion tour (sans Brian Eno) came to a close in Auckland in March 2011, and there's no prospect of their return. But, ahead of this reissue, most of them agree to talk exclusively to Mojo. We speak to Paul Thompson on the phone from his home in Northumberland and meet Phil Manzanera in his west London studio - surrounded by Roxy relics such as the twenty-four-track tape machine used to record parts of 1982's Avalon and even the original VCS3 synthesizer owned by Andy Mackay and put to such pioneering use by Eno on the first two albums.
Eno, however, declines to be interviewed, in keeping with his recent policy of discussing only current projects. Mackay, meanwhile, despite several approaches, is determinedly on promotional strike, due to an on-going dispute with the reissue's label, Universal, over royalty rates.
The topic also came up in a recent meeting between Manzanera and Eno. "I just happened to drop in the fact, Oh, d'you know we're on the same royalty rate we were in 1972?" says the guitarist. "And Brian was shocked (laughs). I said, I'll just leave you with that. Bye!"
Back then, like most young bands, Roxy Music would have taken any deal that was offered. Ferry, born and raised in Washington, County Durham, had left Newcastle University (where he'd studied fine art under pop art notable Richard Hamilton) for London in 1968. A veteran of bands including The City Blues, The Banshees and The Gas Board, he'd started writing the Roxy songs in 1970 in his Kensington flat - unusually, on a harmonium. "I played kinda slowly and very tentatively," he says now. "It kind of suited them."
Gradually, month-by-month throughout 1971, the first Roxy Music line-up fell into place. Ferry's friend from Newcastle University, Graham Simpson, added bass to his songs, before another uni buddy, Tim Head, recommended Andy Mackay, saying he had a synthesizer. "It just so happened Andy played oboe - which is one of my favourite instruments," says Ferry, "and was dabbling in saxophone. And then of course Eno came along later with the tape recorder."
Mackay had first encountered Brian Eno at Winchester College Of Art, where the latter was gaining renown for his experimental music performances. Fatefully, he bumped into him again on a Bakerloo Line train at Elephant & Castle, whereupon Mackay invited him to tape the nascent band.
These murky, echoey demos of four songs, including Ladytron and 2 H.B., recorded in Ferry and Mackay's now-shared house in Battersea (with a line-up completed by guitarist Roger Bunn and imaginative, jazzy drummer Dexter Lloyd) are released for the first time on the reissue of Roxy Music. They reveal a band taking the psychedelic prog of the times and giving it sci-fi uplift.
"They certainly had a feeling," Ferry says of the tapes, "and they had a direction. I mean, they had several directions really. But they were edging towards what the album became. They didn't change a great deal."
The membership of Roxy Music did change, however, with the arrivals of former The Nice guitarist David O'List and Newcastle-born drummer Paul Thompson, the latter answering a tantalising Melody Maker ad: "Wonder drummer required for Avant-Rock team". "I called the number," Thompson recalls. "Bryan didn't have a Geordie accent, but he recognised mine and we seemed to get on pretty well straight away."
"Paul comes to this audition," remembers Ferry. "Fresh from the building site, covered with brick dust. Immediately, he started playing and I knew this was it."
Thompson's kicking and stomping style was the bedrock on which Roxy Music could build a more robust rock sound, along with Eno's notion - likely inspired by Pete Sinfield's similar experiments within King Crimson - to have all of the band's instruments fed through Mackay's VCS3 and tape echo for sonic treatments that lent them an otherworldly quality. "Eno was great because he was so inventive," Ferry marvels. "It was a perfect combination, really, of talents."
Initially, though, Eno wasn't on-stage with the band. At early shows, he performed his sonic alchemy out among the crowd at the sound desk. "The funniest thing was that although he was mixing the sound he would still be doing backing vocals," Thompson laughs. "People would come up and talk to him and he'd say, 'Hang on a second,' and he'd start doing the harmonies on Would You Believe?"
In the early months of this Roxy incarnation, however, certain fissures began to appear. There was an air of apartness, for instance, about David O'List. Phil Manzanera, who'd initially auditioned as guitarist for the band before O'List was given the gig, had remained a friend and fan. But he recalls witnessing one telling scene when the group played at the Christmas party for the Friends Of The Tate in 1971.
"The van pulled up, driven by Bryan," he remembers. "Andy and Graham in the front seat and they'd slotted Eno in the back with all the equipment 'cos he was quite little (laughs). They were humping all the speaker cabinets in and Dave was just standing against a wall with his arms crossed. I thought, Oh fuck, he's not even helping. Of course, he'd been in a professional band. He wasn't gonna be carting gear around. I sort of felt sorry for them, so I helped out."
Graham Simpson, meanwhile, was often lost in a fog of marijuana smoke, a matter which first became troubling in January 1972 at the recording of the band's first John Peel radio session and would lead painfully to his sacking immediately following the album sessions. "Graham just seemed in a total world of his own," says Thompson. "He sat cross-legged on the floor, virtually comatose."
The arrival of David Enthoven and John Gaydon, the pair of Old Harrovians who comprised E.G. Management, brought much-needed momentum. Hedging his bets the previous year, Ferry had auditioned for the vacant singer position in one of their bands, King Crimson. The group were in fact looking for a singer/bassist to replace Greg Lake (and gave Boz Burrell the job), but advised Ferry to visit E.G.
"John Gaydon loved the music immediately," says Ferry, while remembering being impressed by both of the managers' hippy chic demeanours. "They were kind of straight out of Easy Rider. Leather jackets, cowboy boots, and lots of motorbikes. They were an interesting bunch, and they seemed to have loads of girlfriends."
Initially, E.G. wanted to sign Ferry as a solo artist. "That cropped up, yes," he says. "I thought that was out of the question because it was such a collaborative thing. It felt like a band."
To showcase the group, Ferry offered to audition Roxy Music for E.G. in the Granada cinema in Wandsworth. It was to prove a pivotal moment, not least because Phil Manzanera had been brought in to mix the sound that day, and a ruckus involving Thompson and O'List sealed the latter's fate.
"It wasn't a punch-up," Thompson insists with a laugh. "Dave was quite fond of getting out of it, and subsequently not being very punctual the following day. When he arrived I was just really pissed off with him. I might've grabbed him by the collar. All of us were in a chance of a lifetime situation."
E.G. signed Roxy, but O'List was out. A second try-out was quickly organised for Manzanera, held in a large house in Notting Hill owned by the band's friend and sometime benefactor, property developer Charlie Ware.
"Two days previous to that," Thompson remembers, "me and Graham Simpson went round and cleared a room out. It had had squatters in it and there was loads of rubbish and hypodermic needles lying around. It was pretty horrendous."
Manzanera had already learned O'List's guitar parts from a tape copy of Roxy's Peel session. He dearly wanted the job. "I had the perspective of seeing them fresh," he says. "To a certain extent almost like the public saw them. I knew it was gonna be successful."
Ferry recalls these cold, damp days, intensively rehearsing in Notting Hill, with a certain romanticism. "I remember burning furniture to keep warm," he says, "and there was a marvellous café round the corner where we used to go to get warm. The deprivation seemed to be part of the challenge. It was like going on an expedition."
In March, Roxy's great adventure took them to Command Studios, 201 Piccadilly, a former BBC radio studio-turned-recording facility, where over four weeks they would make their first album, financed by E.G. to the tune of £5,000. Pete Sinfield was brought in as producer, and the band urgently nailed down their live set. "You had to take a deep breath," remembers Manzanera, "and just go in and say, Right, OK, we're gonna do this."
The scribbled covers of the sixteen-track master tape boxes featured in the artwork of the Roxy Music reissue show that there was much nifty editing work involved in the creation of some of the songs: the multi-movement Sea Breezes and The Bob (Medley) were cut-and-pasted from numerous takes. Meanwhile, the studio chatter on the outtakes reveals underlying stress.
"There was just a couple of un-nice notes in those breaks where the sax comes in," says Sinfield.
"I couldn't hear what I was fucking playing," protests Mackay.
The result, however, was music that seemed to look to the past and the future simultaneously. "I could do chaotic really well'," says Manzanera. "Mad feedback and stuff like that. Eno comes from the Planet Zog, so his approach was totally his. He obviously had his influences, whether it was musique concrète, systems music, Radiophonic Workshop..."
Meanwhile, in the likes of Ladytron, 2 H.B. and Chance Meeting, Ferry updated the croon for the space age. "Sentimental music, y'know," he says. "The Ink Spots. Nat 'King' Cole. And Fred Astaire was a bit of a crooner, remember. I loved his voice."
In the closing Bitters End, Ferry even affected a lightly haughty, tongue-in-cheek Noël Coward delivery, with the song's last line seeming to sum up the headspinning mélange of styles: "Should make the cognoscenti think." A bit of a throwdown?
"Well, if you like, yeah," says Ferry carefully, as if slightly embarrassed by this audacious younger self. "The band were all game to enjoy these oddball tracks as well. They embraced any of the songs that I chucked at them."
The oddball stance didn't end with the music. Visually, too, Roxy Music were ludicrous fun in a time when rock music had become entrenched in denim and beardy earnestness. Behind the band was a troupe of female fashion designers (Carol McNicoll, Wendy Dagworthy, Dinah Adams) who contributed increasingly outré costumes.
"When we started, we would've been very happy to have played in the dark," Ferry stresses. "So it wasn't about swagger in the conventional sense of showing off. But I think we realised that we had to try to be interesting in the performance of the music if we wanted to get anywhere at all. So, yeah, we kind of went for it."
"There was no sitting down and talking about, 'What are we gonna wear?'" says Manzanera. "It was always getting stuff done and then getting to the gig and saying, 'You put your outfit on.' 'No, you put yours on.' 'OK, Eno, put yours on. Oh my God... what the fuck... what's that?'"
The arrival of Antony Price as band stylist cemented Roxy Music's outlandish look - a riot of animal prints, quiffs and bug shades. And with the futuristic Hollywood revival look of model Kari-Ann Muller, Price also set a what's-wrong-with-being-sexy style for Roxy's sleeve art.
It was the look as much as the sound of early Roxy Music that caught the attention of the rock audience. But not, at least initially, in altogether positive ways. "I remember we supported Rory Gallagher at the Liverpool Stadium," says Manzanera of a June 14 show two days before the release of their debut. "Waterbombs flying onto the stage (laughs). They thought we were a bunch of gay nancy boys. What the fuck is going on? Who are these people? Then the music would be quite heavy at times. So it was like, This is confusing."
In fact, this combination of outrageous style with often intense music meant that Roxy Music started attracting a following in the weekend-dress-up working-class towns of Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow. "Especially Glasgow," notes Manzanera. "The further north we went, the more intense the audiences were. You had to somehow get back to the hotel with about two hundred people running down the street."
Roxy's growing stardom - attested by the LP's Number 10 chart position - was accelerated by the release of Virginia Plain in August 1972. A standalone single Ferry had written since the album sessions, it burst out of the radio with its hammering beat and picture puzzle lyric referencing everyone from the band's lawyer Robert E. Lee to Warhol film star Baby Jane Holzer. A thrilling 45, it gave the group a Number 4 hit.
"As soon as we played that take, it was obvious it was gonna be a hit," says Thompson. "It's just a magical feeling when you hear a track and you know people are gonna love it."
Not loved so much by the band was their appearance on Top Of The Pops which, despite its subsequent place in pop legend, was a grin-and-bear-it moment for Roxy Music.
"I mean, we didn't feel at home there, that's for sure," Ferry admits. "You're kind of placed in a setting with lots of pop bands. You don't really feel part of the same aesthetic, as it were That's tough. But we smiled through it and all these bright lights."
For album two, 1973's For Your Pleasure Roxy Music took a sonic leap. They'd lost Simpson (bass duties would pass from Rik Kenton to John Porter and, later, John Gustafson) and gained producer Chris Thomas. But Eno's hatred of touring, plus his disagreements with Ferry, led him to quit. Ferry has admitted he felt the band was "my baby". Was everyone else happy with the arrangement or was there sometimes dissent in the ranks?
"I think it probably at times pissed people off," says Manzanera. "I always had a lot of faith in Bryan. He was always good at making the right decisions and his vision to me was always correct. It was always the way to go."
"I remember Eno saying, 'Oh maybe the second album cover should be tartan,'" laughs Thompson. "I thought, Why not? Make it something different. But obviously Bryan had this concept, y'know, like the thing in pop art of a 'se ow, obviously, that makes a lot of sense."
Ferry has subsequently lamented the fact that Eno didn't combine a solo career with membership of Roxy. But he has absolutely no time for the theory that Roxy Music lost the 'art' from their art rock upon Eno's departure. "Well that wasn't the case really, no," he says. "I'm not sure that's what anyone thought (laughs)."
What's certainly true is that post-Eno, Ferry opened up the songwriting within Roxy. "There were issues coming up," Manzanera admits. "From Stranded  onwards, me and Andy started co-writing stuff. Y'know, it wasn't a comfortable change. But change often can be uncomfortable."
"Later on with Roxy we did a couple of cowrites," says Ferry. "Especially with Andy. I had some successful collaborations, y'know, like Love Is The Drug and A Song For Europe. Some of the best things came out of that in the end."
As for the younger, more eccentric self Ferry sees in footage circa the Roxy Music album, the singer says he can barely watch him. "It's quite strange looking at yourself forty years younger," he muses. "Your mind is full of lots of different thoughts. It covers all the emotions really. I'd probably turn it off actually (laughs)."
What Ferry values more than ever, though, is the strange chemistry at work in the early days of the band.
"There are not many Brian Enos or Andy Mackays knocking about," he concludes. "Or Phils or Pauls and Grahams. We were lucky to have worked together. It was a fortuitous moment."
In early 1972, Brian Eno still had one foot in London's avant-garde composition scene and had recently stopped making a meagre living trading second-hand PA equipment rescued from the many cinemas then being converted into bingo halls. Before his second encounter with Andy Mackay, which led to his taping the embryonic Roxy, the self-styled 'non-musician' had dallied with Cornelius Cardew's experimental Scratch Orchestra and played in Gavin Bryars' studiedly amateur Portsmouth Sinfonia; his main tool of sonic expression had been the tape recorder. That changed after he heard Mackay's recently acquired EMS VCS3 synthesizer.
Peter Zinovieff's Electronic Music Studios had invented the 'Voltage Control Studio' synth in 1969. It comprised oscillators, amplifiers, filters, a noise generator, voltage-controlled reverb unit, joystick controller and a simple patch-board into which coloured pins were inserted to connect permutations of its various components. More compact than contemporary Moog, ARP or Buchla synths, the VCS3 came with a detachable monophonic keyboard which tended to slide out of tune. None of that mattered to Eno, who, abandoning keys entirely, used the synth purely as a sound generating and processing tool, as he told the Daily Telegraph in 2011.
"The VCS3 was quite a difficult instrument to use," he explained, "though at the time it was a fantastic thing to have for someone like me,who couldn't actually play any conventional instruments... You could take the output of a filter and feed it back into itself and this gave me some very unusual and quite unpalatable noises,which of course I liked."
Initially an electronic auxiliary stationed at the mixing desk for Roxy gigs, Eno was soon promoted to the stage and, by the recording of their debut album, was fully integrated into the group, bending and filtering the band's instruments with an armoury that included Revox reel-to-reel tape machines, an Ampex cassette recorder and a customised delay unit, alongside the VCS3. Engineer Andy Hendriksen and producer Pete Sinfield would sometimes struggle to wrangle Eno's wilder flights onto tape, even though the latter had been live instrument processor for King Crimson, using his own VCS3.
Eno's alien presence is palpable throughout the modernist collage that is Roxy Music. Instructed by Ferry to provide a backing that sounded "like the lunar landings" for Ladytron, he reworked a piece of tape-and-synth atmosphere, previously used to cover on-stage tuning sessions. Its eerie shimmer provided Mackay's haunting, Prokofiev-like oboe melody with a perfect, cosmic frame, while on The Bob (Medley) equally disorienting drones and electronic scree heighten the unsettling middle section's battlefield clamour. Elsewhere, Eno fed instruments through the VCS3, transforming Phil Manzanera's guitar solo on Chance Meeting into a thing of metallic, Theremin-like oddness and rendering Mackay's saxophone woozily synthetic on If There Is Something. Meanwhile, the mission statement opener Re-Make/Re-Model, featuring his splenetic, atonal synth 'solo', was effectively a job description for Eno's role.
Eno would develop his processing aesthetic on the ensuing For Your Pleasure LP, most tellingly on a track left unfinished from the debut album sessions: the multi-textured The Bogus Man. Soon after, his facility for immersive soundscaping would evolve into his ambient music marque, and his instrument processing into stellar album productions, often betted by a briefcase-housed upgrade of the VCS3
Still, Roxy's debut endures as testament to Eno's potency as a provocative interventionist. As he noted in a 2001 interview with Djuna Barnes: "I listened to that record recently and I thought, God, I can suddenly see why people thought this was weird! But to me, it didn't sound at all weird. In fact, I was worried that it sounded too normal!"
THE THRILL OF IT ALL
What Roxy Music did next... and next... and next - by Danny Eccleston
FOR YOUR PLEASURE (Island, 1973) - "A danceable solution to teenage revolution" could be Roxy's manifesto, as they wipe the late '60s off the slate. Eno's still here - his VCS3 solo on Editions Of You is well chewy - but the clarity and poise brought by producer Chris Thomas is almost more marked. They would never again be as dark and weird as they are on Can-like The Bogus Man or nail post-modern ennui as thoroughly as In Every Dream Home A Heartache.
STRANDED (Island, 1973) - Roxy's game attempt to pretend that Eno hadn't really left. It's there in the traffic noise discords of the now-traditional album-opening anthemStreet Life, while epic slow burners A Song For Europe and Sunset ape the 'Arty Side Two' balance of the first two albums. Special mention is due Manzanera's eccentric funk riff on Amazona, which sounded equally good on the 1993 single version of Ice-T's That's How I'm Livin'.
COUNTRY LIFE (Island, 1974) - Roxy's fourth album begins with the exciting churn of The Thrill Of It All, but after that there's too much pastiche and water-treading. Out Of The Blue is just In Every Dream Home A Heartache speeded up; If It Takes All Night is rock'n'roll revivalism with 1972's subversion and surrealism leeched out; you can almost hear Bowie sniggering at the lumpy Brecht-Weill stomp of Bitter-Sweet. A Really Good Time is brilliant, though.
SIREN Island, 1975) - Chris Thomas resumes complete charge on this return to form. Love Is The Drug's opiated funk dukes it out with Young Americans. Sentimental Fool reprises spooky-threatening Roxy of yore. Ferry, back on top of the mix, sounds possessed on Whirlwind. Both Ends Burning defines danceable rock. Just one question: how much longer could Ferry write about the emptiness at the end of the party? Answer: a lot longer.
MANIFESTO (E.G., 1979) - Disco or new wave? Roxy jumped both ways after a long hiatus during which Ferry polished his personal brand. The result was a bit of a mess. Trash may be Roxy's worst song. Even the original album versions of Angel Eyes and Dance Away are inferior to the (admittedly exquisite) dancefloor revamps that became UK smashes (Number 2 and Number 4) in short order. One thing was clear, though: future New Romantics were paying attention.
FLESH + BLOOD (E.G., 1980) - The first thoroughly smooth-era Roxy album is often disparaged. Certainly the covers (In The Midnight Hour and Eight Miles High) are, respectively, lazy and incongruous. However, connoisseurs of the early-'80s pop hail the title track, Oh Yeah, Over You and Same Old Scene as period Ur-texts (Duran Duran imported the last-named track wholesale for Girls On Film), while No Strange Delight calls back to former peculiarities
AVALON (E.G., 1982) - Helped define the dawning age of audiophile adult pop. But while Avalon's songs tend to sink into its creamy bath of sound, tugged along by math-like grooves (drummer Andy Newmark in excelsis), the tone of melancholia and regret adds depth, with The Space Between pointing forward to the Talk Talk of The Colour Of Spring. After this, Roxy Music were done; as opener More Than This has it, "It was fun for a while..."