INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
New Musical Express JUNE 9, 1973 - by Nick Kent
LAST TANGO IN AMSTERDAM
Nick Kent cruisin' with Roxy Music in the Land of Tulips
Being a rock writer isn't so bad. Quite often you get to go down to a nice hotel, get a few drinks, maybe even a decent meal, and all you have to do is talk to some bozo musician for an hour or so. Sometimes these fellows even have something to say for themselves which makes it even more worthwhile. Anyway, on certain occasions some genial PR man will phone you up and invite you to travel around with the band of his management in exotic foreign parts of the great continent, which is always fun because you can get all sorts of things on hotel room-service (I knew an American rock writer who once scored a prostitute on room service. The record company paid the bill, too, but that's another story). You also get a taste of another culture and can pretend to be part of the band so as to get groupies.
So imagine my delight when genial PR man for E.G. Management, the svelte blond-rinsed Simon Puxley asked me if I'd be interested in cruising around Amsterdam with no-lesser luminaries than Roxy Music. I was hot-to-trot, to say the least. I'd been to Amsterdam the year before with Hawkwind but that was on the old hippy Paradiso circuit and these Roxy doxies like to live high-on-the-hog - plush hotels, good food and plenty of El Vino, so I was already frisky and yearning to get my finger in the dyke. The day indeed dawned and so, Doctor Puxley (playing devil with the ladies in his nonchalant slouch-hat) and myself crawled to the departure lounge, swooped skywards for a short savoury journey amidst the clouds and landed in the Country of the Tulips, refreshed. A taxi took us to the Amsterdam Hilton, a rather disappointing residence for such as The Roxies - no swimming pool, no cocktail lounge, no pool hall, no casino. The rooms were small to the extent that one could hardly practice the tango within the confines of the walls, never mind cutting a mean boogaloo.
Anyway, after a quick trot around the famous Amsterdam Flea Market, I resurfaced at the hotel to encounter outside a large Canadian delegation of ageing men in fancy dress and their obese wives, set on forming some sort of parade. There was even a Mountie on horse-back, whose mount was busy dispensing with a large amount of excrement on the pavement in his own inimitable style as I ventured within the swinging doors of the Hilton. Out in the courtyard overlooking the canal, a press reception was taking place. Amsterdam journalists were seen lounging around or else staring earnestly into the eyes of the victim interviewee, Roxyite Andy Mackay. Mr. Mackay, resplendent in jeans and lime-green Cuban heeled winkle-pickers, was undergoing a therapy session in the twentieth century consciousness tradition of the interview, as his oppressors delved into the existentialist Cartesian aspects of Roxy's music. Meanwhile a lanky denim-clad fellow who had requested a talk with Bryan Ferry was so put off by Ferry's suit and tie that he could only gulp incoherently at his inscrutable appearance.
In the coolness of the shade, with a bottle of rather gassy German beer in hand, we chatted about this and that. Ferry: "I was once a lumberjack, you know" Really? "I wore a plaid shirt and mountain-boots. Cutting down the redwoods that was the life. Sometimes we'd shout 'Timber', sometimes not. It depended if we wanted to kill someone." Were you ever a gigolo, Mr. Ferry? "I don't wish to talk about that at present." Are you currently the lounge lizard of the ensemble? "I certainly have pretensions in that direction. Mr. Fenwick (laid-back Mark Fenwick, Roxy's manager) and I are rather fascinated by the life-style." I'm sure NME readers would like to hear what actually went on during the now mythical meeting of The Roxies and Salvador Dali? "Nothing really. Dali seems to have deteriorated into someone who hangs around with bands just to get publicity. His current output is quite meagre - certainly nothing to talk about over dinner. Eno was later to attest to Bryan Ferry's words and Mr Fenwick scribbled 'Asshole' on the forehead of a Dali photo that appeared in Andy Warhol's Interview.
So what about the projected solo album Bryan? "I'm glad you asked. I'm currently sorting out the songs, utilising a process of using the favourite songs of my favourite composers. Do you think I Get Around is Brian Wilson's best song? Oh yes, Don't Worry Baby. That was the flip-side wasn't it? A good choice certainly. Right now I'm thinking of Tracks Of My Tears by Smokey Robinson, perhaps Leiber and Stoller's Hound Dog - I'm still uncertain about my Burt Bacharach choice. Oh, My Way certainly." Meanwhile, Ferry's plan to resurrect girlie-groups by producing an album of Kari-Ann and Amanda Lear, Roxy cover-girls, has been shelved though young Brian Eno is offering young girls the chance to croon in harmony in his hotel room as he suavely terrorises European womanhood. The Ferry solo effort will be helped out by Paul Thundersticks Thompson, Roxy drummer and John Porter, currently bassist, will be the arranger.
Brian Eno meanwhile was lapping it all up. Looking just as healthy as his rigorous aestheticism will allow, he appeared rather like a genially approachable Dr. Dementoid lookalike, dressed in mysterioso black. At the time he was over the moon rejoicing at the number of birthday cards he'd received. One letter started out: "Hi, am eighteen years old and a good screw." "I wish these girls would send photographs," sighed the man who has already been described in the press as "self-confessed musical illiterate" and a "balding eunuch look-alike". "In fact, I would like to take this opportunity to exhort, through the auspices of New Musical Express, all these young girls who have a definite sexual interest in me to enclose photographs of themselves. I would be more than grateful." This said, he pulled a pair of Op-art undergarments sent by a panting fan over his exquisitely balding pate and grinned obscenely.
What was it like to be Roxy's sex symbol? I asked. "Marvellous, particularly as I'm totally useless at playing music." Eno was still marvelling at his display of birthday cards, and getting into a fairly agreeable argument with drummer Paul Thompson as to who possessed more, as we boarded the coach that would take us to one of Amsterdam's better bistros.
One should say at this point that Brian Eno and Lloyd Watson, the Roxy's opening act, has been busy pioneering the move to make Roxy Music known as a bunch of looners. "Right, British looning time is nine-thirty approximately," shouted Watson, who looks a remarkable approximation of Groucho Marx and the bass player of Thin Lizzy. Meanwhile Eno is giving an animated performance of the now infamous Troggs bootleg tape. Over to the left Messrs. Ferry, Fenwick & Puxley look scrupulously cool, casually lounging under a shady grotto. Mackay and Manzanera chat away, giving the occasional nod to the general merriment on the adjacent table. A couple of hippies appear smoking a joint concealed within a waffle. The air is a fresher outside, so we walk across the square to the hall where Roxy are due to put in an appearance at a beauty contest.
Inside the hall we find ourselves intruding on one of those nouveau riche events. The girls look rose-cheeked and airbrushed, grinning with inane tenderness at the judges - a bunch of local celebrities - except for the last in line whose dressed in black and styled a-la-1930s Germany. The band on the stage is playing strictly cocktail lounge material, sleepwalking their way through Strangers In The Night as we appear. The compere motioned towards the Roxies, proclaiming them ecstatically as the greatest band in the world and they obligingly troop out, looking bemused, to be photographed with the contesting cuties - all except for Eno who was busy looking for the Gents, but who reappeared in time to cut a few gallant poses with the girls. They all look rather uncomfortable - the models, the band, the audience - and the Roxies make a speedy retreat to the door to the strained strains of Mac The Knife.
The concert to night is one of those all-night events. Lloyd Watson kicked off with his effective solo slide blues repertoire, playing for some twenty minutes. "You did okay," someone muttered. "They usually boo the first act during the opening number." Watson packs his guitar and motioned mentally towards the bar. The horrendous whirlpool of sound coming from the hall now appeared to be Wild Turkey. The audience don't like them. No way round it, they're just putting up with these turkeys who are sweating and straining to no avail, biding their time for the stars. Wild Turkey seemed to build their whole raison d'être on the fact that their bass player was once in Jethro Tull. He plays a long boring solo.
In the dressing-room, Roxy are making up. Anxious questions concerning the mood of the hall. Stage nerves? Not really but this is the last of a very successful series of European gigs and it would be a pity to go out on a bad note, wouldn't it? The lights go down and The Pride And The Pain, Pyjamarama's B-side, is played over the speakers. Slowly the twilight figures come out front - Eno strutting and posing all over the stage while the others plug-in. Then Bryan Ferry dressed in double-breasted gangster suit and silk black shirt dashes forth. Do The Strand sets the scene well enough while the lights etch out the magnificently grotesque flavour of it all. Ferry in particular is remarkable: at once the perfect greased-back cocktail lounge performer a-la-Warren Beatty in Mickey One, at the same time the obnoxious waiter who still hasn't brought the drinks over to your table. Each move is exaggerated just that right amount, while his song introductions become more ominous and hesitant as the show progresses.
The performance is long. Very long - in fact ninety minutes worth, and the patterns are strict. If There Is Something extends over maybe twenty minutes, becoming almost a parody of its own stylistic deviations. The Roxies encore with Virginia Plain to a standing ovation and disappear just before the lights get switched on. It's daylight outside when we leave and things are still somehow ticking over. Bryan Ferry looks unruffled in his greatcoat, as if he'd just stepped out of Losey's The Assassination Of Trotsky, while Eno has found himself a six-foot two-inch Dutch Amazon woman dressed in hot pants. Mark Fenwick is talking about his plans to buck up American outlets for Roxy while muttering discontentedly about the Dutch record company's commitment to push the band. Dr. Puxley is limping somewhat, as confused as ever. Back at the hotel I aim for room service, only to discover it's closed down the night. Nothing to do but fall asleep.