INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
New Musical Express SEPTEMBER 23, 1972 - by Ian MacDonald
The kind of example we wish to set our parents?
The champagne was flowing freely when I interviewed Phil Manzanera, guitaring personality of Roxy Music, in freefall at twenty thousand feet over the English Channel last Friday. The drab reality is that Bryan Ferry's in hospital with tonsillitis and the group have a lay-off to add to their recent fortnight's holiday on the Continent.
It's our summer recess, Manzanera explained, brushing the Moet bubbles out of his beard. We're going to spend the next four to five weeks playing about with the ideas the rest of us have got, irrespective of whether we eventually utilise them or not. We just want to get used to playing with each other, really. I mean, we rehearsed the album, recorded it, rehearsed the set, and went on the road and I still haven't been introduced to the drummer.
Are you doing any composing?
I've been writing mostly instrumental music for the past two years and, towards the end, it seemed to be getting almost too easy. I'd be sitting at my piano, trying things out, and ideas would suddenly come to me out of nowhere. My hands would become possessed and dance up and down the keyboard, even. But, recently I've been trying to get back to doing simple songs and I've been round at Eno's working things out. I always prefer writing with other people - otherwise I tend to get complacent. Andy's doing a lot of stuff too.
Who has the final say on what gets performed?
We all agree most of the time. Bryan's usually right about his things. If it was left up to me and Andy we'd probably make arrangements a bit too flashy, we've both been involved in fairly intricate music in the past. Bryan's self-taught on the piano; he keeps everything nice and simple, thank God. If he was classically trained, he'd probably be sticking in bits of Bach or whatever. I prefer listening to Bryan play than a lot of quite famous pianists actually. There've only been a couple of people I've really believed in musically, one's Bryan, and the other is Paul Wheeler, who's completely unknown at the moment, but who's one of the best songwriters in England. I'm really amazed no one's snapped him up yet. And David Bowie's songs I like a lot too. His management were rather disagreeable at the Rainbow, but Bowie and The Spiders are very nice people and I enjoyed what they were doing.
Over a further glass of champagne I asked Manzanera what he'd been up to before he joined Roxy.
I was in a band called Quiet Sun which did complicated music and never really got anywhere. Bill MacCormick, who's in Matching Mole, started it with me - and Charlie Hayward was the drummer. He's now playing with Daevid Allen's Gong in France. Anybody who runs a struggling unknown group knows how soul-destroying all the phoning around agencies bit is, and eventually we just got fed up with it. Just after Bill left I saw an ad in the back of a music paper saying 'Wanted: tricky dick freak-out guitarist' or something. I'd just started a boring temporary job at Clarkson's Travel Agency, so I thought I'd have a try. When I went round and heard Bryan's tapes I was knocked out. The minute I heard them, I told him I thought they were going to be really big - and he probably thought: God, what a greasy freak. Anyway, we jammed a bit - on some Carole King numbers actually, which was an amazing relief after Quiet Sun, where we were playing, insane 17/8 things at ridiculous speeds all the time. I rediscovered my melodic sense in a word - but in the meantime they'd hired David O'List.
Some weeks later I got a phone-call at Clarkson's from Bryan who wanted me to come and do the group's mixing, because their guy'd left. So I went round to this dug-out exhouse in Notting Hill Gate, having never been near, a mixer in my life, and got on with it. I used to go there every evening and there were guitars lying around, etcetera, etcetera, and, one day they told me they were thinking of getting a new guitarist, so I did yet another audition which turned out to be the longest I've ever played. Lasted about three days. And then they said yes and I joined at exactly the right time, because all the hassling about contracts had been done by then and I didn't have to go through the Quiet Sun thing again. Of course, Bryan had been doing it for well over a year.
Have some more champagne, and tell me about the way you play. How do you approach soloing, for instance?
It really depends on what I get given to do. Frequently the group go into the studio to do a new number without telling me how it goes so that I'll play with the spontaneity they like. Like for Virginia Plain I got into the studio and set up my amp and the time was getting closer and closer to my solo and I still hadn't the faintest idea what I was going to do. And the break arrived and I just went blam! I mean, I could've put my fingers anywhere. I've since tried to reproduce that solo and I can't work out at all.
That was an amazing session. We were all capering around in there during The Numberer shouting silly things which eventually had to be edited out. In fact, ever since I've joined Roxy I've been having an amazing time. Like a beautiful dream.
He pauses to refill his glass.
On the album I got the chance to prepare some stuff beforehand on my Revox, but even then a lot of it was improvised on the spot. On 'Chance Meeting' they wanted me to play backwards, or rather play forwards while the tape went backwards. When that failed dismally I tried feedback which meant playing so loud I couldn't hear Bryan singing, only the chord changes. Eno likes that a lot - randomness. Taping one track and then sticking another one over the top without listening to the first one. And with Chance Meeting it was singularly appropriate.
The group seems to have loosened up recently, got a lot less serious about the stage act. (Pass the bottle).
Well we're not solemn about our music. We like to give people a good show, dress up and that sort of thing. Have a laugh. And, though we still make mistakes, we believe in them as much as the things we carefully plan. After all, if you make mistakes with enough conviction, people are bound to like you. Towards the end of our last tour, things were getting very silly indeed. Eno had a giant pair of plastic knives and forks and was playing the synthesizer as if it were a plate of biryani or something. But it's natural and, although as a group we tend to laugh a lot, we don't believe in hammering phoney humour. In fact we play rather badly if we're giggling. So, if everybody's in high spirits in the dressing room we usually have to insult each other before we go on stage. All our best gigs have happened when we've been in filthy tempers.
With the champagne running low, I decided to open the conversation out, probe Manzanera's extra-musical proclivities. Where's your head at, man?
About forty five degrees at the moment, he quipped, looking unsteadily at an empty glass. Well, I've seen a lot of films lately. We all went to see Hello Dolly on the Continent and it's got an amazing dance routine in a restaurant. I'm really into tap-dancing like The Black And White Minstrel Show. I waswatching it the other night and they had all these differentcoloured pigeons flying about. That'll probably drop tip in Roxy's stage act sometime.
Is this where the band's exotic stage movements come from?
Oh they're very simple, though we do tend to bump into each other now and then. One night Andy had something on his mind and forgot where he was, and I found myself mincing about on my own. I felt such a fool. And another time we got entwined in our leads and couldn't get out - stuff like that. But it's all experience and that's what life's all about, isn't it?
Any view I might have held on this topic was nullified by Manzanera's subsequent decline into a profound slumber. On reflection, he may have something, but the question remains: Is Roxy Music really the sort of example we wish to set our parents? All contributions will be gratefully received.