INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Sounds AUGUST 24, 1974 - by Pete Makowski
THE TWO SIDES OF MR MANZANERA
Since the beginning of Roxy Music's career there have been many reports of fights and ego stomping between various members. One man who's been keeping himself in the background, letting his guitar do the talking is Roxy's axe man Phil Manzanera. Now he's decided to come out front and talk about life with Ferry and Co., his forthcoming solo venture and America, in an interview with Sounds' naive and unqualified reporter [well he said it] Pete Makowski.
Okay, we might as well start on the right tracks. Since Roxy Music's inception there have been many in depth interviews with individual members of the band. Each step of their eventful career has been followed with intricate magnifying glass type precision by journalists who seem to be dedicated to their cause. Lavish spreads have been devoted to Bryan Ferry's whims and fancies and Eno's theories and fetishes, that I hardly felt qualified to interview the band's guitarist Phil Manzanera. Only knowing the basic steps of the band's history made me even more vague about the one member who has almost kept silent to the press throughout the band's career. But if you're ready to accept a basically naive Roxy interview... read on.
I always imagined Manzanera to look more sinister, like the creepy human fly visage he brings over in performance. Once he's out of his glitterama costumery and his Elton John-like selection of glasses, it's a different story. Phil comes over as a quiet almost shy character, very neatly dressed, and sometimes nervously stumbling over words as if he's not sure how to tackle the questions. He is currently working on Eno's new album.
I don't know my official role yet, I have been helping sort out the material. Eno has been a controversial character in the history of the band. There was a period when there seemed to be a battle of the egos between himself and Ferry. Is Phil still in close contact with Eno? I tend to see him quite often. I've never had any particular antagonisms with anyone in the band.
Phil, who is now a modest twenty-three years old, began playing guitar ten years ago. I only made great steps forward, so to speak, when I was about seventeen. The other period was spent learning the rudiments.
He joined a band called Quiet Sun which was formed at school and lasted till he teamed up with Ferry and Co. It wasn't a particularly famous band. It kinda split up. That was about three years ago. Charles, the drummer, joined Gong for a bit and left because it was driving him crazy. Bill MacCormick joined Robert Wyatt's Matching Mole. The keyboard player left and became a mathematics lecturer. We always thought that we might record, and at one stage there was vague interest in us doing a one-off project.
Phil described the band's music as an instrumental version of Matching Mole which is a far cry from Roxy Music. So speaking as a guitarist Mr. Manzanera, how did Roxy Music affect your style?
It totally changed. It was like going back to my original period when I started. I learnt that you don't have to be complicated to be effective. I always thought that you had to be incredibly technical to be any good but I learnt from being a rock musician that you can do simple things and they can be beautiful. I find it much easier to do anything outstanding. But I write something complicated than try and write something with the basic chords - C, F and G - the all-time rock and roll chords. To do something within that is the most incredibly difficult thing to do. I hope when I do my album, to use all the things I've learnt.
Roxy is about to burst forth and reveal his potential. Has he started work on his solo venture? Yeh, in my head I've planned thousands of albums. There's a whole stock of material which I had with the last band which we never recorded. In the past few years I've been thinking about it and I think within the next six months I'll have done it. What musical sides would it reveal about Mr. M? The two sides, was the reply. One the instrumental side, and the other is song sequences. Another thing I've learnt in the past few years with Roxy is the production side of things.
Will Eno be using any of your material on his album? I'm not sure what's going on his album, there might be one or two of my things on it. It seems that the Eno/Ferry split was caused because both parties felt they were being deprived of the limelight, but I wondered would it have been possible for Eno to have recorded a solo album within the unit. It seems to have worked for Ferry who is now enjoying a lucrative career in two separate ventures. Yes he could have. At that stage we were still Roxy Music being a group and there's a much more fluid situation now, which is very nice, and if we had come to that kind of understanding before it may have solved things, but we were heading up so fast that everything was happening. The way it is at the moment we've hardly done any touring and that's left large gaps where people have got up and done their own thing. I think we've all benefited from these things and our album, which we're three quarters through now, will show how it's benefited. In the first two years our output was quite minimal but since Stranded there will have been five albums from the band and separate members. And I can see in the coming year there's going to be a more productive situation from a recording point of view.
Still, even though things are looking good on the front, it only takes a glance at last week's music rags to see scandalous coverage of the tempting offers Eddie The Riff Jobson has been confronted with from Bowie and Harley. Eddie's a very talented young guy. I think everybody's had offers, but those with Eddie have been publicised. I know what you mean, when you're up there people are always trying to knock you down. During this album and the short American tour we've been more together than ever before. I like the way things are going, I can't of course say the way everybody else feels, but I've had a good time doing this album.
Earlier Phil mentioned Roxy's recent and second American tour, which was obviously much more successful than their reportedly disastrous debut. This time it was much better, sighed Manzanera, It was a short tour but we did it on our own terms. Last time we went there, we were put on a tour with a blues band and obviously we can't support some one like Steve Miller in Chicago. This time we had our own lighting and PA and we were top of the bill in small theatres, three thousand seaters which are small by their standards. And the people who were coming came to see us. We didn't sell out every place, but we felt we were making progress.
As Manzanera pointed out touring in the States contributed to the togetherness of the band. When you're doing separate things, you're physically separated as well, and obviously when you don't see each other for so long you start thinking strange things.
Did you ever worry about the prospects of the band splitting? I think it's wrong to think of bands as fixed things. It's always been looked upon like that since The Beatles, and the shock of their split, everybody thought the dream would go on forever. You should look at bands from the other point of view, they're bound to split because there are so many conflicting interests. If you get a group with so many strong personalities they can't always fuse together. It demands incredible backing down on everyone's behalf. Every group has its life span and at a certain point it becomes obvious that it's not working. There's no point carrying on really and the best thing for everybody is to have a change.
The most successful member of the band is Bryan F. How does Phil acknowledge his popularity? The press always want a figure-head, and it's the most convenient thing especially if the band are starting up. It gives the audience a focal point to home in on.
The band will be touring Britain in September and they hope to have the album completed and out in the shops by then. There is also a single on its way and Phil feels it's our best single since Virginia Plain.
We haven't actually rehearsed the show but we will have by September. We haven't done a tour here for a year, so if people want to sec us this will probably be their only chance. For that reason we'll probably enter the tour with great enthusiasm.
This time we've made sure that we won't have the same problems that we had last time, starting out reasonably unprepared with a bad PA. This time we'll be flying over a PA from America and I think this one's going to be our best tour ever and er... I hope people come along.