INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Sounds DECEMBER 30, 1972 - by Martin Hayman
ROXY ON A PILGRIMAGE TO WONDERLAND
Well Mr Bryan Ferry, had Roxy Music been giving the cognoscenti something to think about in the Land of Opportunity?
'Oh yes, I'll say,' said the disembodied voice from Los Angeles, the tone unmistakably 'Englishman in California'. It sounded to me as though Bryan at least was somewhat playing up the Englishness of a band which, curiously, has based its whole image on an Englishman's view of America as seen through the mediation of Hollywood. And there he was, indeed, sitting high above the Sunset Strip on a sunny morning and, with rather a strong feeling of déjà vu, looking out at the billboard of Kari-Anne, 'by far the nicest thing there', he says, with the combination of vanity and self-deprecation which has made him such a sought-after interviewee - a man who produces a quote a minute.
The mythology of America, Bryan told me (with slight nervousness at first: he was unused, he said, to doing interviews on the telephone) was not standing up too badly on first-hand acquaintance. They had made a ritual pilgrimage, all of them, down to Max's Kansas City and to Nobody's Bar. 'I don't find New York at all freaky, though,' he continued. 'We made a pilgrimage to Max's and Nobody's and it was all very squalid, rather like the Chasse on a bad night.' The Chasse is, or was, a small and - dare I say it without giving offence? - a squalid drinking club in Wardour Street. But they had been up to the observation decks of the Empire State Building (which, I learn, may now acquire another twenty-odd storeys as another, taller, building was being planned somewhere which will down-grade the prestige of renting offices in the Empire State) and had been highly impressed. 'It was beautiful, incredible,' Bryan told me. 'One has seen so much of it already on film but when you get there and get the three-dimensional thing it's so much better.'
Roxy's assault of America had started with a gig in Athens, Ohio, which had been terrible. The following night had been Madison Square Gardens with Jethro Tull and had gone well, according to Bryan, though other sources indicated that Roxy had died the death... but the band, after all, have the best idea of what's going on in front of them. An audience which doesn't want you must get through strongly to a band exposed to critical analysis at a gig like MSG.
Everything had been improving as they went along, although the unflappable Ferry had been a bit mystified by their audiences which in general did not seem to know them or, once there, did not know what to make of them at all. Typically, he said, there would be twenty minutes of bafflement followed by ten minutes of enthusiasm. And that is all they've got, because they are unknowns, playing bottom of the bill to several straight-up rock bands like the Tull (who do have their own special audience) and Humble Pie (and you can't get more straight-up than that).
The set is thus cut down to, in sequence, The Bob, Would You Believe, Ladytron, If There Is Something, Virginia Plain and, as the closer, Re-Make/Re-Model. This last number, says aesthete Bryan, is the most successful 'because it's crude and you don't need any subtleties. I think that the American audience isn't as intelligent as the British. We've been playing with some very basic bands, but we've had some very favourable press reports. There doesn't seem to be a comprehensive music press over here. It could be we're too subtle for most Americans, maybe you need to be English to get into our humour... I think an Englishman would appreciate us more. They tend to be obsessive about certain aspects of the band here.'
But Bryan's impressions of America were on the whole favourable - about the places which counted. 'The mythology stands up very well actually, I'm more impressed than I thought I would be, especially about Hollywood and New York. All the other places have been average America and rather boring.' The tour goes on from the West Coast to Miami and then heads north again to Washington and Chicago, so it's like a Grand Tour taking in, as Bryan put it, each corner of the country. Would he have done it any other way, had he just been a tourist? 'I'd have gone to see the Grand Canyon - that's a must. And I would have liked to go to Mexico, but there's nowhere to play there.'
Roxy comes back to London on January 5 and immediately starts work on a second album. It is not completely written yet: Bryan says that at the moment he is 'gradually trying to see it in my head', revealing perhaps that Roxy's music is conceived by Bryan in terms of sound pictures. 'Its such a business though because there's no time to work. It should be quite interesting, but I wish we had more time to do it. But it should be up to scratch.'
It seemed that Pete Sinfield, who produced the first album and made a superb job of it too, had not been invited back to do the new album. Was this in any way connected with the influence exerted by Sinfield over anything he's involved with? 'No, it's mainly because a change is as good as a rest - or something like that. I still like a lot of the production on the first record but this time I want more... punchy attack,' he says, groping slightly for the right words. 'What I really want to get is one of The Stones' engineers and produce it ourselves. But influence - no I would hotly deny it! Obviously there are lots of sympathetic moments, but I thought it was so different from anything that King Crimson had done, apart from the Mellotron, which we use a lot, but I can't quite see the Pete Sinfield element. I have a great deal of respect for him, he has a great deal of experience, but he doesn't influence the music.'
Finally, with Roxy well over half way through their first visit to America and with a two-day stint at the Whisky A Go-Go coming up that evening, did he feel that the American launch had been as carefully planned and thought-out as in Britain? 'I'm still fairly ignorant of the American playing scene; but there seems to be two ways of doing it, you play anywhere and everywhere practically unheralded as we are doing, of you do a big number which is how I suppose the David Bowie thing was done: which, I'm sure works in a way, but people here don't seem to know about us.'
Not yet. And so, with a promise to meet Mr. Ferry and talk at greater length about Roxy Music when they go into the Island Studios to do the album we parted company to leave the Englishmen once again on their own in their real, three-dimensional Hollywood wonderland.