INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Sounds JANUARY 27, 1973 - by Steve Peacock
ROXY: WHAT NEXT - A MARCHING BAND?
The Englishman in America role seems to fit Bryan Ferry to perfection. Like the time they were at a radio station on their tour, and the DJ got Andy Mackay to read the news - straight wartime BBC. When Ferry had finished rolling around the studio floor, it was his turn to read - a commercial for the US Army.
"I feel a bit like that Alistair Cooke programme about America," he said as he sat in the kitchen of his flat, reeling off tale after tale of Roxy's tour there.
"One thing," he said, "was that I didn't really like any of the bands we saw over there, except some of the country music shows I saw on television - incredible people in sequinned cowboy suits playing amazing jewelled guitars. And the ball games on television - incredible three-hundred-strong marching bands and a hundred or so marching girls high-kicking around these vast football fields of artificial grass.
"I saw one from the biggest stadium in the world, the Houston Astrodome or something, with all these Texan girls in short, bright red costumes and high boots and stetsons doing these sexy dances while all these huge men lumbered around on the sidelines waiting to come on again. It was the most amazing spectacle I've ever seen.
"In fact, I think we ought to become a marching band and play at football matches in England - Eno could wheel his synthesizer around on a trolley, and we could have the PA hauled round with us by a team of roadies..."
Well, they do say America does peculiar things to people. In common with most British bands going there on their first trip, Roxy did the grand tour, bottom-of-the-billing over practically the whole country, playing support to people like Jethro Tull, Steve Miller, Humble Pie and Jo Jo Gunne. Bryan felt that the kind of audience that was being pulled for them wasn't quite the sort that would naturally be sympathetic to Roxy's ideas, and he felt that in general American audiences were "somehow not as intelligent as British audiences.
"They seem to expect to be assaulted, violently, by the band, and every other group we saw did that. They played at a very high volume, and everything was very high energy, which isn't really what we do at all. We did most of our up-tempo numbers, but even so...
"Jethro Tull's show was very slick - they had this thing where a telephone would ring on stage and some guy came on dressed as an English bobby and answered it - the obvious seems to appeal to an American audience. I mean I'd imagine that if you had a policeman running on stage to answer a telephone in this country everybody would be yawning, but over there they go 'oh far out, crazy' over it.
"They seem to be three to five years out of date, behind England - apart from the main cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit - and I think it's basically to do with the communications, they're just not informed. There's no rock press that kids read voraciously every week to see what the latest craze is, and I think people respond better to us if they've heard something about us beforehand."
They found it strange going from bill-topping packed houses in this country to bottom or next-to-bottom on the bill in the States, but still felt it had been a success. They'd been asked back and so on.
But Ferry felt a little disconcerted that audiences seemed to respond to status rather than music: "We noticed it a couple of times when we didn't actually play first, that the reaction was that much better - the audience weren't any more clued in and we didn't play any better than usual, but they responded better."
But the road for long periods of time seems to hold little fascination for him. We were talking about slogging around trying to make an impression in the States, and trying to get to all the places people wanted to see them in this country: "I'd really like to get into television as a means of performing - it seems so much more efficient somehow than carrying around all that equipment with you, which seems so medieval, especially in America. It's very interesting seeing all those different towns, but most of them you could do without - they're so characterless, so featureless, and so similar.
"And it's very tiring - we were on something like thirty aeroplanes in just a month, and there were really only half a dozen towns worth spending any time in. Obviously we wouldn't want to give up playing live altogether, but it would be nice to be a bit more selective about it and use television, because it seems to be such a waste of a medium at the moment.
"Ideally I'd like to have two months' regularly to be able to spend some weeks in thought, and go out to see films, read - just absorb experiences generally, because I find that I have to do that for anything to come out. I suppose the American thing was an experience, but more physical than intellectual; you'd think sitting around at airports and hotels would give you time to think, but I can't do it that way.
"Sitting in a muzak-bombarded airport lounge tends to turn you into a vegetable more than it inspires you - unless you see someone amazing, or someone walks past with a poodle or something. But those are quite rare."