INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Uncut FEBRUARY 2011 - by David Cavanagh
THE THRILL OF IT ALL!
This month, Roxy Music celebrate their fortieth anniversary with a series of massive shows. As an overture for your pleasure, Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, Paul Thompson and many more remember the dreams, heartaches and outlandish triumphs of Roxy Music from a radical and flamboyant start, through superstardom and schisms, up to recent, thwarted attempts to make a comeback album. In spite of everything, they keep ending up together... "There's no escape for any of us!"
From teaching jobs, Melody Maker advertisements and the school of retro-futurism they came. Heading intrepidly north, they donned feathers and twiddled synthesizers, finding empathetic strongholds in the working-class cities of Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow. It was, suggests saxophonist-oboist Andy Mackay, an instinctive guess on the audiences' part. Nothing in the flamboyant guises of Mackay, Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry would have identified them as the sons of gasmen, postmen and miners. For all three of them, Mackay reckons, Roxy came from "an inner conflict of shyness and risk-taking... a love of soul music and a love of theatre".
Cynics might accuse Ferry of eradicating risk-taking from his modus operandi about three decades ago, but this month finds him leading Roxy once again, as they play a short British arena tour to mark their fortieth anniversary. Ferry's recording studio, where we meet on a chilly November evening, is a gallery-style complex in Olympia, west London, a stone's throw from the exhibition centre. A nearby pub, the Hand And Flower, was the scene of an early Roxy gig. Ferry remembers the audience sitting cross-legged, listening to Sea Breezes, Chance Meeting and other strange communications from Roxy's neoteric universe. Their live debut, Ferry thinks, had been a few weeks earlier, "at a party in the suburbs somewhere, organised by a guy from Penthouse magazine".
He leans forward and warms his hands on a radiator. We're sitting in an elegantly furnished lounge-cum-library a couple of floors above the studio itself. Ferry is wrapped in a black scarf, looking tired after a Eurostar journey from Brussels. For several weeks he's been promoting his solo album, Olympia. He's been unusually proactive, appearing on TV programmes like Strictly Come Dancing, Loose Women and The One Show, and signing CDs in HMV. But it hasn't been enough. "There are so few record shops left, and Tesco's won't sell the album because it isn't in the Top 20," he sighs. "That was a big blow, not being on sale in the supermarkets. It's sad isn't it?"
Ferry - the architect of Virginia Plain and Do The Strand - hobnobbing with microwaveable lasagne and Cup-a-Soups in shopping baskets. It's not quite the brave new world that Roxy had in mind.
The tour is called 'For Your Pleasure', a shrewd way of making arena concerts seem more intimate while also referencing one of Roxy's most darkly fascinating albums. Ferry, in fact, has been reacquainting himself with the 1973 LP, hoping to perform one or two of its less familiar numbers.
"People are going to expect that," he acknowledges. But there are other Roxy fans who won't want any darkness or unfamiliarity, and Roxy have to cater for them, too. "There's two types of Roxy fan," says drummer Paul Thompson. "Avalon types and early types." Thompson is an early type. He quit Roxy during sessions for Manifesto (1979), unable to muster enthusiasm for smoochy ballads like Dance Away.
What neither type of fan will hear on the tour is any new material. Attempts to record a Roxy album in 2006 came to nothing. The history of that episode is confusing - and also intriguing, because it involved Brian Eno, back in the fold for the first tie since his controversial departure in June 1973. Andy Mackay stresses how important it was to make new music. Roxy's 2001 reunion tours had been enjoyable, but energy levels had waned when the exercise was repeated in 2006. "We did a show at Docklands which happened to be my sixtieth birthday," Mackay relates, "and it didn't feel like a great way to be celebrating. We needed to do new recordings to give us some drive, some raison d'être, after thirty-odd years."
Guitarist Phil Manzanera explains: "Bryan, Andy and I said to each other, 'Why don't we hire a studio and play like we did in the early days?' Eno lives round the corner from me, so I rang him and said, 'Look, before you say no...' Ha! Eno, poor thing, is always saying, 'I was only in Roxy for two years. Why are people still asking me bloody questions about it?' But there's no escape for him. There's no escape for any of us."
The fateful day arrived. Manzanera drove round and picked Eno up, "just to make sure he'd come" and "shoved him into the studio while I parked the car." What happened next amused them all. The five men - Ferry, Eno, Mackay, Manzanera, Thompson - involuntarily reverted back to their original personalities and relationships. Eno, known as 'Brian' for the past thirty-five years, was suddenly addressed by his surname as if it was 1972 again.
Roxy tackled two batches of material in the studio. There were six or seven instrumental tracks, composed by various members (Mackay, Eno, Manzanera), which they worked on democratically. There were also songs brought to the studio by Ferry, which weren't so popular, some of which have ended up on Olympia. The 2006 sessions ended with an agreement that Ferry would write lyrics for the instrumentals. Nearly five years on, they're still waiting. Ferry doubts he'll ever get round to it. "There was a very slow track which was quite promising," he conceded, but he doesn't sound riveted. He started losing interest in the project when Eno and Manzanera talked to journalists about it, which Ferry felt put unnecessary pressure on him. The days are gone, everyone in Roxy knows, when Ferry would swan into AIR Studios at midnight and astonish them by singing a freshly written lyric (Mother Of Pearl, Love Is The Drug) in a single take.
The new album was quietly shelved. Roxy went on a hiatus, just as they had in 1976, 1983 and 2002. "It could have been an interesting album," Mackay believes. "A few of the tracks had the makings of very good songs. But who knows? We may never have finished it, even if we'd thrown ourselves at it." Manzanera is diplomatic. "It's our fault," he says. "We didn't give Bryan the music to stimulate him enough to finish the songs."
Not far from Ferry's studio is a house in Kensington High Street where he lived with his girlfriend Susie Cussins in the early '70s - the house where Roxy was born. Ferry, a Fine Art graduate from newcastle University, had arrived in London with complicated ambitions, no piano and one of the ost peculiar vibratos this side of Edith Piaf. He bought a second-hand harmonium for five pounds, and re-established contact with a bass-playing friend from Newcastle, Graham Simpson. Ferry took a series of day jobs - van driver, antiques restorer, ceramics teacher in a school - and by night he sat at his harmonium and wrote songs of haunting, otherworldly iciness.
Ferry has often been asked if he saw a need for Roxy; a stagnation or decline in the state of British rock; an opening that perhaps he, as a serious-minded but style-loving music aficionado, could perceive and exploit. Sometimes he answers yes to this question ("1969 was a dull time and I saw the gap in music," he once declared) and sometimes, like today, he's more abstract. "I was just very anxious to do something intelligent," he frowns. "I was thinking, well, if I'm going to do music instead of art, I want to replace all the creative impulses that I would have put into painting. I didn't want to do music the way I'd done it as a student, singing In The Midnight Hour and pretending I was Wilson Pickett. I wanted to express my thoughts and feelings. I was more keen for it to be 'art' than 'commercial'. I didn't imagine we'd do anything that would be commercially acceptable."
The first lineup of Roxy bears him out. Ferry and Simpson were joined by Mackay, a Londoner who'd studied at Reading University, where he'd appalled his music tutors by preferring Stockhausen and John Cage to Bach. Mackay: "I hung out with people in the art department, who were much more into avant-garde performance and knew about La Monte Young. And needless to say, the first Velvet Underground album was a record that every art school in England had a copy of."
Ferry was impressed by Mackay's musicianship ("he brought gravitas") and by the sound of his oboe ("plaintive, lonely, melancholic"). Mackay had a VCS3 synthesizer, a curious contraption to bring to a nascent rock band in 1971. Mackay introduced Ferry to his friend Brian Eno, who owned a Ferrograph tape recorder. This was the pre-cassette age and Roxy wanted copies of their rehearsals. Eno arrived, lugged his giant Ferrograph into the room, clapped eyes on Mackay's VCS3 and fell in love at first sight. This embryonic incarnation of Roxy (the 'Music' came later) was completed by Roger Bunn (guitar), who Ferry remembers as "a hippy guy with a real sort of Withnail And I flat, who smoked lots of weed", and Dexter Lloyd, a classical percussionist with a drooping ginger moustache. Bunn has since died. Lloyd disappeared into thin air.
Few people ever heard that proto-Roxy lineup, since it never played live. Ferry shopped a reel-to-reel demo tape round London's record companies, and laughs delightedly as he recalls their reactions. "They'd expect me to leave, but I'd say, 'No, it's the only tape I've got.' I'd sit there while they fielded phone-calls, real Tin Pan Alley stuff. They'd say things like, 'This is the sound of the future! Come back next year!'"
One man who heard the tape was Phil Manzanera, a young guitarist who answered a Melody Maker advert to replace Roger Bunn that summer. "I loved the music, but it was too arty-farty... too elusive," Manzanera observes now. After Manzanera's audition, roxy surprisingly hired instead Davy O'List, a founder member of The Nice, who had left after their first album and mysteriously faded from view. O'List's six-month sojourn in Roxy began when he placed a 'guitarist seeks band' ad in Melody Maker (without revealing his name) and received a phone-call from Ferry.
Within minutes, Ferry realised he was talking to one of his favourite guitarists. "I'd seen him play with The Nice when I was a student, and he was fantastic."
O'List, at twenty-two, was three years younger than Ferry, but had more music industry experience by far. For Ferry, O'List was a sensational, provocative new piece in the evolving Roxy jigsaw. For O'List, Roxy were a bunch of ageing unknowns who needed his musical guidance desperately. "There was no rock beat to the music at all," O'List remembers. "The synthesizer was interesting, and so was the oboe, and some of the basic melodies on the first album were there. But it was surrounded by so much avant-gardeness that you could understand why record companies were saying no. The band hadn't been on the road. They hadn't done any live work at all. They had great ideas but lacked confidence. They wanted to get commercial but they didn't know how."
O'List agreed to join. He claims he comprehensively overhauled their sound. Roxy were soon rehearsing almost every night in the dining-room of the Battersea cottage where Ferry lived with Mackay. Eno took synthesizer lessons from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. But before Roxy were ready to unveil their progress to a paying public, they placed yet another ad in Melody Maker, this time for a drummer. One of the applicants was a blond, long-haired John Bonham fan from Newcastle. The hard-hitting Paul Thompson managed to cut through all the avant-garde uncertainty and turn Ferry's oblique composition into rock'n'roll.
"I joined because of the lineup," says Thompson. "I'd never worked with a band that had an oboe or a synthesizer. Bryan had a lot of interesting characteristics to his voice, like that fast vibrato. It was a really exciting sound."
Thompson became Roxy's second Geordie. They neglected to tell him they were formulating a revolutionary image to stun the media. Thompson arrived for an early rehearsal in builder's overalls. A year later, he'd be modelling an off-the-shoulder leopard-print caveman vest on Top Of The Pops.
Pete Sinfield had met Bryan Ferry before. In 1970, Sinfield, the lyricist for King Crimson, had sat next to Robert Fripp in their Fulham Palace Road basement headquarters while they auditioned the hopeful Ferry for the vacant post of Crimson vocalist. Ferry's extraordinary voice had made the audition a formality: No Thanks. But now it was 1972. Roxy had been taken on by the same management company (EG) as Crimson, and Sinfield, who knew his way around a VCS3 synthesizer, seemed a propitious choice to produce their debut album (Roxy Music). EG hoped to license it to Island.
Sinfield remembers Roxy as a band of eccentric juxtapositions: "A bit of Tamla, a bit of [art] deco, a bit of Bob Dylan, a bit of country. It was whatever they could play. Bryan wasn't the best piano player, on his Hohner [Pianet] keyboard. Andy was the main musician. The synthesizer was definitely important. Some of the white noise effects on The Bob (Medley); the guns going rat-a-tat-a-tat. The whoosh of a wave. The bubbly sound - terrific. Throw Bryan's voice over the top and you've automatically got something very interesting."
Ferry's inspiration as a songwriter appeared to come from a variety of sources both futuristic and nostalgic: World War II, visions of female robots, Brief Encounter, girls behind wheels of sports cars, Bogart and Bergman, romantic fiction, Isherwood in Berlin, Noël Coward. Eno's VCS3 produced jet-propelled textures that dressed Ferry's characters of the 1940s in spacesuits. Mackay, who had recently been working as a music teacher in a west London school, was featured as a filigree oboist one minute, an uproarious tenor sax honker the next. "Everything was so different on the album," Ferry points out. "It wasn't just about one style. It experimented with many different ones, collaging them together. From that beginning, the band could have gone anywhere. Eno has said similar things in the past. We could have gone in any of several directions."
Sinfield admits to being conceptually nonplussed. "I thought they were going to be like a weird offshoot of the Bonzo or something. The odd instrumentation, the witty lyrics, the interest in clothes. They had all these friends who were fashion designers. They made a lot of glamorous friends very quickly." Ferry, indeed, had already designed the album's pouting, pinky-blue cover even before Island confirmed the deal. Its gatefold sleeve credits gave 'clothes, make-up & hair' the same billing as guitar, bass and drums. On the pay-your-dues circuit of '70s rock, Roxy's peacocky impudence was confrontational. Thompson: "You weren't supposed to have an attractive woman on the front of your album. People commented that we were using sex to sell our music. Everybody does it nowadays, though, don't they?"
"We were reflecting what was happening in early '70s society," reasons Phil Manzanera. "There were films like The Last Picture Show, bands like Sha Na Na and Alice Cooper. The visual side of things was being awakened, and a revival of '50s music. We used to say, 'We're a '50s/'60s/'70s/'80s/'90s band.' The kind of people that Bryan and Andy knew were like a team of up-and-coming visual artists and clothes makers. Antony Price [fashion designer]. Wendy Dagworthy [fashion designer], who's now head of the fashion department at the Royal College Of Art. Nick De Ville [artist], who's now a professor at Goldsmiths. It was serendipity and chance that all those people were around us, hot to trot, a whole generation of new people."
Manzanera, having failed his Roxy audition the previous year, had been invited to become Davy O'List's replacement in february 1972, only a few weeks before the album was recorded. An ugly altercation between O'List and Paul Thompson had not gone down well in the group, and that incident, together with some unwelcome demands for songwriting co-credits, had led to O'List's dismissal. His guitar-playing can be heard on a January 1972 Roxy session for John Peel's Radio 1 programme, where it's clear that a number of his innovations (notably his sustained soloing throughout Re-Make/Re-Model) were later emulated by Manzanera.
David Betteridge, the then-managing director of Island, had no doubt that they'd signed something special. "We'd first seen Roxy in Covent Garden, at a small club, and about thirty-five seconds after they started playing, I leaned over to my colleague Tim Clark and said, 'Oh my God, we've got to have this.'" Betteridge was excited by virtually everything on display: the unconventional music, the voice, the look, the handsomeness of Ferry, the androgynous exoticism of Eno. "I still see Brian Eno today," Betteridge remarks, "and I sometimes reflect on when I first saw him, and how different he was to the studious, middle-aged college professor he resembles now."
Nobody would be quite what to call Roxy. Art-rock? Glam-rock? They laid down some opportune glam foundations by opening for david Bowie, who was in full Ziggy regalia, at the Croydon Greyhound in June; and Mackay confirms that Roxy would always feel an affinity with Bowie's work. Then again, Roxy saw themselves more as a multidirectional, supercreative 'factory' concept in the tradition of The Velvet Underground. For Davy O'List, the terminology is different again. "It was progressive music," he contends. "If you listen to The Bob (Medley) on the Peel session, which Eno starts with an air-raid siren, that is progressive music." Whatever it was called, the buzz soon grew around the Island offices. Roxy's album was critically acclaimed as one of the greatest debuts in history.
Mackay: "We released it in the summer of '72, kind of expecting to be regarded as an art-school band, something quirky and different. The reviews gave us an extra kick, and then Virginia Plain, which wasn't on the LP, was released as a single and became a Top 10 hit. Suddenly, that changed our profile into being a pop band. Things were happening quickly. There was a lot of pressure to get more stuff out."
Something had to give. Something that wore feathers.
Roxy Music's self-confessed "token hippy", Phil Manzanera didn't initially have any leanings towards image or style. He jokes that he has early Roxy photos where he looks like "a cross between Charles Manson and Jesus." Manzanera learned fast, though. He allowed Antony Price to do a makeover on him for the artwork of the first album, kitting him out in a sleek leather jacket and bizarre sci-fi sunglasses that made him look like a biker-gang bluebottle. Paul Thompson was getting into the sartorial side of Roxy, too: "I ended up quite enjoying it. Jumpsuits, sequinned tank tops..." Ferry dressed like a heart-throb with lounge lizard tendencies. Mackay ventured into intergalactic realms, via doo-wop. Eno, not to be outdone, used his own personal designer.
Manzanera: "we all had different people making clothes for us. We didn't confer at all. The first tike we'd see each other's outfits was before we went onstage. It would be like, 'Go on, put on your new outfit.' 'No, put yours on first.' Eno would come out with this creation that had huge feathers on it. I'd put mine on and come out looking like an armadillo. Andy would look like something out of Barbarella. Then we'd go onstage and play."
Their second album was called For Your Pleasure. Sinister sounds and subtexts permeated the production (The Bogus Man, For Your Pleasure, In Every dream Home A Heartache) and some of the songs revealed a scary weirdness in Ferry's writing that he never revisited thereafter. A suicide letter. A crazed love song to an inflatable doll. And a nightmarish epic about a predatory man - some breed of half-demon, half-stalker - who could never be restrained or eluded.
At the conclusion of the song (The Bogus Man), Ferry exhaled a series of sighs and gasps, as if he couldn't believe the places where his subconscious had led him.
"I was on top of my game," Ferry smiles now, his eyelids fluttering at the thought. "I remember having this great little car, a Renault 4, and I crammed all my keyboards into it and drove to Derbyshire where Nick De Ville, who worked with me on the album sleeves, had lent me his cottage. I was on my own, really trying to concentrate, with sheets of paper all over the floor, writing songs like In Every dream Home A Heartache. I always seemed to find the right words at the right time."
Ferry maintains there was no particular intention to disturb, but some of the proceedings on For Your Pleasure would horrify a casual fan of Avalon or More Than This. The closing minutes of the album's title track, supervised by Eno and producer Chris Thomas, create a totally disorientating effect. Ghostly visitors bid us "ta-ra". The earth sounds like it's burning up. Judi Dench recites a line of poetry ("Don't ask why"), borrowed by Eno from Radio 4. Ferry's voice is sampled, looped and swamped in 'butterfly echo' - Eno's process of modifying Revox recorders by sticking a piece of tape on the capstan. "At one point," says Ferry dreamily, "I seem to remember taking my headphones off and throwing them into the piano. I don't know why I would have done that. I must have been inspired. The sound it made was fantastic."
But even as For Your Pleasure was released in March 1973 and began its climb towards the Top 5, its glossy, blue-black sleeve was causing dismay in the Roxy lineup. The outer gatefold featured Ferry as cover girl Amanda Lear's chauffeur. None of the other members appeared on the cover. Ferry had been given sole writing credits for every song on the album, just vas he had on the first. He was now earning significantly more money than the others. The realisation dawned on them that Ferry was effectively claiming governance and ownership of Roxy. In June, he informed Eno that they would never share a stage again. Eno had to go.
The common theory is that Ferry resented being upstaged by the outlandish costumes of the synth operator on the other side of the stage, but Ferry denies that Eno's flamboyance was a factor. He pauses for a few seconds. "But he did hurt my feelings a bit, because he loved doing interviews," Ferry says. "And I sometimes thought that maybe he was taking credit - not wholly intentionally - for some of the things that I was doing. I didn't want to be perceived as just the singer. I had written, and was the primary arranger of, the songs on the records. I felt that I was the main architect of everything, and I didn't want to let go of that recognition. It was important to me. It was all I had. I was very proud of it, and I wasn't very good at sharing."
Eno's departure was quick, bloodless and non-negotiable. The bassist John Wetton, who played on Eno's album Here Come The Warm Jets, laughs: "There was a great quote from EG - 'We feel you're ready for a solo career.'" A shocked Andy Mackay considered leaving Roxy for Mott The Hoople, before deciding to soldier on. A teenage virtuoso named Eddie Jobson (keyboards, violin) was added to the lineup by Ferry, acting unilaterally. But wouldn't Eno be missed by Roxy's partisan fan-base?
"It's funny," says Manzanera, "but I don't remember worrying about it at all. Probably a folly of youth. I was just so pleased that the band was continuing."
The same year saw the release of Ferry's first solo LP, These Foolish Things, on which he sang cover versions of songs by Leiber & Stoller, Goffin & King, Smokey Robinson and Dylan (A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall). "It wasn't that I wanted to have another career. I saw it as a one-off album," Ferry emphasises. But it was viewed very differently within Roxy. "EG Management groomed Bryan to be a big star," says Mackay. "Mark Fenwick, one of our managers, genuinely thought Bryan was the new Elvis Presley." (Ferry: "Really? He never said that to me. It's a nice thought.") Fenwick tells Uncut that he has no recollection of it.
Ferry: "I must have been encouraged to do [a solo album] by Mark and David [Enthoven]. I thought it would be great to do a different kind of album to For Your Pleasure. one which wasn't as dark and had a lightness in the way that, say, Picasso does ceramics which are fun, and also does dark and mysterious work as well. I'm sure the album had good and bad repercussions. It opened Roxy Music up to a more mainstream audience. On the other hand, I might have pissed off the purists."
In October 1973 Roxy hit the road to promote their third album, Stranded. The bassist for the tour - Roxy had had three bassists since the unfortunate breakdown and departure of Graham Simpson in the summer of 1972 - was a young New Yorker, Sal Meida. "The smoke was clearing from the whole Eno period," Maida recalls, "but a little bit of tension was still lingering in the air. They were furiously finishing up Stranded. Bryan was still writing last-minute lyrics. He and Chris Thomas were still mixing the album when we started rehearsing for the tour. It was a real hectic vibe." Maida noticed something else, too. "They had de-glammed a little bit. The make-up and feathers from the Eno period had gone. Bryan wore a white tuxedo. I wore a silver jacket. We all looked pretty sharp. But it wasn't as flamboyant as it had been, and that was a conscious decision."
At first their fans were confused. Tuxedos? But they soon got the hang of it. During those '70s tours, Roxy's audiences included some of the future punk rock luminaries, including Siouxsie Sioux and Sid Vicious. According to Manzanera, the audience divided into those attracted by the music, and those seduced by the look. "We got all the freaks. It was wonderful. All the people who were gay, lesbian, sex-change, people who wanted to dress up, the weird, the wacky and the wonderful - all those people could feel safe at a Roxy gig;" Maida: "The audiences were amazing, especially in Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool. Those shows were insane. The audience in Glasgow was so enthusiastic that they broke Phil's leg as we were coming out of the venue. They just went to grab him, and he slipped. He had to play the rest of the tour sitting on a bench with a cast on his leg."
Touring with Roxy was not like touring with Nazareth or Manfred Mann's Earth Band. John Wetton, Roxy's bassist for the Country Life tours of 1974-5, has pleasant memories of five-star hotels and fabulous restaurants. "It was enormous fun," he says. "No expense spared on pampering. They lived to a very high standard." Every night Wetton would be offered a choice of stage-wear by Christian, Roxy's majordomo and wardrobe master. "I'd just come from playing in King Crimson," Wetton goes on, "which was beards, pullovers and real ale. Roxy Music were the opposite. They were at the height of their knicker-throwing popularity. There was a rumour they were all gay, which couldn't have been further from the truth. A lot of the people around them were, but the actual members of the band were rabidly heterosexual."
Ferry's new social circles took him into the jet set. He had often written about "the good life", as he put it on Stranded, in witty, ironic terms. Now he was living it. He was linked with the Playboy pin-up Marilyn Cole (Stranded's cover star) before meeting the Texan model Jerry Hall in 1974. Hall appeared as a mermaid on the cover of Siren (1975) and she and Ferry became a celebrity couple. Further solo albums were made (Another Time, Another Place, 1974; Let's Stick Together, 1976), blurring the lines between what Ferry did and what Roxy did. Could he do without them? He remembers EG asking him this very question. While Manzanera and Mackay, from Stranded onwards, had convinced him of the value of an occasional songwriting collaboration (Mackay and Ferry's Love Is The Drug was a major international hit in 1975), Ferry continued to drift away from Roxy, devoting more time to his own career, until the band announced in 1976 that they were having a trial separation. It was unclear whether they really had a divorce in mind. Ferry seemed to be using the others as little ore than session musicians on his solo LPs. had the politics of Roxy elected him an unopposed dictator? Mackay looks at it like this: "If Eno, Bryan and myself hadn't met, Bryan would have been a successful performer anyway. He was desperately ambitious. He was very focused on being rich and famous." In 1976 Mackay finally managed to clear his debts by writing soundtrack music for ITV's Rock Follies. Ferry, meanwhile, set up home with Jerry Hall in Bel Air.
Between 1976 and 1979, the members of Roxy threw themselves into solo projects. Ferry had not been the only one to make music outside the Roxy mothership; Eno (No Pussyfooting, 1972, with Robert Fripp), Mackay (In Search Of Eddie Riff, 1974) and Manzanera (Diamond Head, 1975) had all done likewise. While Roxy lay dormant, Chris Thomas produced the debut album by England's shocking new stars, The Sex Pistols. The NME ran a rumour that John Wetton and Paul Thompson were the rhythm section on it. They took it as a compliment. As punk snarled and seethed, Sid Vicious bumped into Andy Mackay. "I love your band," Vicious told him approvingly, "but your singer's a right cunt."
Ferry's movements travelled home via the grapevine. He was in Switzerland. No, he was in L.A. Then news broke that Hall had left him for Mick Jagger. There was silence. Manzanera had formed a band with Godley and Creme from 10cc, when Ferry suddenly phoned to ask if he fancied getting Roxy back together. Their sixth album, Manifesto (1979), is, for some fans, the last listenable music they ever made. "The stuff that Bryan was writing didn't inspire me," admits Paul Thompson, who quickly bailed. "It wasn't what Roxy were about. It was all becoming engineered towards success in AMerica, which was the way Bryan wanted it to go. If I'd been a Roxy fan, I wouldn't have bought anything after Manifesto."
Just as it's hard to equate the real-life, super-polite Manzanera with the bearded insect mutant of 1972, it's difficult to see any similarities, aside from obvious physiognomical ones, between the Ferry of Olympia and the Ferry who threw his headphones into the piano in the final minute of For Your Pleasure. I'm trying to ask him about Flesh + Blood (1980) and Avalon (1982) without making it clear that I hated them. He deliberates. "It's a good album, Avalon, I wouldn't knock it. It was the biggest record we did. It was the first LP to be heard by many Roxy Music fans." He pauses. "American and so on. But the tour for Avalon was gruelling and I was fed up with everyone. The politics started getting to me. I didn't want to play in a band anymore. But I'm glad we got together again in 2001."
Like Manzanera and Mackay, he appreciated the challenge of the festivals that Roxy played in 2010, including Lovebox (London), Fuji Rock (Japan) and Bestival (Isle Of Wight), where they had to perform to thousands of people who had not come to see them. Mackay said it was like starting again. They had to win the crowds over. "The thing is, the songs from the first two Roxy albums still sound really weird," Mackay grins. "You could see young people in the audience thinking, 'Gosh, these guys are actually quite interesting.' We did the Rock En Seine festival in Paris, with Arcade Fire headlining on then other stage immediately after us, and the audience could easily have moved across to the other stage [to await Arcade Fire]. But they didn't, they stayed with us." Manzanera: "It was great. Those kids have only heard two Roxy songs in their lives - Avalon and More Than This - and we didn't play either of them."
And Ferry himself? "We're not the same people that we were in '72, '73," he allows, "but we're tied together by these songs. I can obviously perform them with y solo band whenever I want, but it's great to have the original players... I could even envisage making a record with Roxy again. I just didn't feel that the [t2006 recording session] was the right thing. I could imagine us making a more experimental album. A soundtrack or something. Yes. It could happen.
WHATEVER BECAME OF DAVY O'LIST?
The colourful career of Roxy Music's 'English Hendrix'
Where did Davy O'List go? The question has been asked by anyone who loves The Nice's 1967 debut The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack (an early prog-rock milestone) or The Attack's Any More Than I Do (brilliant mid-'60s psych-pop) or Bryan Ferry's The 'In' Crowd (a 1974 hit single) - all of which featured jaw-dropping guitar solos that led some people to acclaim O'List as 'the English Hendrix'.
O'List, born in Chiswick in 1948, was trained in classical trumpet. In his teens he left the Royal College Of Music to join The Attack, managed by Don Arden, In 1967 John Mayall asked O'List to replace Peter Green inn The Blues Breakers, but he declined. Instead he co-founded The Nice, who created a new rock hybrid from psychedelia, jazz and Broadway musicals. Organist Keith Emerson graduated to ELP and superstardom. O'List was not so lucky. His drink was spiked one night - he names a well-known bass player, now dead - and the drug had terrible consequences. "Nobody knew what was wrong. It took years to work out what had happened." By then, The Nice had fired him.
An 'acid casualty' reputation has plagued O'List ever since. Uncut is relieved to find a gentle, good-humoured sixty-two-year-old, serving up coffee and Cheddars in his London studio. If O'List is haunted by his past, he's also anxious not to be written out of history. Comparisons with Syd Barrett rankle ("I wasn't as mentally handicapped as him, if at all") and he talks of The Nice in comradely terms. "Keith Emerson and I have become great friend again." After his spell in Roxy Music ('71-2), O'List formed Jet, a glam-rock act, and played with John cale. He later took a Fine Art degree and a master's degree in Film & Video, whereupon he became a teacher. He's since returned to music. His new LP, The Second Thoughts Of Davy O'List, awaits release. Unsurprisingly for his fans, its guitar solos are spectacular. More remarkably, its fifteen-minute songs sound like long-lost prog classics fro 1973.
MISSING IN ACTION: GRAHAM SIMPSON
Roxy's brilliant first bass player. Also a convicted safe-cracker...
"He had the best jazz vinyl collection I'd ever seen," says Bryan ferry of his old friend Graham Simpson, "and you weren't allowed to touch it. He was a bright, funny guy, and dare I say a great womaniser." Simpson was Roxy's first bass player. He left just after their debut album, and vanished without trace. All he left behind were his scintillating basslines (2 H.B., Chance Meeting) and his photo on the LP's inside sleeve. He looked polite, serious, rather meek. Appearances can be deceptive.
Now sixty-seven, with his bass-playing days long behind him, Simpson tells a truly bewildering story of adventure and capture, which took him to Mexico, India and Morocco (where he was sent to prison for safe-cracking) before he finally settled in Ladbroke grove, where he subsists on a small annual sum received from Roxy. "I smoke an awful lot of dope," he tells Uncut with a Catweazle cackle, "and I drink coffee. I listen to John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman." He has no family, no phone and only a sketchy idea of what happened to Roxy after '72. That was the year he suffered a drug-induced breakdown, which came to a head at an audition for Island. ("He couldn't play," recalls Phil Manzanera. "We found him cowering at the back of the stage in tears.")
Simpson has few fond memories of Roxy. He accuses producer Pete Sinfield ("that cunt from King Crimson") of sabotaging his bass parts, and he claims that only one track (Bitters End) was enjoyable to record. By then, the other band-members had noticed Simpson was no longer speaking to them. "He got more and more distant," says Ferry. "It was like he was playing in a trance." Pinning Simpson down to precise details about that time is impossible. hHe recounts a long, meandering tale fro the '70s, which involves a "high-class whore", a double-barrelled shotgun, "a regrettable case of delirium tremens", a well-paid job in computers, an affair with a diplomat's wife and an unwelcome visit from the CIA. "I've been at death's door all life," he concludes. "It's something I've learned to accept."