Record Collector JUNE 1995 - by Mark Paytress


Record Collector: How did you first encounter Roxy Music?

Phil Manzanera: I'd heard they were looking for a guitarist, and had already read about them in an article by Richard Williams in Melody Maker. Bryan Ferry and I had both sent in demo tapes within a week of each other and he'd written about both of them. From what I'd read, what Roxy were doing was far more interesting.

I met them, got on well, but didn't get the gig. They were looking for someone with a name to help launch the group, so they got Davy O'List, ex of The Nice. That didn't work out: there were punch-ups at the audition for the management company, so eventually I was asked to play.

RC: What excited you about the group?

PM: We all had very different tastes, but we had something in common. So if I played any wacky free-form guitar, they'd say "Oh, that's a bit like The Velvet Underground. We like that." Some people saw in us elements of the '50s, others a futuristic '90s, and all those elements gave us depth.

At the very early gigs, Eno was seated in the audience, mixing the sound, playing his synth and singing. No wonder people thought the band was weird! And at that time, we had no amps - everything went into the mixing desk to be treated. It must have looked very strange with no amps on stage.

RC: The fact that you've chosen to omit material from the early Roxy albums suggests that you didn't have that much input into the band at the stage.

PM: The first one and a half albums had been worked out over a period of about three or four years, so Roxy didn't get into any new creative stuff until the third album, excepting side one of For Your Pleasure.

Being introduced to a great producer - Chris Thomas, who'd worked with The Beatles, and mixed The Dark Side Of The Moon, was a turning point. He showed us how to craft our work, which resulted in Love Is The Drug, and all those other tracks. It brought another dimension to being a musician. But working with Eno, it was quite different - forget all the rule. That was much more me. That harked back to the freedom of jazz and psychedelia, the idea of not knowing where you're going, but knowing you might go somewhere fantastic; the chance element. But Eno left, and that experimental side ended up on his solo albums and on my albums.

The first five tracks on this set have been put together in a way that suggests what would have happened had Eno stayed. I was amazed that you could go from an 801 cut to a Roxy track and back, and it doesn't jar.

RC: Did Eno have to leave? Was the battle of the egos too big to sustain under one roof?

PM: Yeah. That came with the pressures of success. It's been demonstrated that Eno is not the kind of person to be in a band. He's stuck to his principles right from that day, and has proved to be very successful doing just that.

RC: Is it correct to assume that he was the band's theory-crazed Musical Director?

PM: It wasn't really like that. Everybody had their point of view; it was much more democratic. Everybody was aiming towards one thing - success - and there was no power struggle to become leader of the band to start with. It's always the people behind the scenes, the managers and agents, who stir things up. When Eno left, we were in great danger of imploding completely.

RC: Increasingly, Roxy was perceived as an extension of Ferry's solo career, and the fact that both you and Andy felt the need to branch out seems to confirm this. Was it increasingly frustrating?

PM: People who saw the early Roxy Music saw Eno on the left and Ferry on the right, with me and Andy in the middle. And all the agents and promoters told us that no band had ever succeeded without having a focal point, so Bryan became the front man.

I was perfectly happy about being in a pop group. Roxy Music was the perfect vehicle, and enabled me to continue with this parallel musical career, which had nothing to do with what the group were doing. It was more to do with the extension of British psychedelia. If in later years, being with Roxy was helping fulfil Bryan's fantasy, then I was very happy to contribute to it in any way I could. Also, after playing very complicated time signatures, being with Roxy was like running through a Carole King number. Two chords? Great! Now I can relax!

RC: With the Diamond Head and Quiet Sun (Mainstream) projects, were you testing the water with a view to a full-blown solo career?

PM: Definitely not. It was a great opportunity to try out new things at someone else's expense. I was developing a strand that had started before Roxy.

RC: 801 was an odd project. In some ways, it felt like a progressively-inclined jazz-rock venture. Then again, having Eno as the front man confused the issue. Was there ever any sense of permanence about it?

PM: Eno, me, and Bill MacCormick wanted to do something that lasted six weeks. Do three gigs, record one, put a bunch of technical musicians with those who hate that idea in a room together and see what happens. It was a mad experiment, and I've included an unreleased version of us playing Eno's The Fat Lady Of Limbourg on the collection. Immediately after that, Eno continued the journey with Bowie on Low. We've not played together since.

RC: When you were playing The Thrill Of It All night after night on the international stage, just how thrilling was the reality of the routine?

PM: We didn't do long tours, but the ones that really put the lid on it for me were the six-week long tours of America. You'd get back to the hotel and think: "what is this?" There was nothing to stimulate the brain, you were like a performing monkey. If you've got lighting cues, you've got to play the showman.

RC: Some of your more adventurous playing was reserved for guest appearances, like Gun on John Cale's Fear, of Nico's The End. PM: Nico was a big figure for those who knew about The Velvet Underground and the whole Warhol scene. So I jumped at the chance to work with her, John Cale, and Eno on that track, especially since it was a Doors track. That was very important to me, 'cos I saw them in the Roundhouse in '68.

I love John, he's very funny, but his life was in complete, utter upheaval during those two projects. He was producing for her, but when I went into the playing area, she took me to one side and said: "Don't do anything he tells you to." I'm amazed how beautiful her voice is when I revisit her work. At the time, it was considered weird.

RC: On later Roxy albums, you shared production and composer credits with Bryan. What prompted the split?

PM: General dissatisfaction with the management. Disgusting things were done to make us fight each other, and there came a point where I couldn't take it any more. I was in the red right up until Avalon. So I walked out. Andy, and then Bryan, eventually followed suit.

I borrowed money and started Gallery studios, which gave me the means of production. Later, I formed Expression Records and released thirteen albums. And since then, I've been mainly producing - particularly Spanish groups. One of them, Heroes del Silencio, are EMI's most successful band in Europe. The singer looks like Jim Morrison and they're into rock but sing in Spanish. Another, Paralamos do Successo, a Brazilian band, are huge in Argentina.

I've also worked with Fito Paez, who's heavily influenced by Costello and The Beatles, writes in Spanish, and is massive in Argentina. In Anglo-Saxon rock, all the ideas have been used up, all the great topics have been written about. But these songs are being written for the first time in their own language. It's all new over there and it's very exciting.

RC: Did you enjoy working with Bryan again on Mamouna?

PM: I had a great day there. I played on several tracks, though I can't hear myself on any of them. I saw one of his Hammersmith shows. He sang very well, but everyone around him was wrong, and he's surrounded by so much baggage. At that point, I thought I could never see the Roxy thing ever happening again.

RC: He still plays the obvious Roxy numbers in his show. Has there ever been a serious conversation about rekindling the embers?

PM: There'd be no point in doing it unless the music sounded great. A lot would have to change before that was a serious consideration.

RC: Perhaps Virgin's forthcoming 4-CD retrospective might concentrate a few minds.

PM: [shrugs] Perhaps.