Uncut APRIL 2015 - by Michael Bonner


The great guitarist and producer on playing with David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Nico and, of course, Roxy Music: "If we fancied having another go, there's no rules..."

It's turning into an eventful day for Phil Manzanera. When Uncut arrives at his London home/studio complex, he's waiting for a visit from the RAC to fix his car. Meanwhile, a late morning meeting has just been postponed, which at least affords a quiet moment for Manzanera, who helps himself to a late breakfast of toast and coffee. 2015 looks set to become a very busy year for him. First, there's a new solo work, The Sound Of Blue, then a new volume of his Latin music project, Corroncho 2. Then there's also the small matter of David Gilmour's forthcoming album, which Manzanera is involved with. "It's going very well," he reveals. "I think it sounds fantastic, people will be very happy." Of course, Phil's other outstanding business concerns his old band, Roxy Music. "Last year, I said, 'I think our job is done'," he says. "Everyone thought, 'Roxy's split - again.' Not at all! If we fancied having another go, there's no rules. That's what's great about Roxy. It's not over 'til you're ten feet under..."

STAR QUESTION - David Gilmour: You've produced a lot of albums... is there any artist that has defeated you and you've 'left the building'?

I find it quite difficult to produce divas. I remember Mónica Naranjo, she was Number 1 in Spain and South America. I was meant to do three tracks with her. At the time, my studio here was under construction, so I set up a vocal booth on the floor below, with the trains going by outside. She's just come off from million-selling albums, arrives in Kilburn Lane and it all looks a little dodgy. I said, "Don't worry about it, just go in there and it'll be fine." Within a few hours, we had constructed a track and it sounded fantastic. I said, "Well, that's it, it's done!" Well, says Naranjo, it can't be, it's been done too quickly. So she hires this flash studio in Lake Lugano. We go there with her husband, a co-producer-type guy, who was a bit miffed that I was doing the job and not him. Every day, she'd re-sing these vocals. We were in separate hotels, facing the lake and I was bored out of my skull. One day the husband rang and said, "She doesn't feel like going in today." I replied, "You know what? I don't fancy doing your album, I'm gonna call a taxi to the airport. Do it yourself. Good luck. Goodbye." I just took off; it was a liberating moment. They tried for months to do it on their own, but eventually they released the version we did downstairs. It was a huge, huge hit...

Anthony Stobart, Newcastle: What do you recall of supporting Bowie at the Rainbow gigs in '72?

I remember the first one, because we were all wearing high-heel boots with huge platforms. I walked in to the foyer, down towards where the seats were, and strained my ankle in these bloody boots. The whole gig was a nightmare for me, I was in agony. We supported David at the Croydon Greyhound, too. It was a great gig. I turned up in the afternoon to soundcheck and they were all there, Bowie, Mick Ronson, Trevor and Woody, all dressed in Spiders gear. We just used to put our clothes on before going on, not wear them the whole time. So I walked in, in jeans: "Oh, hi, I'm from Roxy..." Oh God, they must have been disappointed we didn't come in with all our outfits on! After that, he invited us to support him at the Rainbow. David's come to our gigs in this decade. He brought his band along when Roxy played Radio City.

Alex Finlayson, Yangon, Burma: How did your riff end up on Kanye and Jay Z's No Church In The Wild?

It's a bizarre story. This guy called 88-Keys discovered a compilation album that I put out in 1976, Guitarissimo. The first track on it, K-Scope, starts with the guitar riff, so he probably thought, right, I can sample that! He's in New York with Kanye West, who's doing their album at the Plaza Hotel. They said "Have you got any beats?" and 88-Keys plays some, and they say, "We'll have that one, thank you." Which is the guitar riff. I was driving round Notting Hill with my son Charlie, and the phone went. "Hello, it's Roc-A-Fella Records here, just wanted to tell you Jay Z and Kanye West have sampled your guitar." I said, "No, you made a mistake. People always get me mixed up with Ray Manzarek." So they played it for me down the phone. Anyway, it came out, was huge, and it won a Grammy.

STAR QUESTION - Brian Eno: Do you think your South American background made a difference to the way you think about music?

If you're taken to Cuba when you're six, go to the Tropicana Club and hear the grooves there, you can't fail to be influenced. And you have a South American mother who's into cumbia, then you go to school in Cuba for a bit, then Venezuela for a bit, then learn to play the tiplay - a twelve-string Colombian instrument your uncle buys for you in a little dirt-track village three hours down the mountain from Bogotá. And all your cousins play jazz piano in New York. And your mother teaches you how to play Cuban songs on the guitar when you're seven... Yes, it's going to be a big influence!

Chris Parker, London: As a fan of The Velvet Underground, how did you find working with John Cale, as executive producer on Fear?

Richard Williams, when he was A&R at Island, asked me if I'd like to work on it. I was twenty-three or twenty-four. So I met John. He had these songs, I got a bass player and a drummer and we rehearsed in a place off King's Road before we went into the studio. John was absent a lot of the time. His wife would ring up and I'd have to say he'd popped out for a sandwich. So I got a bit bored. I called Eno, "Why don't you come and treat my guitars and we'll just muck about?" We got Richard and Linda Thompson down. It was a really good album. Then I did the Heartbreak Hotel single with John. I worked with Nico, too, on The End. John produced it and he invited me down to play. She'd come down from the control room and say, "Phil, do not do a thing he says, just do whatever you want, ignore that maniac." She was fantastic, it was a total thrill.

STAR QUESTION - Andy Mackay: Phil, you've worked with a huge range of musicians from Robert Wyatt to David Gilmour - what was it about Roxy that made it special?

The people, really. You know, I failed the original audition. I was in Quiet Sun with Bill MacCormick, Charles Hayward and Dave Jarrett. We sent tapes to Richard Williams at Melody Maker. The following week, the embryonic Roxy sent in their demos. We read their review, and thought, 'This sounds fantastic!' Then Bill was asked to join Matching Mole, and said to me, "What about Roxy? They're looking for a guitarist." So I went to the audition. They got David O'List in from The Nice, but it didn't work. So I got a call asking whether I'd come and mix the sound for Eno. It was at some derelict house in Notting Hill. When I turned up, Brian said, "Oh, David's not here, but here's his guitar. Fancy having a jam?" I had an inkling this might happen, so I'd secretly learned all their tracks. They were tricking me and I was tricking them. I joined just after my birthday, the first week of February. That was forty-three years ago!

Jacqueline Brown, Leith: How did Roxy Music's sound change with Eno's departure and how much do you regret him leaving after For Your Pleasure?

It became something different. I tried to carry on some of those ideas by having a guitar version of the VCS3 synthesiser that was controlled by pedals and using Revoxes. But I was working with Brian anyway for the next five years in parallel with Roxy. The first two albums encapsulate all the ideas that were around at that point. But then going forward, a change was necessary anyway. By integrating a couple of mine and Andy's songs, we created a different kind of album. If Eno is asked what his favourite Roxy album is, he always says Stranded. I'm never sure whether it's because it is the one he didn't have to do anything on, or whether he genuinely thinks that's the case.

Sheldon Jury, Cheam: What are your memories of the 801 Live project?

Eno, myself, and Bill and Ian MacCormick went away to a little cottage and came up with this idea of doing a project that would only last for six weeks. And we had put together people who were very technical and people who were totally anti-technique and let them fight it out and do one concert. Actually there were three concerts in the end: there was the warm-up, Reading Festival and QEH. We thought we'd record it, because we've done all this bloody work fighting it out. The recording has been incredibly popular, but the project was designed not to last any longer or we'd have killed ourselves.

Gary Zel, Illinois: As Musical Director of the Seville Guitar Legends festival, you played with Dylan. What was that like?

I got Jack Bruce on bass, I got the best drummer in the world, I got backing singers, I got everything you could possibly want. So Bob comes in with the manager. Because it's Guitar Legends I had to say, "We want All Along The Watchtower. But we're not doing your version, we're doing Hendrix's version..." The manager said, "Bob might come on, he might not. If Bob doesn't come on, Jack, can you sing his song?" To which Jack replied: "I'm not bloody fucking singing songs." Bob would just play around with us. At one point, he said, "Do you know that Tex Mex song from 1948 called blah blah?" No-one knew it, so I said, "I tell you what, Bob. You start playing it and we'll pick it up." He played it differently every time, and people started making excuses to leave the room... But I knew he liked Richard Thompson, so I rang up Richard who was playing in Holland, and said, "Richard, would you like to play with Dylan?" "Yeah, sure!" He arrived, so I sent him in before the concert to find out what numbers Bob was going to do. He came out and said, "Right, we're doing this and this..." So we went onstage - "It's Bob Dylan!" - and of course he doesn't play any of the numbers we rehearsed. We're all looking at each other, wondering what key he was playing in... But you know, he's a genius. So who cares?

Jan Oldaeus, Manchester: Your red Gibson Firebird must be one of this planet's most beautiful guitars. Where and when did you get it?

I bought it from an ad in the back of Melody Maker. It belonged to an American guy who'd come over with his parents. They were living in a house in Regent's Park. The guitar I had when I was nine or ten was a Hofner Galaxy in red. When I joined Roxy, they insisted I had a white Strat, which I wasn't used to playing, but I thought, 'Sure, OK.' Then I saw this ad for a red guitar for £150. I had no idea what it looked like. I turned up, the guy opened the door, I said, "Yeah, I'll have it, thank you very much." He'd ordered it in this unique colour. I never saw another one like it, ever. It's been on almost every album I've made since. It records beautifully.

STAR QUESTION - Robert Wyatt: Thanks, Phil. That I've had the chance, in the last couple of decades, to get through some of the happiest and most fulfilling work in my life thanks to your invitation to use your studios, which you made feel like a home away from home every time I came. I honestly don't think I'd ever have got through all the stuff I've been able to do without your generosity. Gracias, hombre...

It goes right back to when I was at school in Dulwich. Bill and Ian MacCormick's parents knew Robert's mum. He was our hero. I met two people when I was sixteen or seventeen: Robert and David Gilmour. They were in the coolest bands in London, Soft Machine and the Floyd. But Robert, he's a special, unique character. His ideas, what he stands for. Vicariously through the MacCormicks, I explored music, jazz, freeform, psychedelia. Anything Robert liked, we listened to. So when Robert started to use my studio in Chertsey, it was payback for all the inspiration he'd given me. I was surprised when he announced last year that he wouldn't be making any more music, but only because I'd been wanting him to play on my album. I think he just wants to take the pressure off having to do another album, so he can do whatever he feels like doing. But I love all his justifications for it, they just made me laugh! "Other people are allowed to retire, why can't I?" He's just so funny.