Uncut AUGUST 2012 - by Stephen Troussé


"We were hellbent on doing something innovative..." Roxy Music's radical guitarist remembers a life in the musical left-field.

The first sound to be heard on Jay-Z and Kanye West's 2011 collaboration Watch The Throne is Phil Manzanera's guitar, sampled from his 1978 album K-Scope. The beautifully skewed, constantly progressive playing of this sixty-one-year-old Anglo-Colombian has penetrated deep into popular culture, most notably via Roxy Music, of whose work he remains justifiably proud. "When I met the guys I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of it," he says. "They were brilliant - and so grown-up. They all had cars and bank accounts!" Roxy aside, the list of Manzanera's regular collaborators - Eno, John Cale, Robert Wyatt - reads like a Who's Who of left-field British innovators, a group to which he comfortably belongs.

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ROXY MUSIC: Roxy Music - Chic, smart, surprisingly raw. Arriving in Bowie's slipstream, Roxy's seismic debut exerted a massive influence on the music of the coming decade and beyond.

I'd been through a rigorous tutelage and I could tell the difference between what was good and what wasn't. I met them at the audition and immediately thought, this is serendipity. I just knew it was going to work. I joined officially in the first week of February 1972. In the second week the first Roxy Music contract was signed, and by the beginning of March I was in the studio recording the first album. I think I must have been the lucky charm. We weren't signed to a record deal, the management company was paying for it and wanted to keep it very cheap. They suggested Command, this old-fashioned BBC studio at the top end of Piccadilly. It was wonderfully atmospheric, very British. Our management also looked after King Crimson, so they suggested Pete Sinfield as producer. He was a wordsmith, so he could relate to how good the lyrics were and kept an eye on that. It was our first time in the studio, we were all nervous, but we'd been playing the stuff live so we just got stuck in. I listen back to it and think it could have sounded a million times better, but it did capture a moment. Virginia Plain wasn't on the original album. We were of the mindset that it wasn't cool to put singles on albums. We recorded it in August, after the album was out, and that became our foot in the door.

ROXY MUSIC: For Your Pleasure - A landmark record on which the songs become longer and more involved, the playing more daring, and Chris Thomas' production crisper. Meanwhile Ferry takes the pop song to some strange and wonderful new places.

We'd made some inroads in America, and while we were in LA we met John Cale, who was A&R at Warner. We asked him if he'd produce our next album, and he suggested Chris Thomas. In the end we started recording with John Anthony - he produced Pyjamarama - but we felt it wasn't going to work. By coincidence, Chris was remixing The The Dark Side Of The Moon at the other end of AIR Studios. Contact was made and suddenly the other guy was out and we got Chris. He taught us everything we know about production. He had worked with George Martin and The Beatles, and we were lucky enough to become part of that legacy. The album still sounds absolutely amazing.

We were going out on tour in a couple of weeks so it was quite demanding, but we were very excited, and hellbent on looking forward and doing something innovative. I remember that moment when the backing track would be done and Bryan would come in to do the vocal, and we would have no idea what he was going to sing about: at the end of something like In Every Dream Home A Heartache you would literally cheer. He was coming up with absolutely fantastic words and a series of quite simple chords, to which we could then all put in all our own stuff to create this musical context for his lyrics, like all those solos on Editions Of You. There was a lot of space for that. It's a very dangerous and exciting way of working, and that tension ran through the whole of Roxy.

It was quirky and a bit mad. The sense of fun was very much a part of it, but it started to get a little bit edgy with Eno towards the end of the record. He was starting to recognise that perhaps being in a band wasn't for him. He wasn't designed that way! He was feeling uncomfortable having to deal with band decisions all the time. There were strong views, creative tensions, and Chris Thomas had to deal with it. When Brian left after the album we seriously thought about jacking it all in, but me and Andy [Mackay] said, "Hang on, we've come this far. Maybe this is an opportunity." We were pragmatic, and thank God we were. It was the end of that beginning phase, and we moved into Phase II.

ROXY MUSIC: Stranded - A mere six months after For Your Pleasure, Roxy reconvene at AIR with Chris Thomas. The departure of Eno, replaced by Eddie Jobson, brings a new sense of cohesion.

I was very close to Brian and was very upset by his leaving, but I subsequently carried on working with him. During Stranded I was doing Eno's first solo album [Here Come The Warm Jets] down in Clapham from twelve 'til six and then getting the tube up to Oxford Circus to do Stranded, but not mentioning it to the other Bryan. Without Eno we had to really think about how it was going to work. It forced the issue about us integrating more, and having Eddie brought a new musicality to it. We could try things like A Song For Europe. The piano playing on that required a proper pianist, and it also brought in Andy's formal musical background. Amazona was my first Roxy co-write. I had this riff and this mad, mad machine which was made to simulate Eno's treatments on the VCS3 on the guitar. It only worked once properly, and that was on the recording of that track. It's extraordinary. I even managed to slip in a bit of 7/8 time signature without Bryan or anyone else noticing, although it meant for the next thirty-five years it was never played live because Bryan could never quite get the hang of coming in right on the beat. On the last tour we ended up playing it, but it was a struggle.

BRIAN ENO: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) - Manzanera is credited as arranger, musician, co-writer and co-producer on Eno's second solo album, which marked the arrival of his famous Oblique Strategies system. Guests on the album include Robert Wyatt and Phil Collins.

As soon as [Roxy's fourth LP] Country Life was finished I was back in the studio with Brian. We just continued what we'd done in Roxy, experimenting and using the studio as an instrument. Brian had his little black book and would be writing the lyrics as we went along, and he was starting to develop the Oblique Strategies cards, which we had a lot of fun with. If we were ever stuck for ideas we'd draw them out and do exactly what it said on the card. If it said: GAFFER TAPE YOUR MOUTH, we'd all have to gaffer our mouths. "Now what?!" It would make you listen without talking, that was the idea. There were more esoteric ones in there, of course, and we were so into it that all the musicians jumped on board. I introduced Robert Wyatt to Eno and they got on really well straight away, and Phil Collins was there because Brian had helped out on a Genesis album before. It was very low key and nice. There was no money in it, everyone was just helping each other out. We weren't being A&R'ed at all. There was no supervision. You can probably tell...

JOHN CALE: Fear - As executive producer, Manzanera plays both guitar and nursemaid on Cale's classic solo set. Eno and Richard Thompson also drop in.

Richard Williams at Island asked me to help John. I was twenty-four and The Velvet Underground were my heroes, so I swallowed hard - um, OK! I was amazed by the songs that John had. I was expecting really violent kinds of stuff, but it was a beautiful mixture. Living on the West Coast, he'd been quite influenced by Brian Wilson and so his more classical, melodic side came out. I used the drummer we'd used on Taking Tiger Mountain... [Fred Smith] and a bass player [Archie Leggett] who I loved for his work with Kevin Ayers. The four of us went down to a little rehearsal place on the King's Road, then did some tracks at Olympic, and eventually ended up at Sound Techniques in Chelsea, with the famous John Wood engineering. Richard Thompson passed by, all sorts of people. The album was progressing but John was going through some strange times with his wife and drink and drugs - he'd invariably not be there, or would come in a bit sloshed and go to sleep. So I invited Eno down and we started doing things to the tracks. John had the great songs there anyway, we were just adding to it. He was always great fun and great company, though. He can talk about anything. Probably talks too much.

PHIL MANZANERA: Diamond Head - Briefly free of band duties, Manzanera embarks on his first solo record with the help of Eno, Wyatt and most of Roxy.

Andy and Bryan had made solo albums, and I wanted to do one, too. It was just an excuse for me to get my friends in and have a good time. It was all about collaborating in the studio. I'd have a few chord sequences for a song and we'd all just finish it off. We made Robert [Wyatt] sing in Spanish on Frontera. He got a dictionary and just copied some lines out. He had some history with Majorca and he could pronounce the words, but it wasn't grammatically correct. I'm fluent in Spanish, and people in South America and Spain still ask me, "What the hell is that song about?" I say, "Oh, it's very Dada." "But it doesn't make any sense!" "No, but it sounds great!" The clock was ticking, I had to finish on a certain day and get on the plane to Toronto to start a tour with Roxy. I had a bit of a physical breakdown. I remember we arrived and got busted by the Mounties, the tour manager had some dope or something. Bryan answered the door of his hotel room wearing a polka- dot smoking jacket - "Yeeeess?" - but I was petrified. That was the culmination of a pretty punishing schedule.

QUIET SUN: Mainstream - Recorded concurrently with Diamond Head, Manzanera reunites his pre-Roxy band to record an album of noodly, gently undulating prog rock.

Without telling Island, I decided I was going to do a Quiet Sun album as well, five years after we'd split up. I left school in December '69 and spent a year trying to do Quiet Sun. When [bassist] Bill MacCormick left to join Robert Wyatt l thought, 'Oh well, that's it.' We'd been turned down by everybody. Muff Winwood turned us down and he ended up as studio manager at the place we recorded Mainstream, in Basing Street. After we finished I went up to him with his rejection letter and this fantastic Melody Maker review: "Up yours, mate!" I spent half the day upstairs doing Diamond Head, and then six to twelve downstairs doing Mainstream. Consequently a lot of the same people are on both albums. We recorded it live, really, then I just slipped it to the record company: "Oh, by the way, there's another album here." "Well, what the fuck are we going to do with it? And what kind of music is this?" l like it even more now than I did at the time. It came out and was pretty much forgotten about, but it seems to have a life of its own. People from the most bizarre places love it. It's got some magic about it.

801: 801 Live - Recorded live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Eno and Manzanera's short-lived concept pooled their repertoire alongside covers of You Really Got Me and a seven-minute Tomorrow Never Knows.

Me, Eno, [writer and musician] Ian MacDonald and Bill MacCormick went to a cottage in Shropshire for five days with a tape recorder and came up with this idea of forming a band that would only last six weeks as a concept, and which would pitch musos against non-musos. The drummer, Simon Phillips, has become a master session player. He was only nineteen at the time but was already amazing. And we had Francis Monkman from Curved Air, whose chops were incredible. The whole run of the thing was technique against non-technique, but no-one could understand what the hell we were doing. Really, it was a live version of mine and Eno's solo stuff from the previous two years. We cobbled together all our material and did three gigs: a tiny place in Cromer, the Reading Festival and the one we recorded. It never would have lasted because by the end everyone was going to kill each other. It self-destructed, which was the intention, but it has legs. We recently brought out these deluxe editions and they've been incredibly popular.

DAVID GILMOUR: On An Island - Manzanera played on Gilmour's first solo album for twenty-two years, and then joined his backing band for the subsequent world tour.

I was taken to see David by my brother four years before joining Roxy to ask how you become a professional musician! So I had previous contact with him, and we'd kept in touch. We'd co-written One Slip, on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, but this was different. There were great expectations, because he hadn't made a solo album for so long. The machinery needed oiling, and I was a catalyst to get the process going. It took a bit of time, but once he was engaged he was brilliant. He's got a wonderful sense of pitch and always wants everything to be bang in tune - I've built a career on being out of tune, so it was a challenge! I wanted to get over the fact he has a great voice. Everyone goes on about his guitar playing, which is immense, but I love his voice. lt's totally distinctive, like Wyatt or Jack Bruce. A very British character voice. Bryan and John Cale have that, too. It was a lovely experience which led to a very happy tour. It was, unfortunately, Rick Wright's last tour before he died, but I have lovely memories. I was involved with a Number 1 album, which kept me in the game, and to have a friend do well meant a lot.