Viva Roxy Music APRIL 25, 2004 - by John O'Brien


An interview with Davy O'List

Various members of Roxy Music, books and magazine interviews have told the story of the genesis of Roxy Music in several places. I managed to have a chat recently with Davy O'List who was an integral part of the formation of Roxy Music and helped arrange many of the songs for the first album. Davy was the second guitarist to join Roxy Music, as the band was being put together, after the departure of original guitarist Roger Bunn.

Viva Roxy Music: How did the Roxy Music job come about?

Davy O'List: During the late summer of 1971 I ran an advertisement in the Melody Maker music magazine saying: "Well-known guitarist seeking image conscious, progressive, rock group with recording contract and agency." Bryan Ferry replied to my advertisement. I told Bryan who I was. Bryan got very excited saying he had been looking for me for months to complete the line up of Roxy Music (they were called Roxy Music by this time).

Did Bryan know at that time it was your advert?

I am not sure. He may have guessed it was as there would not have been too many well-known guitarists advertising at this time. I asked Bryan if the group had a recording deal with gigs. Bryan hesitated and said no. All the record companies had turned down Roxy Music so far. It's just not commercial enough yet, Bryan said, that's why I want you. Then Bryan said he would be most excited and grateful if I would play and produce Roxy Music to make it commercial enough for a recording deal. I said although I was a record producer and produced hits for The Nice I had really advertised for a name group with a recording and agency deal and needed to earn top money straight away. I had just been filming with Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton.

Bryan replied that he was an avid fan of mine and watched me play at Newcastle City Hall with The Nice in 1968. Interestingly enough this live performance by The Nice (with Bryan Ferry in the audience) has just been released on "Here Comes The Nice - The Immediate Anthology".

Realising Bryan was a fan I asked for the line up of Roxy Music. He told me about the avant garde percussionist, VSC 3 synth player, oboe/sax player, with himself on electric piano and vocals and Bryan wanted me to complete the line-up. It began to sound interesting especially for a group in 1971. I had produced The Nice into recording stars from nothing and perhaps I could produce and transform Roxy Music into a hit group, too.

What changed your mind about them if they not having a record deal put you off?

I was interested in the unusual line-up. Roxy Music was using a synthesizer and they seemed to have good ideas. Keith Emerson, who I had played with, was the only performer using a synthesizer at that time. Therefore I became interested to try out Roxy Music because of the line up.

I told Bryan I would like to audition Roxy Music with the intention of producing and writing for it. I ensured him that with my press, agency and record company contacts I could obtain a recording deal for Roxy Music if they were good enough and if I liked them. Bryan was overjoyed to hear this. I asked Bryan to guarantee royalties for my writing, performance and production work once Roxy Music had a recording contract if I did join. Bryan agreed and then I agreed to meet Bryan Ferry with current members, Andy MacKay, Brian Eno and Graham Simpson at Andy's house in Battersea the next evening. (Andy was teaching music during the day at Holland Park Secondary School, which is why it was in the evening.

So what was the set up like when you went to those rehearsals, and how did the material sound then?

They were set up in a small studio room in the house with small amplifiers with Bryan sitting at an electric piano. I assessed the material (which evolved into the first album) needed new arrangements/more chords/chord progressions/more melodies with more interesting mood changes in order for it to become commercial. They heartily agreed. Roxy Music needed to be directed by a successful commercial writer to succeed. They just weren't commercial.

Could someone else have done that for them, was it just a case of someone giving them that bit of direction?

Yes and no, they obviously were an interesting band and had good ideas but I don't think there was anyone else already in the business at the time who would have given them their time and effort and take a chance with them. All the record companies had already turned them down once and were not prepared to nurture or produce their sound themselves.

Bryan, Andy, Eno and Graham pleaded with me strongly to join the group. It was up to me to take them on and I decided to become their producer. I explained that after I had done this I wanted their assurances that I could make solo albums through the deal I got them. I made it transparent (as I had to Bryan previously on the telephone) it would also be on condition that I received royalties and credit for all my work as a writer/arranger/performer/producer in Roxy Music. Roxy Music knew I had a great deal of music business contacts and that my name could obtain all their aims and objectives. They were aware I could transform the group. My job was to ensure commercial success for Roxy Music. Once they had agreed this I said I would join Roxy Music amid loud cheers from Bryan, Andy, Eno and Graham.

A photographer friend of Bryan's, who sometimes worked for Time Out magazine, owned a large photographic studio in Hampstead. He would lend it to us for one or two evenings a week to rehearse in. Bryan and Andy secured a loan from a bank to buy a PA system. We were able to store the PA in the loft of the studio when we were not using it. The material we began rehearsing became the group's first album release. I wanted to be involved with the writing that was part of my deal. I selected two songs to start with which I was intending to release as solo singles but had not found the right calibre of musicians to record them.

What were these songs called?

One, Green Willow Tree, the other was White Indian Butterfly. They suited Bryan's voice and we started singing them together as a duet. I had been the lead vocalist for The Nice.

How did these songs sound, and were there any recordings of them?

Green Willow Tree was like a slightly faster Chance Meeting. The songs were never recorded with Roxy Music although we were intending to record them for the first album. I had recorded demo versions before but the tapes were lost, unfortunately.

When did Paul Thompson come into all this?

At the beginning Roxy Music had an avant-garde percussionist (Dexter Lloyd) who was great fun to play with. Eno was experimenting, treating the various percussion instruments through Andy's VCS 3, but I knew the group needed a commercial rock drummer to make it. I discussed this with the group and the following week an advertisement appeared in Melody Maker for a rock drummer. Several applied; one was a female called Sue. We discussed using Sue; she would have been an interesting image inclusion if she had been a more experienced drummer. Things started to move on faster.

Is this the Susie that the debut album is dedicated to?

No, I believe that was Susie who was a girlfriend of Bryan's at the time. Susie used to drive us around a lot and help with transport for rehearsals and gigs.

What do you feel you brought to the songs that had already been written by Bryan Ferry?

I completely rearranged the songs, rewrote parts of them and added new melodic sections to make the songs sound more fashionable. I added new beginnings, new middles, and new endings and generally beefed up the sound, as Bryan wanted me to. You can hear the evidence of all my work on Roxy Music's first album. It was all kept in of course otherwise Roxy Music would not have got their contract with Island Records. Phil did not add anything to the guitar parts or arrangements when he recorded the songs; the new producer did not add anything new either. Phil replicated note for note and chord for chord what I recorded for the Roxy Music John Peel Show even buying the same Fender guitar to obtain the same sound.

Word had got around that Davy O'List had a new group called Roxy Music. Record company and press awareness was raised on the group. My name/reputation obtained The John Peel Show, a gig at John Peel's club Perfumed Garden supporting Genesis and the Richard Williams article in the NME. I confirm that the taped John Peel Show, which I produced for Roxy Music in December 1971, secured the record contract with Island Records. The Roxy Music sound was there, we only needed better equipment to rise to top level.

Roxy Music had arrived, several record companies would be interested, and I knew it. Bryan had decided to go to EG Management with the Peel tape, he said because they managed ELP and there was a strong connection between The Nice/Davy O'List/ELP and Roxy Music. After listening to The John Peel Show tape (the first album) EG expressed a keen interest in signing the group before any other company could. EG complimented me for changing the music style of Roxy Music. They had turned down the group before but were now very interested. EG wanted to see the band perform live and hired an old theatre/cinema near Clapham, now a bingo hall. Roxy Music only had to perform the tape live to get the contract.

Were there the tensions in the band at that time that we know of further down the line?

There was some tension between Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno over who was the focal point in the group. On the way to perform for EG there was a tension between them in the car. It was not relaxed, fun and jovial as usual. Communication levels were low on the stage. During the performance Eno decided not to play much and observed the group on stage from the back of the hall with another person, Phil Manzanera who was masquerading as a road manager by then. It didn't look right. Phil Manzanera turned up at the previous rehearsal, which never happened as Bryan and Paul didn't arrive. Andy was trying to make excuses but I knew something was wrong. I was surprised to see Phil and asked him who he was. He said he was the new road manager and he needed a list of new equipment I wanted. I asked him who was going to buy it. He replied the record company. It sounded suspicious.

I had been ill for a couple of weeks before this rehearsal and had unfortunately missed a synth/guitar session with Eno at his home. I guess this had put Eno's back up. But the set was tight and I did not feel there would be any problem with EG. Anyway I knew I could get a deal elsewhere and that EG were trying to contract Roxy Music before anybody else could. They liked the tape and the theatre set up was just a formality before they signed a contract with Roxy Music. In hindsight I suppose Eno instigated a change of guitarist, even though he was talking about me producing the first album just a few weeks before.

Roxy Music had toured in preparation for a larger tour when the first record came out. The first public appearance of Roxy Music was at a large reception hall above a large pub, The Hand & Flower, opposite Olympia London. The show was for an all American Girls College. I remember being suitably dressed for Roxy Music's first show in a pink satin jacket and silver boots. The second appearance was at the 100 Club in Oxford Street. It was specially put on so that Richard Williams could view the group before writing his article for the NME. The article was needed to put Roxy Music in the limelight for the record companies. Bryan Ferry and I were really good friends. We often drove around together in his nice girlfriend's Mini (I remember her name was Susie and she was a great aid to the group by providing transport) planning the future of the group.

On one drive Bryan told me about a gorgeous girl he had followed in his car. I said it should be a theme for a new song, we should write it. At the next rehearsal Bryan had written words and I put down some chords. I was never credited or received any money for it but I had more than a hand in writing, Re-Make/Re-Model. Phil copied me exactly on the album version. The ending is something I played with The Pink Floyd; I also had the idea that in the middle of the song we should all do a little solo.

Roxy Music headlined at Bristol University, too. There was not enough room in the van for everybody so Eno and Andy took it in turns to lie on top of the equipment at the back of the van. Roxy Music headlined at London University and at a South London college, too. Roxy Music also did a show supporting The Pretty Things, which turned out to be a mismatch of programming but Bryan and I laughed about it on the way home in the Mini.

It is not previously known but Roxy Music had a manager then who left before the John Peel Show to live and work in the U.S. He used to wear groovy looking jump suits to the shows. It was a shame he went as he was looking after me and making sure I was happy with everything that was going on. He knew my influence was going to guarantee Roxy Music a quick deal and appreciated what I was doing for them. I'm sure if he had been there to the end the line up would have stayed the same. There was a hole after he had gone which the others found difficult to fill by themselves.

So how did it come about that you worked again with Bryan in 1974 on his 'Another Time Another Place' album?

After Roxy Music split up I contacted Bryan Ferry and said let's rejoin forces and produce a stunning hit. Bryan seemed excited about the reunion and we produced The 'In' Crowd which I earned my first gold disc for. I was only to play on The 'In' Crowd, Chance Meeting and Let's Stick Together (though I am not credited for Let's Stick Together on the sleeve which is wrong). The recordings were a good experience and I wished to do more with Bryan Ferry including live stadium appearances.

What can you tell us of those sessions?

The backing tracks were finished, with all the horns, etc. and Bryan had done a guide vocal by the time I arrived at the studio. We recorded it at Pete Townsend's studio, Ramport, that was hidden beneath a tower block in Battersea. Pete Townsend had recorded Quadrophenia there. There was an amazing atmosphere to the place. I also re-recorded Chance Meeting there, which Bryan asked me to play the way I played it for Roxy Music. But it turned out better than the first album version and Bryan thought so too. I believe Roxy Music's first album would have turned out even better had I been given the chance to record for Island Records - after all, I had a big hand in writing and producing it.

Have you met any of the band since then?

I met Phil and Andy when they were working with The Explorers in the mid-'80s and I met Brian Eno around 1994. I bumped into Bryan Ferry at the end of last year as his studio is near where I live. We had a brief chat about my new film work.

...and Graham Simpson?

Graham was a very nice guy. I have never seen him since then. Graham also played cello, which would have been an interesting addition if he remained with the band. He was always into computers and music was not the be all and end all in his life. It was something he did as a pastime and never really wanted to get too serious about it. He never wanted to give up his day job. I think the pressure of being in a vehicle moving faster than he wanted to go got to him and he just wanted out.

So what have you done since those days and what are you doing now?

• • •

Before I go into a brief history of what happened next I would like to say that I would very much enjoy playing with Bryan and Roxy Music again sometime in the future and I hope this is going to be possible. From my experiences with Roxy Music I began to write a new song repertoire and played it on acoustic guitar around local low-key gigs in London.

I would like to mention that prior to Roxy Music I had made a film with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce (this was after The Cream) Roland Kirk, Buddy Guy and Led Zeppelin called Super Session.

Again The 'In' Crowd came to the attention of John Cale of The Velvet Underground. I had met John Cale at The Velvet Underground's flat in New York in 1967 while on tour with The Nice where they gave me a promotion copy of their famous first album. I had this copy well before it was released in the U.K. and new all about their sound well before anybody else did here. When I re-met John Cale in London in late 1977 he complimented me on my work on The 'In' Crowd and offered me a tour of Europe as his guest star! The tour was long, lucrative, very well organised with luxury hotels and beautiful theatres to play in. The fans in Europe were very, very happy to see me at last. I had to sign original copies of my first album The Thoughts Of EmerList DavJak in Berlin when the wall was up. It was very exciting being on John Cale's tour and to experience so much fan adoration, something I had not experienced since leading The Pink Floyd on the Jimi Hendrix tour.

By 1985 my label was set up and I released two singles, Seal It With A Lovin' Kiss and You And I. The B-side of Seal It With A Lovin' Kiss is Facts Of Life; it became a hit on a South London Black Underground radio station before it was released. All three singles are on the album Flight Of The Eagle.

You And I was play-listed on Super Channel satellite TV is co-written by Satu Redmond. She also co-wrote the track Pale Girl Of The Neat White Uniform which is all about an air hostess's flying career. The guitar sound is sort of "'In' Crowdie". Suzie O'List my sister sings backup vocals on the opener Seal It With A Lovin' Kiss and on Outside Broadcast. Outside Broadcast was recorded after my John Cale Tour and there is evidence of that in the track. I had been playing twin guitars with John, which was a treat. The sound which sounds like a synthesiser is actually a guitar using a tremolo arm. I also play most of the keyboards, guitars, drums and basses on the album.

I originally called the group SEAL. The record was reasonably distributed and Capital Radio, GLR Radio and Satellite TV station Super Channel play listed the singles. However I could not handle all the distribution and promotion work by myself as well as the performing and recording so I thought it appropriate to go for help from a major. I ended up at Warner Brothers Music where one of Bryan Ferry's solo albums was released which I was on. The A&R manager thought the image of the word SEAL was very worthwhile marketing but he did not take the singles on, instead he said record a new track and bring that back to him. To my surprise, a few months later, while I was producing the track, Warner Brothers launched SEAL but it wasn't me at all, it was Henry Samuels. There were all sorts of confusion at record shops and radio stations as Warner Brothers had taken my name but that was the end of my SEAL and it was time to rethink and rethink about trusting record companies.

About the Return Of The Eagle album - it is a different recording to the 1998 release Flight Of The Eagle. It has a different cover and the tracks are improved and different. The record company lost the original master so I completely remastered a new version including a track Nylon Cowboy which is eight minutes eleven seconds long. I wrote it as a theme for ITV's live virtual TV game The Race which was shot on location in Arizona in 2002. The guitar describes an archetypal cowboy character that clinks his spurs as he walks through town. I have always wanted to do a western. The title track, Flight Of The Eagle, is the theme to the first movie I ever made. It was also written in remembrance of my days with the Pink Floyd hence its Floydian guitar style, which I hope you will appreciate.

At the same time as I was recording some of the album with Michael Seraphim from Starlight Express and The Bill, I was taking an MA in Film at Central Saint Martins in London and Brian Eno was asked to give a lecture at the college. I hardly recognised him. I was working outside the college when Eno's lecture actually happened making promotion films for Ericsson Telephones and producing TV promotion films for Sony/BMG's Destruction label. Two of my own films that I wrote and directed for myself actually got in to the British Short Film Festival in 1992.

I recently finished a Post Graduate Lecturers Course at The University of Greenwich (Nelson's old Naval college) and have been lecturing film production and computer music production at Westminster Kingsway College London. I am also proposing to get a science fiction/super reality TV series off the ground that I co-wrote with Malcolm Stone, art director of Superman (one of a long list of his films). We did shoot a short "teaser" of it at Pinewood Studios (where Batman was produced) as a test and have now developed it into a TV series.

The latest music project came about two years ago when my first group The Attack suddenly sold over seventy-five-thousand copies of their first single We Don't Know in Japan on a box-set released by Universal that featured James Brown, Marvin Gaye and The Who. A mod music collection called funnily enough The 'In' Crowd - the ultimate mod collection. I decided to write a follow up to capitalise on its success and came up with We Still Don't Know!! You never know, it could happen all over again!

John Peel used the B-side of The Attack's second single, Any More Than I Do, as the signature tune for his first ever radio programme. It was a very popular programme broadcasting from a pirate radio ship and everybody on the scene listened to it. From this regular broadcast I received offers from John Mayall's Blues Breakers to replace Eric Clapton and from P.P. Arnold (The First Cut Is The Deepest). Any More Than I Do broke me into stardom.