UNCUT August Edition 2003 - Fri 4th Jul

UNCUT August Edition 2003
04 July 2003

ROXY MUSIC always stood for pop art, fashion, glamour, style, cinema and the avant-garde. And now that the rest of the world has caught up with the original. retro-futurists, they're back...

Interview: Chris Roberts

London, on The Strand, and Roxy Music are doing it again. Behind the impressive art deco facade of the Savoy Hotel, Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay are sharp-suited and soft -spoken. Roxy gathered the world's press here two years ago to announce their reunion tour, after 18 years' separation.

Today, they're emerging at the other end of that journey, and have assembled to tell Uncut exclusively whether going back on the Roxy road has been a thrilling or traumatising experience. They're also, of course, plugging a live double album, and a huge mid-July Hyde Park concert. Mr Ferry looks superbly well, but says he isn't. He seems even more dream-caught and distracted than usual, but does crack self-effacing jokes with a sigh. Mr Manzanera is friendly and forthcoming, and the least tortuous to interview. Mr Mackay speaks even more quietly than Mr Ferry, which is really saying something, albeit barely audibly.

Each persists with solo work. Ferry plans to follow up his 2002 album Frantic next year, Mackay is forming an instrumental sax-led band and Manzanera is madly prolific. Yet each now appreciates the unique, resonant magic of Roxy. "Yes, I've realised its merits," says Ferry.

We tuck into the grapes and strawberries and begin.

UNCUT: So, the reunion they said would never happen: fun? You're all still speaking to each other?
PM: I must say, I've really enjoyed it. I think if you have a gap of 18 years and then you don't enjoy it, you must be psychologically damaged. Which I probably am, but if so, it's worked for me.
AM: It's beautiful, very satisfying. Been a great pleasure, gentlemen.
BF: I've been on a journey ever since we announced the reunion, what with a long solo tour, too. I'm acquiring a taste for life on the road, yes. It seems more rewarding for me, in many ways, than making records. It used to be the other way round. Something just clicked and
I overcame my reticence about touring. But if someone had said that to me a few years ago, when I was trapped in technology, I'd have scoffed at them, yes.

So what changed?
BF: I think... it just seems a better way of living than... real life! Ha! It's been like running away to join the circus. From somewhere else to somewhere else every day, so nobody catches up with you. Hellhound on my trail. I'm very much like Dean Moriarty now.

You didn't tire of the soundcheck/show/hotel routine?
BF: Beautiful. A routine. Marvellous. Wonderful. You know what you have to do. Have I become institutionalised? Well, it is a bit like that, really, yes. Exactly like that, even. It's a bit baffling when you come off the road, after such a long time. What do I do now? I generally make a few phone calls to see if I'm on anywhere.
PM: You have to be focused now, to plan things right, so that you enjoy it. When we started out, when I was 21, it was just a rollercoaster ride being in Roxy. You're going up and up, it's wonderful, but you can't appreciate it. It's what you've dreamed about, but it all happens so fast. There's this whole world of fame and celebrity, how your friends and family change towards you after you've been on the telly- and it's very complex. Not so much for me, perhaps, as for Bryan, but I tasted it. So now the benefit of being a bit older is you can savour it more. I can imagine what it must be like to be an old blues player now. You get on the stage and you try and play with feeling, and believe in the music whether it's weird stuff or a pop song. And you come to terms with that.

Did the world tour bring back any flashbacks from the early years?
BF: Not really, for me: I don't have any memory. It's all burned away. Couldn't jog it back, no - it's gone. You think we weren't wild, hard-living rock'n'roll monsters, do you? Well, we were, y'know. Ha! Although I suppose Fleetwood Mac had the edge over us...
AM: It was peculiar. Things I'd forgotten from a long time ago would come back to me during a song. But back then we were considerably more thrashy. Now we have in-ear monitors. But we still get nerves and stage fright, or at least I do. That strengthens you. They always say Laurence
Olivier was sick before he went on stage, then performed brilliantly, so it's a good sign.

No horrendous ego clashes under pressure?
PM: There has to be a certain amount of tension to get your creative juices flowing. People have different points of view, and when you're young you always want to push yours forward and `win: But then you learn how to get the best from a situation by not getting all worked up. Now, just from knowing a bit more about the mechanics of relationships and being alive, it's easier. You use any creative tension, but not so much that it explodes. If it became too lovey-dovey, it wouldn't have any edge. With a bit of ducking and diving, ideas can become better ideas.
BF: It's been really good. Phil and Andy both turned it on every night, and I was impressed. They each have their own following and a unique sound. They're very good at recapturing the mood of each song. And it's amazing how well we all got along really. I mean, we still kept our, sort of... distance from each other, I suppose. We each had our own private jet. I wish! Yes, and I had my valets all around me! They had their nannies.
AM: Considering it's hard, physically demanding work, and a long set, we all got on fine. There was still a lot of freshness and a lot of weirdness.

Surely you each pushed for favourite songs?
PM: I always like a heavier sound... songs like "In Every Dream Home A Heartache", "Mother Of Pearl", "Ladytron" "Out Of The Blue" : You slot them in today next to Radiohead or The White Stripes or something and they don't sound cheesy or '70s or dated. They retain a core. We always said we were inspired amateurs back then, and were learning to play. By the time we got to Avalon, it was a lot smoother. We only just decided we'd play it. That speaks volumes.
BF: Yes, we've been doing a lot of the early stuff. Some of these songs aren't so well known to some audiences. The later stuff, well, it has good tunes, and don't forget Avalon was by far the biggest album for the band. But it was the least... I don't mean to say least exciting... the least unique, really. Then again, it has a completeness of sound. It's just a different world from For Your Pleasure, which is high up there for me. PM: The poppier ones work so well on record, but they're not always such fun to play. I think we all dread playing "Dance Away", but people want to hear it. If, in a parallel universe, I went to see The Beatles, I realise I'd want to hear the stuff exactly as I knew it. As a musician I feel bad about that, as if I should know better, but as a punter I'd want to relive the song I knew. Would I want to hear a radical ska-punk version of "Avalon"? Well, yes, actually, but not by Roxy!
AM: We recorded just about every show on the tour, so for this live album we listened to countless versions of most songs. I had to give up trying to choose; we all did in the end. Of course, I just started comparing the sax solos. It's hard if you're pleased with one version but the others aren't, or vice versa. So past a certain point we mainly left it to [Roxy co-producer] Rhett Davies: he can be objective. Another live album, then. But the big question: will we be hearing any brand new Roxy songs in the foreseeable? PM: I hope so. I do. Whenever Bryan or Andy want to collaborate, I'm always positive. Because now it doesn't always have to be, ooh, it's Roxy or nothing. We all have our own different musical journeys, but yes. I hope we could do something special.
BF: Listen, say, three years ago, I wouldn't've even thought about it. But as a result of the tour, I could imagine it. There is a real quirkiness about their playing...
AM: There's no official group opinion on that as such. Personally, I'd very much like to. Making albums isn't always fun-they tend to start well, but after a couple of weeks there are certain things I wouldn't enjoy. But I do think we could come up with something really impressive. You still enjoy singing, Bryan?
BF: Oh God yes, very much. But I recently got some sort of throat problem and my voice packed up. I had to postpone some shows, which was a drag. It's been very worrying; briefly, I thought my days were numbered. I'm seeing three different doctors. One is a singing expert, one is a voice therapist, and the other's a sort of neck physiotherapist who massages your larynx. I was astonished at how specialised that whole world is. Sticking their fingers up your nose, little torches... it's like sci-fi. I was slightly freaked out, but I hope to be all right. Oh, did you know I got a Lifetime Achievement award?

Ah yes, the Ivor Novello, for your outstanding contribution to British music.
BF: Yes. Ha! I dragged myself along, feeling like a fish out of water, really. Like James Stewart tottering up the stairs for his overdue Oscar or something. I'm not used to stepping up in those ceremony events, but now I've got something to show the children. I'd never had any... medals, or anything like that. It was funny cos I went to see Dave Stewart and was very annoyed because he has dozens of them, all sorts. And I've got my paltry one award. There's no justice in the world! It was interesting at the event to meet Brian Wilson, though, who was also accepting an award. I was a huge fan of his. I think I was warmly received, I don't know. It was all a bit of a blur, actually.

People don't generally realise that you, Phil, are one of South America's most consistently successful producers, with multiple platinum-sellers...
PM: Totally! All the time! My association with Cuban musicians has been going on since I was a child. No one was interested in the '70s, but now it almost appears as if I'm jumping on a bandwagon! I think, hang on - I've been doing this since the late '50s. I was involved in million-sellers long before the Buena Vista Social Club took off. I always had this other life, but I answered an ad in Melody Maker, joined these people, and ended up with this whole European side, too... the wonderful world of Roxy. I've just this week finished building my recording studio at my home in London-Robert Wyatt's recording his new album there. I produce my own work, and lots of Spanish and Colombian bands. I played with Eno recently. And I've worked on Spanish versions of their songs with Chrissie Hynde and Annie Lennox. You have to make the translations of lyrics mean something. There are so many dimensions that Anglos don't usually bother with.

Do you hear Roxy s influence around as much as critics do?
AM: It sounds a bit arrogant to say yes, but I'm sure it's there. Of course Bryan's vocals influenced people-his voice clearly came from soul as well as rock'n'roll, yet it clearly sounded English. I'm sad there aren't more sax players in rock. I'd have liked to think I made it more accessible as an alternative rock instrument, not just a jazz thing. Also trumpets, trombones. It's a mystery to me why young people don't go for it, or if they do, they're terribly earnest and serious about it.
PM: Early on, we were very intuitive and created this beautiful context for Bryan to plant his lyrics, his world, over. With hindsight that was multi-dimensional, film-like. Before this tour, perhaps we were beginning to be considered old dogs that were about to be shot and put out of their misery, but now our tails are wagging again. I'm going down the wrong route; cancel that!
BF: It was fascinating to see the different audiences - all sorts, young and ancient. And it was full of energy; every night there was a buzz, instant feedback. And we just tried to recreate the whole thing as best we could. It didn't feel out of time or out of place, which is reassuring. So maybe the music's still quite... testing. As for influencing today's groups, well, I generally find the good ones interesting for a few minutes; then I drift off. The Dandy Warhols are good, and I like Eels - my son turned me on to them. I like The White Stripes, too. Do you? What are Ladytron like?

How are your sons?
BF: Pretty good, really. One's a drummer - he's funky and I envy him, he's really good. One's taken up guitar. One's a very good artist. But the fact that I'm going through this lengthy divorce process is very soul- destroying and debilitating. That's been harsh. A problem like that takes up an awful lot of time, and there's so much to do. I'm endlessly doing things now, which wasn't always my way.

Ever wish you worked in a different field?
BF: I'm quite surprised I haven't done film scores... but then nobody's ever asked me! I'm quite fussy so it'd have to be a film I liked. But people think of me as someone behind a mike rather than a composer. Ironically, I've spent much more time creating music in dark studios than I have singing it under bright lights. It's weird. I love Bernard Herrmann.

The abiding tour image will surely be the plumed girls emerging from the wings to "DoThe Strand"...
BF: Yes, I think that worked well. As a finale, people love it. I've always liked that kind of Vegas/Folies Bergeres thing. It's nice having girls on stage anyway- sometimes rock'n'roll is such a male preserve. And a bit drab for that. So it's nice to tart it up a bit. But of course with the female musicians, too, we have a big female presence. Which is how it should be in Roxy. There's already sufficient quartets of sweaty blokes in jeans around.

As a famous style guru, can you pop down the shops in a tatty, Weetabix-stained tracksuit?
BF: Ha! You should've seen me yesterday in my tracksuit. Wandering the streets of north-west London trying to find this voice physiotherapist's place. I didn't get recognised at all, no. But then, I don't wear tracksuits very often, to be honest with you.

Given Britain's disarray, shouldn't you chaps be following Radiohead's (tongue-in-cheek) example, rallying to the cause, and doing an entry for Eurovision?
BF: Haven't seen it for years, but yes, we should. Can't do any worse than no points, can it? Unless they start throwing cabbages at us...

Roxy Music Live is out now on Eagle.

Hear what Roxy get up to on stage, on CD
VIVA! (VIRGIN, 1976) ***

Recorded at Wembley, Newcastle and Glasgow, this includes umpteen-minute versions of "if There Is Something", "Bogus Man" and "Dream Home".

"I like it very much, I like the singing," says Ferry.
"Frankly,"considers Mackay,"it was overworked, there's too much on it. Didn't sound like Roxy."


Europe-based and initially an import, this features an incongruous, intriguing cover of Neil Young's "Like A Hurricane", as well as Ferry's solo "Can't Let Go".

"It's very good,"offers Mackay. "Small changes - backing singers, percussion - can make such a big difference to an idea."
"It's the only album that was put together without my involvement or control," sulks Ferry, "so I never listen to it."


"By far the best,"says Manzanera. "Fun, curiosities, nostalgia, whatever -we area potent force!"
Mackay adds, "The justification for it is it adds another chapter. Some of the versions are by far the best we ever did."
"We all knew what we were doing with this one," muses Ferry. "It was exciting, and exhausting in a nice way."

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