The Thrill Of It All - - David Buckley Interview - Mon 20th Dec

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The Thrill Of It All - - David Buckley Interview
20 December 2004

VRM What inspired you to write this book?

I was always a big Roxy Music fan. I remember seeing them perform ‘Street Life’ on Top Of The Pops in what must have been early December 1973 (you’ll be able to correct me here!), and the thing that impressed me most was the ending (the finger clicks – how cool!). I was already a huge Bowie fan by then, but Bowie wasn’t a Top Of The Pops studio regular, so Roxy were very important for me. I also recall performances by Sparks (‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us’) and Cockney Rebel (’Judy Teen’) being equally as thrilling a little later. Top Of The Pops really was a sort of culture-affirming event then – terribly important – far more than just ‘entertainment’.

The other main memory is Christmas 1973. My brother John, who is 11 years older than me, got Roxy Music’s first album as a present, and I got Hunky Dory. I loved the melodies on Hunky Dory, but it was the first side of the Roxy Music album which was really magical. I can still vividly remember that day, as an eight-year-old in pyjamas, sitting in the dark before the sun rose in my parents’ house in Liverpool (where they still live), round a tiny artificial Christmas tree with the Christmas lights on which seemed to burn such brilliant colours … Then that strange lunar melody of ‘Ladytron’ coming through the speakers!

I was a fan of Roxy throughout the 1970s, although Bowie was always my real obsession. I later saw Roxy Music live on the Avalon tour, and bought many of their singles (I still have them in mint condition in their picture sleeves) and, from about the age of 14, all their albums. Funny, but I didn’t think they were that good a live band in 1982 – they were MUCH better in 2001 when I saw them in Munich. I was also at Live Aid and saw Ferry solo, but again thought the performances were weak. For me, there’s no comparison between a full-tilt Roxy performance and a Ferry solo gig, however brilliant; Roxy always wins, hands-down.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s: after a long and tortuous process of rejection, I finally got my first book published in 1996, a mini-guide to Bowie’s music for Omnibus Press, and then wrote an official biography of the Stranglers, which was tremendous fun. I had written my doctoral thesis (called Strange Fascination) on David Bowie at Liverpool University, and began work on turning that into a book. In 1998, I spoke quite extensively to Simon Puxley as I wanted to interview Ferry about Bowie, and he put pressure on Bryan to be interviewed for the book, so I have Simon to thank for that. He was very nice to me. I think the fact that we were both ‘doctors’ may in some way have helped a bit in that respect, as, knowing I wasn’t a journalist, he thought that I would be likely to be a little bit different in my approach (if that doesn’t sound too pompous!). So I interviewed Ferry for about an hour or so, me in Munich (I had moved there in 1992 with my family), and him in his studio. He didn’t really have very much to say about Bowie as such (he was very shaky with dates, song titles etc), but he had loads to say about his own career, and it was this material that I thought would be excellent for a real Roxy biography, and which I subsequently used in The Thrill Of It All. I remember at the end of the interview he said something like, ‘what do you think of this Roxy reunion lark – should I do it?’ (I know he used the word ‘lark’, which I thought was brilliant and so old-fashioned!, and, also, so trademark Ferry). I was surprised that he asked me, actually, but he said, ‘You seem to know what you are talking about – keep in touch for some career guidance!’ So, he seemed a bit lost in terms of his career. I bet he’s long since forgotten that he actually at one stage asked me for my advice! I said that I thought it would be brilliant if Roxy got back together but only if there would be new material to promote. And he said that the intention would only be to re-popularise old songs. I was disappointed, but when they DID do it in 2001 and did it well, I was pleased.

I also met Bryan in 2000 when he very kindly invited me backstage to hear his sound-check for a solo gig, and again in 2001, backstage at the Roxy Music gig in Munich. Each time he was really charming and very friendly (if rather distracted, it has to be said). A friendly rock star – they’re hardly in huge supply, are they?

But, to get down to the nub of your question, from that era, Roxy were the only band who I thought had the same gravitas as Bowie and were also really worth writing about. And I was always pissed off that they never got their fair dues when the pop history books and programmes came out. To give you an example, I was recently asked to contribute to Channel Four’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an interviewee for Bowie and R.E.M.. Roxy were not one of the nominees, which is such a shame. If my book helps raise their profile in the media and encourage fans to explore their music, then that would be marvellous, and indeed it is exactly what the book is designed to do.

Why did you choose to do the book now? Was it a particularly suitable time in both your and Roxy's careers?

The book would have come out much earlier, but, to be honest, Virgin Books were offered the idea as the follow-up to my Bowie book Strange Fascination, but they didn’t think it was such a good idea, and I ended up doing a book on R.E.M. for them instead. I think most publishers were aware that Roxy’s heyday was long ago, and that Ferry was hardly big box office any more, and only a cult act in the USA. Publishers are really very keen on the Stateside potential of their books. Ironically, The Thrill of It All will be the only one of my books to be published by a US-only press – that’s next year. Plus, this was all before the Roxy reunion. Allied to this was the fact that I had mentioned the idea to Ferry himself and wasn’t getting anywhere. He told me that he was doing his own book. But I also knew that Ferry’s nature was such that it would take years, perhaps decades!, for this to come out, by which point many of his fans could well be in institutions for the elderly. So, I made it plain to him that I would love him to be involved, but that his non-involvement wouldn’t stop me from doing the book given the chance. I think the fact that I carried it through despite him not being involved may have slightly shocked the Ferry camp! I certainly think that had Simon lived Ferry might well have been persuaded to hop on board.

So, after the R.E.M. book, I got an offer from Andre Deutsch to do the Roxy book. It happened that the editor of Strange Fascination, Ian Gittins, was at the company, and, since he was such a good editor in terms of helping me knock the manuscript into shape (and was also a big Roxy fan too), it was a formality that I would do it. So, in November 2002, I did my first Ferry book interview, with writer and former Mojo editor Mat Snow (also a big Ferry fan), who was the first in a long line of people to help me in the writing of the book. I finished the book in May 2004, after 18 months of research and writing. I’m very fortunate to be in such a privileged position (making a living more or less through writing), so I was determined to put everything into it.

There are some good insider views from people like Johnny Gustafson, Guy Fletcher and Gary Tibbs. Did you find these were good sources as they were close enough to have been in the thick of it all but distant enough to tell it how it was?

Some of these people were more helpful than others, obviously. Some were at great pains to point out that their contributions had been systematically downplayed over the years. Whilst I sympathised with this, and have no reason to dispute their facts, the very fact that Roxy Music themselves did not take the opportunity to counter these claims means that the testimony in The Thrill Of It All has to be viewed as (possibly) partial. That said, the very fact that, as you say, they were both in the midst of, yet also distant from, the events ensured that their testimony carried weight. I particularly liked John Wetton and Peter Sinfield’s contributions in this respect, although those you mentioned above were also fun and gave me very good material.

What regrets do you have about not managing to get interviews with Bryan, Phil Paul and Andy.

I came within two hours of interviewing Ferry on the phone, but sadly it didn’t happen, for reasons which I don’t want to go into here. Phil sent word via a one-line email from his manager that he wasn’t interested, and I never heard back from either Andy or Paul. I was at pains to stress that the book was going to be a serious, detailed, but warm appreciation of the band’s career, the first major book on the careers of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music since the early 1980’s. But, although I tried, I couldn’t persuade them. You’d have to ask them why they weren’t interested. But I think Roxy are very reluctant interviewees at the best of times, and for them all to agree to be involved was presumably logistically impossible. Maybe they really are planning their autobiography? Well, I’m 39 now, so I hope I live to see it!

If I was to level a criticism at the door of Bryan and the lads, it is that they really haven’t maximised their potential: they take ages to agree to do anything, or take ages doing it, and the overall service they provide for their fans in terms of their availability, the pacing of their live and studio careers, and (ahem!) their presence on the Net just gives the impression that they are not 100% committed to keeping their fans happy (of which there are still many, and who have come to define the very essence of the term ‘long-suffering’). If you compare Roxy with Bowie, who plays regular tours, still makes records every year or so, and provides a lot of material for his fans through his official website… well, there is no comparison, is there? This isn’t to say that Roxy don’t appreciate their fans, I’m sure they do, but they really must stop being so ‘English’ about how to express this!

As a long-time fan, what question would you like to put to each of them if you were given the chance.

Bryan Ferry: Why do you cover so many songs, when your own songs are almost always superior?

Brian Eno: How easy would it be for you to work with a reformed Roxy Music when the lead singer’s politics must be the polar opposite of your own?!

Phil Manzanera: Would you ever wear the compound eye fly glasses on stage again for a laugh?

Andy MacKay: Will there ever be a new studio Roxy album? Soon it will be too late.

Paul Thompson: Why did you leave Roxy Music in 1979 – walked or pushed?

David Buckley December 2004

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