Brisbane: For Your Pleasure - Sat 28th Jul

Brisbane: For Your Pleasure
28 July 2001

Brisbane Courier 28 JUL 2001, By: Noel Mengel

We took rock'n'roll places it hadn't dreamed of going, say Roxy Music, who will begin their Australian tour in Brisbane 'They took the naive essence and the avant-garde and tried to put it all together'EVEN now, the thing that strikes you about the music from the early years of Roxy Music is just how strange it still sounds.
Such an unusual collage, the way the avant-garde met the familiar, the retro sat so easily with the futuristic, where King Curtis met art rock and experimental tape loops.

Take a listen to Virginia Plain, the band's breakthrough 1972 hit single, where Bryan Ferry's space alien croon rides proudly on a bed of jangling piano, jittery oboes, howling guitars and seething synthesiser. And it rocks. Or The Bogus Man, the 10-minute centrepiece to the band's second album, For Your Pleasure, where Andy Mackay's atonal sax interjections weave through a throbbing rhythm and an insistent, chanting vocal that seems to have lobbed from some other planet.In those early years, Roxy Music made music with intelligence and ironic wit, didn't look like anything else, didn't sound like anything else, didn't meet any easily identifiable marketing niche, and somehow took it to the top of the charts.Of course, it helped that Ferry had charisma. And had been to art school, which is where the seeds of that unusual collage took root.

Ferry grew up in a working-class household, his father was a farmer in County Durham, in England's north, and music soon became his escape from the provincial.
``Leadbelly was the first person who made me a music fan,'' Ferry recalls, thinking back to his earliest inspirations as the reformed band prepares for its first Australian tour in two decades. ``It started with the sound of the blues. There was something very plaintive and haunting about it which appealed to me although I was only 10 or 11 at the time.``I used to have a newspaper round, and I would walk around reading the music papers, the Melody Maker and the New Musical Express, which were mainly about jazz in those days.''

When he was 12, he had front-row tickets to the first rock'n'roll tour of England, by Bill Haley (``and His Comets'', as Ferry still correctly describes them).The attraction of jazz wasn't just in the exotic sounds but the visual element.
``I was conscious of that at an early age when I went to see all the jazz players, people like the Modern Jazz Quartet who always wore immaculate black tie, and all my other heroes,'' Ferry says. ``They looked really cool.''

By the mid-'60s, Ferry was attending Newcastle Art College, where two other crucial influences came into play. One of his teachers was Richard Hamilton, a pop-art innovator whose ideas about the meeting ground of popular culture and high art, and love for Hollywood in the '40s would soon become part of Roxy Music's point of difference.
By night Ferry played in a soul band, The Gas Board.
``I was a student when I saw Otis Redding and the Stax Soul Revue which came to England just before he died, and that's when I really decided I wanted to be a musician. There was something very glamorous about it, as well as the earthiness of the music.''
Telling detail: Ferry has two sons, Otis (as in Redding) and Isaac (as in Hayes).

By 1968, Ferry had moved to London, where he met classically trained oboist Mackay, who had played in the London Schools Symphony Orchestra. He read English Lit and Music at university and played in a soul band by night. He had also developed a passion for experimental electronic music and composers such as John Cage and Stockhausen, which is how he met similarly inclined fellow student Brian Eno.
``When I was first introduced to Bryan, he had a piano, a harmonium and a bass player,'' Mackay says. ``I had an oboe and a VCS3 (one of the first affordable synthesisers), which I had a feeling was going to be used in rock'n'roll fairly soon. We needed someone to record it, so Brian Eno came along because he had a tape machine.
``Bryan's songs at that time weren't that strong, they were kind of odd. But he was confident, he's always had tremendous ambition and faith in what he was doing. And he was and is now an extraordinary performer.''

By early '72 the band was coalescing around Ferry, Mackay, Eno, guitarist Phil Manzanera and another crucial addition to the mix, Paul Thompson. He was another Geordie and a very solid rock'n'roll drummer who provided a strong foundation for what could have been a cacophonic collision of styles out front.

Richard Williams, one of the first to write about the band, later told Mojo magazine: ``They took the naive essence and the avant-garde and tried to put it all together. Ferry's fine arts training was massively influential in that. Other rock stars had been to college, Townshend, Lennon, but Ferry was like the next stage . . . In a way he was the first postmodernist to work in anything other than a visual medium.''
THEY were among the first to make retro appear cool, mixing and matching eras with sharp haircuts and quiffs, '40s suits, platform shoes and space-age glitter. And a name suggesting the faded glamour of cinema's golden age. Mackay and Ferry made up a list with every cinema they could think of: Rialto, Plaza, Odeon, Regal, Ritz. Roxy sounded best, and when they discovered an American band already had claimed the name, Roxy Music they became.

Then, as now, it was rare for a band to have such a strong sense of a visual theme, but from stage clothes to band name to record covers, Ferry ensured there was continuity.All of this would have meant nothing if the music didn't cut it, but with their self-titled debut and the albums that followed Roxy Music created something fresh with style and humour.They got up people's noses too.
``The thing that really annoyed people was that we said we were `inspired amateurs','' Manzanera says. ``We just thought, it's not about the dots or how technically brilliant you are. Five years later, this was the basis for punk.''

MACKAY: ``We all thought that with the Roxy format, rock'n'roll could take a much wider range of things than people had thought in the '60s. There was never any conflict on the early albums between musical ideas.''

But inevitably, a collective of such wide-ranging tastes led to friction. Eno -- more creative catalyst than musician -- left the band after For Your Pleasure, and the adventurous spark which could be found on his solo albums and later in his production work seemed to go missing from Roxy Music's band's too-smooth (but most commercially successful) later albums.

Moments of revelation are rare from 55-year-old rock stars, especially ones as practised in the art of the interview as Ferry. But for a moment, he drops the guard.
``In 1973 I did three albums, two of which I wrote and the other was my solo album These Foolish Things, a cover album of classic songs.
``I think that affected my songwriting, in as much as I wanted to write a conventional hit song. Perhaps I went down a strange road for me because the first three albums are my favourites from Roxy.''
Certainly, this music is not overlooked in the reformed band's dates on a European tour this northern summer, with early favourites including Ladytron, Re-make/Re-model, Do the Strand and Editions Of You taking pride of place.

Ferry, Mackay, Manzanera and Thompson are back on board, alongside crack English guitarist Chris Spedding and a cast of younger players.
Ferry is reconciled with Eno, who has produced a track on the singer's next solo album, due out next year, although Eno wasn't interested in taking part in the Roxy reunion.
``Memories have a strange way of jumping up on you,'' Ferry says of revisiting his earliest songs. ``You have flashbacks as you sing them, of when you were writing it or in the studio recording it. There are a lot of memories performing these songs, and the audience bring their memories as well. It makes for quite an emotional experience.''

Roxy Music open their Australian tour at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on August 11.

FAB THREE- The first three Roxy Music albums

Roxy Music (1972)
Half-a-dozen bands rolled into one, with tongue-in-cheek kitsch, blazing rock'n'roll and a dash of prog-rock. Opening track Re-make/Re-model -- title courtesy of 1962 pop art painting Re-think Re-entry -- included references to Duane Eddy, The Beatles and classical music.

For Your Pleasure (1973)
Ferry's favourite Roxy album, along with just about anyone else who cared for the band. Do The Strand sends up dance crazes (``tired of the tango, fed up with the fandango?'') while In Every Dream Home A Heartache is one of Ferry's most haunting refrains -- to a blow-up doll.

Stranded (1973)
``Not having Eno on the album meant that it suffered a bit, it lost a bit of edge,'' Ferry says ``but it gained other musical things.'' The quality of the songwriting was undiluted, and Mackay had a wider canvas to work his textures on. The sound is more refined, less naive, but songs like Street Life, Serenade and A Song For Europe remain classics in the Roxy catalogue.

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