Bryan Ferry was kind enough to invite me to contribute the introductory essay to the programme for Roxy Music’s 50th anniversary concerts in North America and the UK, so I went along to the O2 last night to see the closing date of the tour and to witness what might, I suppose, have been their final performance together. I don’t like arena shows, but once the sound had settled down it was possible to enjoy what the four members who played on the debut album in 1972 — Ferry, Andy Mackay, Paul Thompson and Phil Manzanera — and their six auxiliary musicians and three backing singers were up to. And of course there was that funny bitter-sweet feeling you get while watching something you first saw in a basement with a few dozen other people half a century ago scaled up to world-conquering proportions in its ultimate iteration. In the essay I wrote about the inevitability of the process by which what had begun as an experiment would become a performance, but hints of the original art-school excitement and uncertainty managed to survive even today’s production values and resources, and the lighting and the back-projections — endless highways for “Oh Yeah”, Warhol images for “Editions of You” — made it beautiful to watch. The show began with reminders of the slightly gawky early stuff (“Re-make/Re-model”, “Ladytron”) and finished with full-throttle favourites (“Love Is the Drug”, “Virginia Plain”) but in between came a long passage in which the pace slowed to a resting heartbeat as luxuriant textures and romantic descending patterns took over. Introduced by the wordless “Tara”, the sequence of “The Main Thing”, “My Only Love”, “To Turn You On”, “Dance Away”, “More Than This” and “Avalon” swept elegantly by in one long candlelit swoon. Not a bad envoi, if that’s what it was.
Posts tagged ‘Roxy Music’
Roxy Music will be among the performers tonight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, when the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame opens its arms to the latest group of inductees. No one really needs the validation offered by this much derided and arguably unnecessary institution, but it’s like the Oscars or the Booker: at least it gives you something to argue with.
I suppose Roxy are getting in on the strength of Avalon, the band’s only million-selling album in the US. In their home country, their biggest impact was created — as David Hepworth notes in A Fabulous Creation, his new book about the history of the pop LP — by their debut album, which slid a dagger into the heart of progressive rock and endless boogie in the summer of 1972.
Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera will be there tonight. Brian Eno and Paul Thompson won’t, for various reasons. Nor will Graham Simpson, the original bassist, who left before the first album came out but without whom, as Ferry has said, there would probably never have been a Roxy. Simpson died in 2012; he’s the subject of a forthcoming documentary directed by Miranda Little, several years in the making (here is the trailer).
Anyway, just to amuse you, here (pictured above) is the original Roxy demo tape, recorded on May 27, 1971 on Eno’s Ferrograph. Ferry, Simpson, Mackay and Eno were on it, but not Manzanera or Thompson. The guitarist then was Roger Bunn, formerly with Pete Brown’s Piblokto! and Giant Sun Trolley, and the drummer was someone calling himself Dexter Lloyd, a draft-dodging classical percussionist from Chicago whose real name was James Strebing (both would be gone by the end of the summer).
A month later, the demos were dropped off at my flat in Shepherds Bush. “4.30 Brian somebody with tape at home” is the entry in my diary. “Brian somebody” was Ferry. That’s his writing on the box, and his phone number. I just tried calling it, but no one picked up.
On my way to David Enthoven’s funeral this morning, I walked from Sloane Square down the King’s Road and paused at No 63A, where it all began. The weather was glorious: in the perfect sunshine, it was easy to drift back to the Chelsea of an imagined and sometimes real ’60s.
David died in London last week, aged 72, five days after being diagnosed with kidney cancer. Behind that door and up a flight of stairs, he and Johnny Gaydon, his schoolfriend and first business partner, set up EG Management in 1969, with King Crimson as their first clients. Marc Bolan, ELP and Roxy Music soon joined the roster. They were great days. (And here’s the obituary I wrote for the Guardian.)
When I got to St Luke’s, a large 19th century Anglican church just off the King’s Road, it was already close to packed with people wanting to say farewell to an extraordinary man. As they lingered in the sunlit churchyard after the ceremony, the event had something of the qualities of an English garden party, which was just as it should have been.
Tim Clark, his friend and partner in IE:Music, his second management company, gave an address which stressed the life-enhancing qualities that made David special to every single member of the congregation. Robbie Williams, whose life and career David and Tim had salvaged and remade, sang “Moon River” — a lovely choice — accompanied by the acoustic guitar of Guy Chambers. Lucy Pullin and a choir sang “Angels”, which Williams and Chambers wrote after David and Tim had brought them together. Lamar led the singing of “Jerusalem”.
The congregation included Robert Fripp, the founder of King Crimson, and all five surviving members of Roxy Music from the sessions for the band’s debut album in the summer of 1972: Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera and Paul Thompson, who came down for the funeral from Newcastle, where he now plays the drums with Lindisfarne.
One of the morning’s pleasures, over which the man in whose memory we were gathered would certainly have shared a chuckle, was the sight of Fripp, Eno and Ferry (so much history there, from Ferry’s failed audition for King Crimson to Fripp and Eno’s collaboration on No Pussyfooting and beyond) joining the singing of “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. You don’t get that every day.
It’s a pleasure to see Bryan Ferry’s The Jazz Age getting approving coverage from publications as diverse as the New York Times and Jazz Journal (where Dave Gelly raves about it in the current issue). When Bryan invited me to write the sleeve note, and told me that the project involved restyling old Roxy Music songs — “Do the Strand” and “Avalon” among them — in the idiom of 1920s jazz, I wasn’t entirely sure that this was a good idea. But then he sent me some MP3s and the more I listened to them, the more convinced I became that he and his musical director, Colin Good, had tried something very imaginative and succeeded admirably. Everybody who’s listened to it properly seems to love it. There was a launch party a few weeks ago, at which the band played and Bryan sang one number (which he doesn’t do on the record). It would be good to see them get a week’s residency at some suitable dive in the West End. Here’s a clip of them playing “The Only Face” live: