‘Manifesto’ or new sounds for a new decade: Roxy Music live in concert, 1979
12:56 pm

1979: After a four-year break between studio albums, Roxy Music regrouped and recorded their sixth LP Manifesto. The question was not whether it would be any good, but whether Roxy Music was still relevant in a post-punk world? A week may be a long time in politics, but four years is one helluva career in pop.

Not that Roxy’s key members Bryan Ferry, Andy MacKay, Phil Manzanera, and drummer “the great” Paul Thompson were slouches during the band’s downtime. Ferry had established himself as a highly successful solo artist. MacKay had worked on two seasons of the ground-breaking TV series Rock Follies for which he had co-written 49 songs. Manzanera had recorded and released two solo albums Diamond Head (1975) and K-Scope (1978), the first being correctly described by Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone as “one of the great British rock albums of the mid-Seventies.” Thompson gave his talents to his bandmates’ solo projects and played with other bands.

That’s the backstory to 1979.
As a band, Roxy Music was the sound of the future filtered through the past. Just their name alone suggested a 1930s dance band with some Brylcreemed lead singer crooning love songs into a silver microphone. The music, starting with the debut single “Virginia Plain” in 1972, was unique, utterly original, and influenced a host of bands from the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees (who apparently met at a Roxy concert) to Madness and Duran Duran. During their first decade, Roxy Music produced a body of work—eight classic studio albums—which sounds as new today as when they were first released.
Which brings us to Manifesto. Though the album was eagerly anticipated there were questions as to what exactly a group of thirtysomethings could offer the music world after the seismic shift caused by punk, new wave, disco, synth, and the early hints of New Romantics. Though the album could be described as a mix, it was still an exceptional A-.

In some respects, it was a kind of work-in-progress that tapped into the early, “futuristic sound” of Roxy and the new, mature, soulful, sophisticated rock that would reach its zenith with Roxy’s eighth studio album Avalon. Ferry was always a crooner. Listen to him on the second-half of “Mother of Pearl” or the beautiful and haunting “Chance Meeting.” He was once (aptly) described by writer Michael Bracewell as “Jay Gatsby meets Marcello Mastroianni.” He had always been a crooner, a soulful singer, who gave his very own distinctive vocal-sound to Roxy’s artpop.  Now he was creating a new sophisticated sound which was best indicated by his song “Dance Away” and those co-written with MacKay (“Angel Eyes”) and Manzanera (“Trash,” “Still Falls the Rain,” and “Manifesto”). The opening lyrics to “Trash” (“Are you customized or ready-made?”) suggest Ferry’s own ambiguous role of being both an artpop-provocateur and a traditional singer. He was moving away from the youthful “rock” to more plaintive ballads. This switch can be heard in the startling difference between the album version of “Angel Eyes,” which was more rock ‘n’ roll than the lush and superior sounding single version. Roxy Music was now on the verge of their greatest success, as Manifesto saw the band score big in the US market and become a staple of FM radio. 

More, plus Roxy Music in concert, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
12:56 pm
Try to imagine how insane this TV footage of Roxy Music (with Brian Eno) looked in the early 1970s

Roxy Music: Not just another guitar band.
The great Roy Wood said on some late-nite radio show that for a long time he thought Ike and Tina Turner were a cool-sounding R&B band called I Can Turn A Corner. Easy mistake. For a long time, I thought Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music was singing about “wee-wees up the walls, and mashed-potato smalls…” when he sang “weary of the waltz, and mashed-potato schmaltz” on “Do the Strand.”

That I thought Roxy Music could sing about urination as decoration or squidgy y-fronts and not consider it at all out of place in their repertoire gives but some small idea as to how radical, how shocking, how breathtakingly original Roxy Music seemed when they first landed. Their debut single was named after a packet of cigarettes (“Virginia Plain”—actually a painting of a packet of cigarettes). They sang about blow-up dolls (“In Every Dream Home a Heartache”), and a kind of Ballardian love interest contained/hidden in a car’s license plate—the CPL 593H on “Re-make/Re-model.” So why not edible undergarments? It seemed all too feasible in an era of instant mash, Angel Delight, moon landings, Teflon frying pans, group sex, safari suits, and silver hot pants.

Roxy Music sounded as if they had just beamed down from outer space and brought along the music of the spheres. In fact, they had. Roxy Music was the sound of the future—but we just didn’t realize it then. Roxy was so overwhelmingly new. No one knew what to think. The group was originally comprised of Bryan Ferry (vocals, keys, and chief songwriter), Graham Simpson (bass), Phil Manzanera (guitar), Andy Mackay (saxophone and oboe), Paul Thompson (drums and percussion), and last but not least, Brian Eno (VCS3 synthesizer, tape effects, backing vocals and “treatments”). Ferry had started the band alongside Graham Simpson. The cool suave vocalist came from a poor working class background. His grandfather had courted his grandmother on a horse and plow for ten years before getting married. Times were tough. Ferry later claimed his parents lived “vicariously” though they were always better dressed than everyone else. It was via his mother that Ferry got his introduction to rock ‘n’ roll—she took him a Bill Haley concert in the 1950s. But Ferry preferred jazz and soul and his ambition was for a career in art and possibly teaching if that didn’t work out.

This all changed after Ferry hitchhiked to London to catch an Otis Redding concert. Redding was one of the greatest soul singers/performers of all time. It was a life-changing experience. Ferry knew he had to be a singer.
Roxy model for the IKEA catalog.
Most of his life Ferry had felt out-of-step with his contemporaries. He felt like “an oddity.” It wasn’t until he started studying Fine Art under the tutelage of pop artist Richard Hamilton at Newcastle University that he found the confidence to push forward with his own ideas and believe in his own talents. Inspired by Redding and by Hamilton’s pop art aesthetic, Ferry started writing songs. He also started singing and performing. Graduating in 1968, Ferry moved to London. After a couple of false starts with the bands the Banshees and Gasboard, Ferry formed Roxy Music with Simpson in 1970. Andy MacKay and Eno soon joined, then Thompson and finally Phil Manzanera.

As Manzanera later recalled, the rich diversity of those early sessions together created Roxy sound:

“We’d start off with ‘Memphis Soul’ Stew, and then we’d go into ‘The Bob (Medley)’, this heavy bizarre thing about the Battle Of Britain with synths and sirens. We had everything in there from King Curtis to The Velvet Underground to systems music to ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll. At the time we said this was ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s rock’n'roll. Eno would respond to something that sounded like it came off the first Velvets album, then Ferry would play something ‘50s and I’d play my version of ‘50s. I was always a terrible session player. I could never learn a solo and I stuck that ‘not quite right’ approach onto Roxy. Six people in a band created this hybrid.”

More early Roxy Music, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
11:41 am
Roxy Music: Live in Concert, Stockholm 1976

Packaged highlights of Roxy Music in concert at Konserthuset, Stockholm, as recorded by Swedish Television on January 27th, 1976.

Track Listing:

01. “The Thrill Of It All”
02 “Mother Of Pearl”
03. “Nightingale”
04. “Out Of The Blue”
05. “Street Life”
06. “Diamond Head”
07. “Wild Weekend”
08. Band Introduction
09. “The In Crowd”
10. “Virginia Plain”
11. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

This concert was available as a bootleg within days of its performance, and has been a staple of the unauthorized Roxy catalog ever since. The concert was considered solid and workman-like at the time, but now it looks bloody marvelous.

Bonus…Bryan Ferry on his latest album ‘The Jazz Age’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
05:06 pm
The Thrill of It All: The Roxy Music Story

Hard to believe but it’s forty years since Roxy Music released their debut single “Virginia Plain” and made an unforgettable appearance on Top of the Pops. It was a moment that influenced a generation, the same way David Bowie had earlier the same year, when he seductively draped his arm over Mick Ronson’s shoulder as they sang “Starman” together. It was a moment of initiation, when millions of British youth had shared a seminal cultural experience by watching television.

Of all the programs on air in 1972, by far the most influential was Top of the Pops., and Roxy Music’s arrival on the show was like time travelers bringing us the future sound of music. 

Listening to “Virginia Plain” today, it hard to believe that it wasn’t record last week and has just been released.

This documentary on Roxy Music has all the band members (Ferry, Manzanera, MacKay, Eno, etc) and a who’s who of musicians (Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Jones, and Roxy biographer, Michael Bracewell), who explain the band’s importance and cultural relevance. Roxy Music have just released The Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982 available here.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Roxy Music live in 1972, the full radio broadcast

Bonus clip of ‘Virginia Plain’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
08:44 pm
Roxy Music Live On British TV, July 16 : ‘Virginia Plain’ And ‘Love Is The Drug’

Roxy Music performing Virginia Plain and Love is The Drug on the last edition of British television’s Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, which aired on July 16. Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera, and Paul Thompson all sound terrific. But, where’s Eno? 

Roxy is touring Europe, but no US dates are currently scheduled.

Bryan Ferry/Jonathan Ross, separated at birth.

Posted by Marc Campbell
12:49 am