ryan Ferry says reuniting '70s sophisticated art-rockers Roxy Music for their first tour together in 18 years made sense to him -- for a couple of reasons. First of all, the 55-year-old singer successfully test-drove a lot of Roxy material on his solo tour last year.
"At the end of my tour I began to think it might be a good idea," said Ferry, down the line from his home outside London prior to the North American debut of Roxy Music's reunion tour at the Air Canada Centre tonight. I liked doing the Roxy songs. As that tour progressed, I kept adding more and more Roxy songs to the show. I enjoyed doing them, and the audience was into it very much."
Secondly, and more importantly, says Ferry, were his own personal reasons.
He admits his much-publicized brush with death on a British Airways flight from London to Nairobi last December after a crazed passenger stormed the cockpit and grabbed the controls might have got him thinking about it more.
"It probably did," said Ferry. "I think when things like that happen and friends start dying around you ... One of my closest friends died just before I started my last tour. He was very much a part of Roxy Music, in the background, and in my solo career as well. I think that had a bigger impact on me, really, than the British Airways incident."
Also along for the 2001 reunion are original members Phil Manzanera on guitar, Andy Mackay on sax, and Paul Thompson on drums.
Formed by Ferry in London in 1971, Roxy Music was always more popular in Europe than in North America. Their influence shouldn't be overlooked, though, as they enjoyed some hits here in the mid-to-late '70s and early '80s with Love Is The Drug, More Than This, Avalon and a cover of John Lennon's Jealous Guy.
"It feels perfectly natural," said Ferry of being on stage again as Roxy Music's frontman after all these years. "It's been quite tiring, 'cause it's quite a big show and a lot of songs to sing. But it's been fascinating putting songs from the different periods together, from different Roxy albums, and trying to do a good cross-section of the different Roxy styles."
Ferry says he whittled down the set list from about 40 or 50 songs and the group rehearsed for two or three weeks before the June 9 tour launch in Dublin, Ireland. He says he didn't struggle with the nostalgia aspect of reunion tours.
"It seems that there haven't been any negatives about this Roxy reunion tour at all. Nobody has said anything bad about it, which is good."
Still, missing in action is one of the band's most notable original members: Brian Eno, the wildly experimental synthesizer god who left the group in 1973 to pursue a solo career. He became a producer of note with bands like U2, Talking Heads, David Bowie and Robert Fripp. Eno has gone on record as saying about the Roxy reunion: "I just don't like the idea. It leaves a bad taste."
For his part, Ferry says he didn't ask Eno about going on the road.
"Not really, no, not for this tour. I did speak to Brian a couple of years ago when we were writing together and he told me he didn't ever want to tour again. I took that as basically gospel. I saw him recently, about a week before we started, and he was very enthusiastic for us and was hoping it would go well, etc., etc. We were writing together and one of the songs is coming out on my album early next year."
As for any new Roxy releases, Ferry said fans should expect a live album as a result of the reunion.
"There's a very good chance that we'll be doing a live album at some point. It would make sense to do that if it sounds any good. Every night, something sounds really good, so I think that everybody's been amazed."
Eno's decision to pass up the Roxy Music reunion tour is no big deal, says
bandleader Bryan Ferry.
After 18 years on the shelf, the seminal glam-pop fusionists returned to the road last month for a globe-girdling jaunt that makes its first North American stop Monday at the Air Canada Centre. In addition to Ferry, the current incarnation includes originals Phil Manzanera on guitar, Andy Mackay on sax and Paul Thompson on the kit, but not electronic guru Eno.
"The publicity about that has all been a bit strange," said Ferry, 55, on the line from outside London yesterday. "It was never an issue. We didn't even ask him. I assumed, from knowing Brian very well, that he wouldn't want to tour."
Eno was quoted earlier this year as saying, "I just don't like the idea. It leaves a bad taste."
Whatever the reason for Eno's reticence, it hasn't driven a wedge between the two. Ferry and Eno, who were instrumental in launching Roxy Music in the early '70s, have collaborated on some songs for an upcoming Ferry solo album.
"We work together in the studio," Ferry said, "but not on stage." On tour, Eno's synth part is being taken by Lucy Wilkins, who also contributes Eddie Jobson's violin bits. The current lineup also features newcomers on percussion, bass and piano, with guitar ace Chris Spedding trading licks with Manzanera.
"Phil and Andy have been keen to do this for some years," said Ferry of the regrouping.
"I'd been doing a lot of Roxy material in my solo show and was enjoying it very much."
The band's set list, which varies slightly from night to night, adheres strictly to the Roxy Music songbook. Larded with crowd pleasers such as "Love Is The Drug," "Do The Strand," "Virginia Plain" and "Avalon," are less well-known offerings such as "My Only Love" and "While My Heart Is Still Beating."
"Some songs are obviously in every night because the audience does want to have a certain proportion of hits, but it's great to do some of the more unusual stuff as well," Ferry said.
There are no plans to extend the reunion beyond the current tour, which heads to Asia and Australia after leaving North America before winding up in Europe in September.
Ferry, who flies over with the band on the weekend, said he has recovered from his brush with air rage. Last December, he was on a flight from London to Nairobi that spiralled close to disaster when a deranged passenger seized the cockpit controls.
"It was just one of those unusual incidents," he said. "Chances are it won't happen again."
Roxy Music's main man tells MICHAEL POSNER why the British glam rock icons are back to play the world
been 18 years since Britain's glam-fusion rockers Roxy Music pulled out
the last guitar plug and went their separate ways. Now they're back, playing
Toronto's Air Canada Centre tonight, and some 25 other dates on the North
American leg of their reunion world tour.
They're not all back, however. Experimentalist keyboard player Brian Eno isn't making the trip. He's a creature of the studio, they say, which is a euphemism for the fact that he has stage fright.
But lead singer Bryan Ferry (doubtless more famous for his solo career) will be here, as will guitarist Phil Manzanera, sax man Andy Mackay and drummer Paul Thompson, all members of the original group.
The boys, of course, are not exactly boys any more. They're fully into their 50s now -- Ferry is 55 and a father of four sons. Which means this could well be another dangerous excursion down rock's Memory Lane. We've digested such fare before, not always easily.
On the other hand, North Americans haven't had much exposure to the live band and, in their prime (the seventies and early eighties), Roxy Music was at once productive and innovative (the name was chosen to evoke the bygone glamour of another era). The British portion of the tour has drawn a broad demographic, ranging from the band members' aging contemporaries eager to hear the old songs to their teenage children, curious perhaps to see what all the fuss was about.
According to Ferry, it was his idea to reunite and arrange the tour, although he'd rejected the idea several times before. He'd been doing a lot of Roxy Music material in his solo act for years (Avalon, Virginia Plain and others), and thought "it would be nice to push the whole thing," he explained last week.
And Roxy Music is what audiences will get, both the familiar and more exotic tunes.
For Ferry, once engaged to Mick Jagger's ex-wife Jerry Hall, music was his exit visa from the grim coal mines of northeast England that employed his father. His original plan was to become an artist, and he studied painting during the late sixties at Newcastle University. While there, he made his first tentative ventures into music, forming two bands that preceeded Roxy Music (the Banshees and the Gas Board, the latter with future RM bassist Graham Simpson).
After graduation, he moved to London and was briefly a supply school teacher. With Simpson, he set up Roxy Music, and, to write songs, learned to play piano. Their first songs engendered little enthusiasm from publishers, but in 1972 Island Music released their first album, called simply Roxy Music.
"It was a lot of luck," Ferry said, recalling the assembly of talent. "I know I was quite particular about whom I picked, but I was very fortunate to meet them."
Instrumentally, their sound fused classical music, rock 'n' roll and experimental electronics, with vocals by Ferry that somehow seemed to combine lounge-lizard romance with rock angst. A single from that first album, Virginia Plain, made it to No. 4 on the charts (their only No. 1 song was a cover of John Lennon's Jealous Guy, recorded as a tribute after his murder).
But as early as 1973, Ferry was already declaring his need for a solo career. He released These Foolish Things, an album covering songs written in the 1930s that he'd essentially grown up on (as well as later material from Motown and Bob Dylan). In fact, as much as he liked the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, he was drawn initially, even before his teen years, to blues, jazz and R&B. "I had a liking for those old songs," he said. "I can remember going to see the Modern Jazz Quartet and Ella [Fitzgerald] when I was 10."
Until the band formally parted in 1983, a year after releasing its most successful album (Avalon), Ferry maintained a dual career, as both lead singer and writer for Roxy and as solo performer. His 1999 solo album, As Time Goes By, a collection of standards by Gershwin, Porter et al., was nominated for a Grammy.
"I think it surprised the record company," he says. "I did it out of contract and funded it myself. I'd always wanted to do it and I did with genuine musicians. You can't beat a good song."
After the tour ends, Ferry will go back to work on a new solo rock album, with half the songs except one written by Ferry, and the other half covers. The exception, incidentally, is by Brian Eno.
Inevitably, Roxy's reunion -- the tour will also take them to Australia, Japan and Europe -- has prompted speculation about another studio session for another album. "There's no plan for that to happen," Ferry insists. It's not part of the deal." At least, for now.
|Back to the Roxy Music Tour Main Page|