Roxy Music 2001


Roxy Music: Once More for the Fun of It

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 20, 2001

uring his solo tour more than a year ago – which consisted mostly of old-time standards in front of a 13-piece band – Bryan Ferry found himself performing more and more of his Roxy Music songs of the past.

The more Roxy songs he played, the more the fans liked it.

"The audience reaction was great," says Ferry, calling in from London. "And I enjoyed singing the songs."

So, when the idea of a Roxy Music reunion tour came up – on the 30th anniversary of Roxy's inception – Ferry was willing to give it a whirl.

"It was a nice change from the solo tour, with all the string quartets and jazz players and horns and such," says Ferry, who put another solo tour on hold to lead the Roxy venture. "I quite fancied a bit of rock 'n' roll."

So Roxy Music, featuring guitarist Phil Manzanera, saxophonist Andy Mackay and drummer Paul Thompson from the original band, launched its one-off, worldwide tour in June in Dublin. The North American leg brings them to Merriweather Post Friday night.

The lineup also includes second guitarist Chris Spedding and Lucy Wilkins, who plays synthesizer and violin. This retrofit ensemble, Ferry says, can perfectly cover the band's musical evolution from the experimental bluster of its 1972 debut single, "Virginia Plain," to the sleek sophistication of "Avalon," its swan-song album of 1982.

"I'm very pleased with how it's sounding," Ferry says.

The concerts will, naturally, include many favorites, including "Virginia Plain," "Do the Strand," "Love Is the Drug" (the band's biggest radio hit), "More Than This" and "Avalon." According to the publicity mill for the tour, the songs will be given a "21st century treatment" with state-of-the-art lighting, innovative staging and dancers.

"You don't want me to spoil it, do you?" jokes Ferry, when pressed for details.

"We've done 15 dates so far," Ferry says. "After Dublin, we had three nights at Wembley [stadium in London] and all the major arenas in England. Manchester was very good, and we did Munich, Zurich, Spain, and finished up in Belgium.…"

The obvious question – will Roxy continue – is a non-starter. This is just a trip down Memory Lane, Ferry stresses. And, of course, the tour will boost sales of the compilation Roxy album that has been released. But Ferry's happy to report there has been "an awful lot of goodwill" from the press and others.

"There's been none of this 'What do they mean starting another band at this point in their lives?' kind of thing. There were never plans for anything else other than this celebratory tour. And perhaps it's the fact that we disbanded on such a high note with 'Avalon.'"

It has been a long time since the heyday of Roxy Music. The experimental art-rock band started out in England in the early 1970s, when T. Rex, David Bowie and Gary Glitter were all the glam-rock rage.

But Ferry, an art student turned musician, assembled a group of musical eccentrics who didn't personify glam rock – although their flamboyant clothing certainly aped its conventions. They were a band unto themselves, who evoked the past and the avant-garde simultaneously, and whose songs – tightrope acts involving electronic sound effects, down-to-earth piano and old-fashioned crooning – were like nothing else.

Anyone who saw the band perform "Virginia Plain" on the BBC's "Top of the Pops" in 1972 is unlikely to forget them. There was the Sinatra-meets-Presley Ferry, leaning with slick, Richard III swagger against the microphone; a virtually motionless Andy Mackay belting out unconventional saxophone riffs; eclectic guitarist Phil Manzanera sporting sunglasses that suggested the compound eyes of a fly; and energetic drummer Paul Thompson resplendent in his fake, off-shoulder leopardskin outfit.

Last, but certainly not least, was Brian Eno, who suggested Illya Kuryakin from "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." in semi-drag, with long hair down his back, eye makeup and a feathery outfit. At that point, of course, no one knew this keyboardist and master of synthesized sounds would become a seminal solo act with his post-Steve Reich tape-loop/ambient sound symphonies.

Ferry had already been developing his trademark vocal vibrato by imitating Charlie Parker instrumental solos. "I used to sing along with everything, and memorize it all. I was a big blues and jazz fan. Billie Holiday was my favorite singer of all time, and Otis Redding, all the black R&B singers, Sinatra, Presley.…"

One of his sons, Ferry notes, is named Otis.

In 1972, the band's self-titled first album garnered rave reviews from the British press, and "Virginia Plain" reached No. 4 on the British pop charts. It marked the most prolific part of Roxy's history, with the albums "For Your Pleasure" (marking Eno's last appearance with Roxy), "Stranded," "Country Life," "Siren" and "Viva! Roxy Music" (a composite of songs recorded live during the early 1970s) all released in the early part of the decade.

"We didn't have much time to think about it," says Ferry of that time. "The best things happen when you don't have any time to think about it and everything just sort of happens with the flow. It was a very dynamic time for me, 1972 to 1974. All action, really. One album followed another in rapid succession."

After a three-year hiatus to pursue individual projects and rest from the initial frenzy, the band – excluding Eno – returned with "Manifesto," "Flesh and Blood" and "Avalon," which marked a transition to the world of polished, virtually disco-worthy compositions.

Roxy Music, once known for an avant-garde approach, had evolved into masters of slick, highly produced music. Ferry's penchant for soul-influenced, almost loungey songs came to the fore, with such songs as "Running Wild," "To Turn You On" and "Avalon."

All in all, Ferry says, a worthwhile evolution, which "I don't think any of us have regretted."

Since "Avalon," says Ferry, 55, "we've all ploughed our individual furrows."

Manzanera and Mackay have performed on Ferry's solo albums over the years, and both have made guest appearances during his solo tours. Ferry's new, as yet untitled solo album (scheduled for release next January) will feature a Ferry-Eno composition. Eno, says Ferry, is "great to work with in the studio."

"It has been very nice to relive that time," says Ferry, referring to the current tour. "And thank goodness the songs don't sound like – well they're probably dated in some ways – I can't tell. But they just feel like my music. I'm proud to do it. When we perform it, everybody jumps up and down and has a jolly good time. And I sort of slump in a heap afterwards and say, 'That was enjoyable.'"

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