Roxy Music 2001


Let's stick together

Roxy Music fan Keith Austin chats to his childhood hero, Bryan Ferry,
about the band's triumphant return.

Sydney Morning Herald

t was pretty obvious from the moment Roxy Music exploded on Top of the Pops in 1972 that here was something special, something unreal, sexy and sophisticated. To this 14-year-old, anyway.

Here was glam rock with a brain, performed by weird, wonderful, colourful, sequinned aliens in make-up, a swirling screech of guitar, saxophone and synthesiser allied to the leopard-skinned lead singer's soaring vibrato. Here was something the world had not seen before. Here was the album cover with the cheesiest-of-cheesecake cover girls in pale blue and pink. Here was something to piss your parents off.

Now they're back. At their champagne-fuelled comeback press conference held in the venerable, stylish surrounds of London's Savoy Hotel, they looked like your parents - in fact, now they are parents.

Besuited and bespoke, clean and cool, with neat haircuts and a smile and a laugh for everyone, the three main band members - Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay (and drummer Paul Thompson) - girded their more than 50-year-old loins and did what fans have been hoping they'd do since the group imploded in 1983.

Roxy Music have re-formed, and they're touring the world.
There is a downside to this. Especially to grown-up journalists who wanted to be Bryan Ferry in their youth. Who grew their hair - which took hours to look effortlessly casual - like BF. Who tried to dress like BF (not a good idea in some parts of London where any attempt at sartorial elegance was dismissed as "poofy").

For when these journalists (who shall remain nameless) are given all of 15 minutes to interview their hero on the telephone sometime after the Savoy press conference, their hands start to shake and their voices almost disappear and they manage to croak something along the lines of:

"Being one of your greatest fans was bloody dangerous in East London. I kept getting bashed up. And I blame you for that."

To which the elegantly voiced Ferry laughs softly and politely: "I'm terribly sorry about that."

Good grief; it's him, it's really Bryan Ferry, the sultan of suave, the king of cool.

"So, you've re-formed. Were you worried at all that this might be seen as a bunch of old farts getting together again because you need the money?"

Good grief; did I just say that? To BF? Probably because this is Ferry's first interview of the day, he is solicitous: "Sometimes you get that, you know, the sort of groups doing reunion tours and stuff is all a bit naff ... it's 'oh God, what are they doing this for?' In our case there hasn't been any of that.

"I guess part of the reason is probably that we disbanded after the most successful album we'd ever put out, which was Avalon. I think that must have a fair bit to do with it. And since then we haven't done anything embarrassing, either."

Certainly the reviews of the live shows, from Europe, Britain and Canada, have been almost unanimously positive, with perhaps the single exception of the Toronto Globe and Mail, whose reviewer seemed to miss the point with his comment that "the missing essential component ... was the sense that anything new was at hand. There were many fine rooms in this museum, but in the Roxy universe museums were always places to escape from, preferably in a fast car with a coldly beautiful blonde in the passenger seat".

But as any true Roxy aficionado will tell you, the art museum was where you took the coldly beautiful blonde, to sigh away a languid, aesthetic afternoon in almost Wildean appreciation of the finer things in life.

And there's also the fact that much of the audience will not have heard Roxy Music perform live since their split 18 years ago: "We do get quite a mixture of generations, actually," says Ferry. "Which is interesting. Generally there has been a right-across-the-board mixture of people from different age groups ... even children of the original fans maybe. We recently played a big festival in Belgium - about 60,000 people - and they were mainly teenagers and 20-year-olds. It was good for us to feel that we were getting over to a younger audience."

Roxy Music emerged from the flourishing London art school scene of the early 1970s. At the time also starring the enigmatic synthesiser guru Brian Eno, the band very quickly established themselves at the forefront of glam rock with their first, self-titled album in 1972 and the poppier but no less original second album, For Your Pleasure, in 1973. From the beginning Ferry, a working-class miner's son, oversaw every aspect of the Roxy Music "look" from album covers to photocalls, videos and stage setups.

And he still does; the current tour logo and Jean Harlow lookalike model on posters are all down to Ferry: "I still get very involved whether it's the program or the lighting or the stage show. I like to keep my own input quite strong - that's how it was in the early days - and it's still with people I've been with since college days."

The current tour has seen Ferry, 55, appear on stage in a black leather suit, changing several times as the evening wears on, even down to the smooth white dinner jacket that became his trademark after the release of his second solo album, Another Time, Another Place.

It is a progression that very much echoes Roxy's nine-album (not including "live" albums) progression from avant-garde synthesiser band to the very epitome of smooth, laid-back sounds on Avalon.

Somehow, among all that, they managed to sidestep the punk explosion, flirt with dance music and disco, and then smoulder into gradual oblivion with the less-than-impressive Flesh & Blood in 1980.

Sax player Mackay likens their punk-era survival to driving along a rain-swept motorway late at night: "I have a friend who says that if you have to pass one of those big trucks, with all the water sweeping off of it, you just have to pull out, close your eyes and put your foot down. I think that's what we did."

But whether crooning about blow-up dolls on In Every Dream Home a Heartache or rocking along with Both Ends Burning, Ferry has always tried to be true to his desire to write music and lyrics that last.

His own inspirations are very much drawn from the '30s, '40s and '50s, decades when the art of songwriting was, he believes, at its height.

"I think in the last few years ... you don't find as many great songs.

"Obviously one or two every year, possibly, but it isn't the same as pre-Beatles, pre-Bob Dylan, when you had songwriting specialists who didn't necessarily record anything. There was a lot more focus on writing songs whereas now people are more interested in record making, which is slightly different."

Is that, I ask, what he was trying to do on a track such as A Song for Europe, with its French and Latin lyrics and its peculiarly European, Edith Piaf, feel?

"Well," he laughs, "it's certainly weird enough for people not to cover it. It's interesting that you very rarely find my songs being covered by anybody, which is I guess why they only seem to have a life when we perform them.

"Which is also quite a weird thing about the show because some of that music hasn't been played live for a very long time. It's quite nice to unearth it really." And he laughs again. "Like archaeologists."

Pop dinosaurs they may be, but Roxy Music aren't dead or buried. Not yet anyway.

Glamtastic: The best of Ferry and Roxy

1. For Your Pleasure (1973)

Less esoteric than the first album (which is probably why Eno left), this is the one that clinched the big time with classics such as Do The Strand, In Every Dream Home a Heartache and Beauty Queen. Great wordplay from Ferry ("Louis Seize, he prefer, laissez faire the Strand") and soaring solos from the rest of the band. Possibly their best ever.

2. Roxy Music (1972)

What in God's name were they? Where did they come from? And what about that single (not included on the original album)? "What's her name? Virginia Plain!" Brylcreemed rock and roll strained through leopard skin and leather. Eno's backwash of synth sounds provided the perfect backdrop for Ferry's vibrato croon.

3. These Foolish Things (1973)

How cool is this bloke Ferry? A solo album of covers that managed to make the originals look jaded. It also featured Ferry's version of the classic song, These Foolish Things. "A cigarette that bears a lipstick's traces ..." Aaah, heaven.

4. Stranded (1973)

The third Roxy album and probably the last consistently excellent offering before the rougher edges were worn off by hit-machine mentality. Street Life rocked along but the rest of the tracks assumed a slower tempo, with standout classics such as Mother of Pearl and the Piaf-like A Song for Europe.

5. As Time Goes By (1999)

Another solo collection of cover versions, this time of timeless songs from the 1930s such as the Casablanca title track, Falling in Love Again (now being used by Tourism Victoria in their television ads for Melbourne) and a marvellously upbeat rendering of The Way You Look Tonight. Cool and sophisticated.

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