Roxy Music 2001


Immaculate conception

The Scotsman - United Kingdom, 18th May, 2001

If I was on a plane which I thought was going to crash and my life started to flash before me only for the pilot to regain control somewhere around the summer of 1973, I would be glam, bang in the middle of my teenage obsession with Roxy Music and only too happy to stay there. So what went through Bryan Ferry's mind last Christmas when a madman stormed the cockpit of the jumbo carrying his family, almost downing the plane in the middle of the Sudanese desert? Was it anything like this?

Cloggy northern childhood with cludgie out the back ... art school ... experiments with eyeliner ... retro-futuristic pop vision ... glamour, gear, girls ... Jerry Hall ... Mick Jagger ... marriage to bit of posh, four sons

"Ha!" says the coolest man there ever was, dressed in beige jeans and what looks like the same dark blue pullover he was wearing in the jet-in-jeopardy picture used on every newspaper front page in the land. "Well, I guess I didn't feel it was the moment for me to go. But I didn't ... I wasn't in control, and I don't like that. I mean, if it was a ship, I could have jumped."

He doesn't like turbulence - "of any sort" - but we already know this from three decades of super-elegant poise. Whatever it was he was thinking about as his plane was plummeting, he only seems to have been unnerved by his son Isaac's swearing, which necessitated a ticking-off. Wasn't that taking taste and decorum a bit too far? "No, he was being too strong."

Something else did freak him out: the lunatic's socks. "They were stripey and quite nasty." He cringes at their memory. We're in a hotel in London's Park Lane, which also seems to be overdoing the taste decorum: to call it understated would be an understatement. Signs would spoil the minimalist ambience, so there aren't any. Roxy Music have come here to talk about their 30th anniversary reunion tour, but the publicist has lost Andy Mackay, the saxophonist, in the stark labyrinths.

Mackay, 54, eventually turns up in his room; guitarist Phil Manzanera, 50, is next door. They will be interviewed separately, as will Ferry, whose suite is bigger than the others. It's all white, in the style of the rest of the hotel. Does he like it? "No, it's too much for me. Or too little." He runs a finger down the edge of a wall. "Look at this corner, it's grubby. It should be immaculate." Then he returns to his seat and tells me why he isn't getting the band back together just for the money.

A so-called expert on rock star's fortunes confessed recently that Ferry had him stumped; he didn't know whether the noted aesthete was rolling in it or broke. "I wish I did," he laughs. "I'd prefer not to think which it is. But for this tour we were made an offer, a good one. I sang some of the old Roxy songs on my solo tour last year and they got a great reaction. Is there risk involved? I suppose so. I can still sing those songs as well as ever, I know that. But maybe one night I'll be in a hotel and the air-conditioning will be too high and that will affect my throat." (Or maybe the walls will be less than immaculate and that will stiffen his legs. Come to think of it, he always was a bad dancer).

Before Roxy Music, the world was grey - or rather, denim blue. They didn't sound like anyone else when they sang about "a new sensation, a fabulous creation" on Do The Strand - and they looked different, crooner-era romantic and scary space-age. But they didn't put themselves on their album covers - only beautiful, unobtainable women. "We wanted to present ourselves in a way that was, um, interesting." But "interesting" does Roxy a disservice. "Well, we didn't want to be pictured standing in a dark alley in jeans. The Roxy name was redolent of dream-palaces and we used the women in the way you would if you were selling a wonder product."

Much has happened to the key Roxy personnel since Ferry last warbled about socialite orgies and penthouse ennui. Manzanera got divorced and Mackay's wife Jane died of a heart attack, leaving him to bring up his young children before he re-married and became a dad again, and a Bachelor of Divinity, in his fifties. Ferry's mother died, his wife Lucy underwent treatment for drink and drug addiction and he himself battled depression. None of these subjects are up for discussion today, all questions being met with soulful stares. Mackay and Manzanera have clearly been taking lessons from Ferry in this, although he remains the master.

There are lots of pauses in Ferry's conversation; he could probably dash off a new song during the gaps. Well, maybe not. There's an old story of how he became obsessed with recording the sound of water lapping against a wreck off the coast of Mustique, and that it was this which prompted Jerry Hall to skedaddle, eventually ending up in the arms of Mick Jagger. "Ha] That's not quite what happened. But it really was a beautiful sound. The wreck's gone now... "

You could be forgiven for thinking that Ferry has no sense of the passing of time. "Oh yes... well, I do now. One of my closest friends - Simon Puxley, the Roxy publicist - died last year from cancer, which also killed my mother, but I was shocked to see it affecting someone of my generation. That caused a juddering of the gears, a feeling that I must get on and stop mucking about.

"There were a couple of moments - no, a couple of years - when I messed up pretty badly and spent too long in the studio." At one point, one of his solo albums was costing him pounds 2,000 of his own money a day. "But it was for all the right reasons; I was trying to do exceptional work."

Is there a sense within Roxy that the clothes got in the way of the music? Manzanera agrees, and hopes this tour will redress the balance. Ferry - previously a gaucho, a GI and the man for whom the white tux was surely invented - says he'll probably go timeless-classic with a suit, "like one of my jazz heroes, but with a slightly different cut".

Will he still shout "Roxy rule!" at the end of the gigs, as in the old days when his great band soundtracked the reign of Clockwork Orange-style gangs? Will Manzanera wear his bug-eyed specs? Will Mackay play his sax upside down? Memories of their former glammed-up selves cause them to half-smile, half-wince. "I think this is going to be fun," says Mackay, the most reticent of the three, confirming Ferry's first impression of him as "vaguely professorial". He's been rehearsing his solos in front of his three-year-old. "The old songs don't get played on the radio anymore. We don't want them to be lost forever."

Finally, Ferry can check out of this ghastly hotel. I say he must be glad to see the back of that room number. He looks puzzled, and asks for an explanation of the significance of 101, then admits he's never read George Orwell's 1984. This is surprising, endearing and, for me, gratifying. I was swotting up on the book for my English O-level when Roxy burst onto a dull scene and Ferry's exotic lyrics sent me scurrying for a dictionary for the meanings of "beguine", "lido" and "Studebaker". I still can't quite believe I've taught him something he didn't know.
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