Roxy Music 2001



Nostalgia Rules OK. Roxy Music are the latest act to reform for a world tour almost 30 years after taking the music world by storm. Neil McKay spoke to their Geordie drummer Paul Thompson

The Newcastle Journal, 7th May, 2001

IN a pop industry obsessed with creating instantly forgettable boy bands, "wrinkly rockers" are hitting the road again and pulling in their faithful fans.

In their 1965 hit My Generation, The Who famously hoped they would die before they got old, and rock'n'roll's hedonistic lifestyle claimed a string of famous stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Keith Moon, the only Who member to fulfil the death wish.

The Great Paul ThompsonNow nostalgia is the buzz word at the box offices, and the "old men of rock" are proving they are not quite ready for their pensions. Last year The Who - with Ringo Starr's son Zak in Moon's drummer seat - played at Newcastle's Telewest Arena. Heavy metal stars AC/DC, fronted by fifty-something Tynesider Brian Johnson, are currently on an ear-splitting world tour. And a whole string of yesterday's names - The Eagles, The Beach Boys, Neil Young, Roxy Music - are going out on summer tours.

Roxy Music will play in front of hundreds of thousands of fans in stadia in Australia, the USA, Canada and Europe. The Roxy roadshow arrives at Newcastle's Telewest Arena on June 12.

For drummer Paul Thompson it will be like playing a "home match". Since returning to his native Tyneside eight years ago he has been content to play in smokey North-East pubs and clubs. Venues like the Duke of Cumberland in Felling and Dougie's Tavern in Jarrow are where his fans would have been most likely to hear him.

He says: "People think my career has gone downhill because I haven't been playing in front of big audiences and I'm out of the limelight. But I enjoy what I do. I'm very lucky in that I get paid for what I do."

Those of us of a certain vintage still remember when Roxy Music first burst into our living rooms in the summer of 1972, singing Virginia Plain on Top of the Pops. Amazingly stylish, they were far more talented than the glitter bands of that era and appeared far more interesting and intelligent than the denim-clad rockers parodied in the film Spinal Tap. They were fronted by Bryan Ferry, a Newcastle University graduate, the son of a Washington coalminer, and a singer who preferred to caress a song, rather than belt the words out at the maximum volume.

Behind him on the drum-kit was Thompson, resplendent in spandex trousers and shoulder-length fair hair. A string of hits followed Virginia Plain - Love is the Drug, Streetlife, Angel Eyes, Dance Away. The band's album covers were famous for pictures of glamorous models, including Jerry Hall, who went on to have a romance with Ferry before leaving him for Mick Jagger.

His hair is shorter now and flecked with grey, but a month before his 50th birthday Paul Thompson is ready to go back on the road.

"There is no doubt that most of the people who come to see us do so, for nostalgic reasons. But when I saw Bryan in his solo tour at Newcastle City Hall a year ago I noticed there was a fair sprinkling of younger fans. It makes me proud that people still buy Roxy Music albums. Nowadays they replace their old vinyl copies with CDs. I've just been out to buy The Beatles Revolver album on CD."

Paul, who grew up in Jarrow, left school at 15 to work in Palmer's shipyard in Hebburn as an apprentice metalworker. After work he was playing the drums for a group called The Urge.

Paul recalls: "I was earning about £35 a week with the band, playing seven nights a week, and about £3 a week in the shipyard. I used to come in from a gig at about 3am and have to get up four hours later. Eventually I got fired for falling asleep and I became a pro musician at 17. It's been my job ever since."

He continued to play in the North's pubs and clubs for the next four years, before trying his luck in London at 21, when he found the streets of the capital could indeed be paved with gold.

"I got a job as a builder's labourer and I answered an ad in the music paper, Melody Maker for a 'wonder drummer for an avante rock group'. I rang the number and a bloke with a posh accent (with a slight Geordie twang) answered. It was Bryan. He seemed happy to hear my own Geordie accent, and we arranged an audition where I got the job."

Within months Roxy were catapulted into the big-time, with a hectic round of tours, album recordings, TV appearances and Press interviews.

"Everything happened , so quickly. I was only 21 or 22 and success was pretty quick. We got a record deal and found ourselves on Top of the Pops. I knew I had arrived when I came back to Tyneside. I went to see a mate of mine playing at a social club in Gateshead. I didn't have my club card and I expected a grilling from the doorman, but he looked at me and said: "It's all right son, you can go in. I saw you on Top of the Pops! "

Although Roxy Music enjoyed huge success there was no sex, drugs and outrageous behaviour for them. Or at least not according to Paul.

"We were always fairly conservative in our behaviour. I don't think I even saw a groupie after the first Roxy tour. What a lot of people don't realise is that touring is very hard work. You see nothing but concert halls, airports and hotel rooms. I remember we spent several weeks on an American tour. We had some time off to go up the Empire State Building and that is about all we saw."

In 1980 Paul parted company with Roxy Music due to 'musical differences'. Perhaps diplomatically, he plays down reports of a huge bust-up with Ferry as the reason for his parting, although he does say that Ferry lapses into a Geordie accent "when he gets angry" - so presumably he has first hand experience.

After leaving Roxy Paul enjoyed considerable success in the USA with a band called Concrete Blonde -"the only gold record I ever played on" - and has played drums for a number of other artists. He left London eight years ago to return North, and now lives in Newcastle with his partner.

But it is as Roxy Music's drummer that he is remembered, as his own web-site - -testifies.
It is inundated with fans wanting to know all sorts of trivia about the band. "They ask me about songs I played on, and I cannot remember. I had to learn the songs again for this tour. The fans know more about Roxy Music than I do!"

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