Roxy Music 2001



The Riverside Studios are tucked away in the back streets of Hammersmith. Behind them, the Thames flows in stately fashion to the sea, passing under the stylish arc of Hammersmith Bridge which spans the river a hundred yards away to the north.

On the night of Wednesday, 23rd May, the street outside the studios was unusually busy. Spilling along Crisp Road was a throng of expectant people, abuzz with conversation. With a perhaps surprisingly wide age range, they were dressed from casual through stylish (with the odd fashion disaster thrown in to lighten the evening). Slowly they moved forward towards the doors where burly security men in tee shirts relieved them of their highly prized tickets and others stamped the backs of their hands as proof of entry.

For those with connections in higher places, a special table was laid out where Guest List names were ticked off and wrist bands of various hues attached. Gold, for the lucky few, meant access to the after show party. Inside, some headed for the nearest bar, whilst others passed away the time in that favourite British pastime - forming queues. Time dragged by, leavened by chance meetings with older or newer acquaintances. Everywhere the conversation was of one topic - the show. What would they play? What would they wear? And, for the nerds amongst us, what equipment would they use?

At 7.45, answers came one step closer. The studio doors were opened and, in small groups, the audience was allowed in. The studio was of medium size. Square, high ceilinged but with the ceiling itself concealed by lighting gantries, cables and spotlights. To the left, right and rear were raised areas for the audience. In the middle, where the true enthusiasts congregated were three cameras, one huge machine being a retractable boom affair which would swing and extend and sweep across the audience, ready to decapitate the unwary.

The stage was stacked with instruments and equipment. From left to right, a grand piano set at right angles to a Yamaha electric topped by a Hohner Pianet. Then, a twin stack of shiny new Roland amps sat next to a smaller and unidentifiable guitar amp. Dominating the rear of the stage was a glittering silver Yamaha drum kit. An Ampeg bass cabinet was to its right and at the front stage right shimmered two golden saxophones and an oboe. In the right hand corner were (gasp) a VCS3, string synth and other keyboards plus a variety of percussion instruments - tambourine, maracas and the like.

For the next fifteen minutes, the stage manager taught us how to clap, to cheer, to clap with our hands above heads (so the cameras could see that we were really clapping), to clap on cue, to clap for thirty seconds, to clap for fifteen seconds, to tap dance, to sing arias from Puccini and how to do simultaneous equations. A talented man. But suddenly the applause was for real. He has said the magic words; "And here they are, for their first performance in eighteen years, ROXY MUSIC!"

The audience hadn't needed to be taught how to respond. There was a roar of approval and thunderous applause. From the left the band entered. Julia Thornton and Lucy Wilkins, both looking delectable in black, made their way over to the right hand corner of the stage. The professorial looking Colin Good eased his way behind the Yamaha piano and prodded the keys of the grand piano thoughtfully. Zev Katz, resplendent in shades, sauntered cross stage, his Fender bass in hand. There was a special cheer when Chris Spedding, looking every inch the 21st Century Mississippi riverboat gambler, made his entrance. But the roof was veritably raised when The Great Paul Thompson, in tee shirt and jeans, slid in behind the Yamaha drum kit. Seeing Paul was like stepping into a time warp. Perhaps even more powerfully built than twenty years ago, TGPT seems otherwise unchanged. And the broad smile on his face showed how pleased he was to be there. And the cheers from the audience showed how much his presence meant.

But now the Stage Manager was at the microphone again. "Ladies and Gentleman, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera!"

Andy, in a purple suit and orange tie, strode across stage towards the saxes. Bryan, in a superbly cut black suit (why can't we get suits like that?) and white shirt wandered to the middle of the stage, glancing at the cheering audience and smiling a secret smile. Phil, in cream and white, stood beaming broadly stage left until his guitar roadie came forward carrying reverently the red, white and gold Firebird, gleaming after its recent overhaul.

As is inevitable with a TV recording there are frequent pauses whilst producer and engineers fuss and worry. Whilst VT is checked and re-checked and levels set and re-set. So now there was a pregnant pause as technicians did their last minute things. But then the Stage Manager stepped forward again: "Big applause, on a count of three, one, two...." The crowd erupted.

The piano starts it. Echoed, four to the bar. And then, reminiscent of a distant siren, comes the fuzzed guitar in a four time repeated motif. Then the drums crash in and Bryan's vocal follows: "Make me a deal and make it straight, all signed and sealed, I'll take it". For their first number in eighteen years, the first single. 'Virginia Plain' was driven along by a frenzy of clapping. The twin guitars snarled, the oboe twittered and chirped, Lucy provided the motorbike samples and Enoesque synth and Paul pounded the four square rhythm to its climax. At the last line, Bryan stepped away from the microphone. Even after 18 years he knew - and we knew - what would happen. As one, in full voice, the audience roared "What's her name? Virginia Plain!" And then, oh, how we cheered.

Even the necessary pauses between songs seemed not to matter. After a few minutes, two mighty blows on the snare drum unleashed 'Out of the Blue'. Always a crowd pleasing song, Lucy took the musical centre stage with an impeccable rendering of the Jobson violin part but bringing to it a freshness and verve that lifted it to another level.

As the violin's echoes died away, and the audience gave full voice to their approval, Phil's roadie slipped on stage to swap the Firebird for a gleaming black Les Paul. The obligatory delay only served to heighten the tension. What would they play next? The answer came soon. Another landmark song, their only number one single, 'Jealous Guy'. To say Bryan's delivery was impeccable understates the graceful but heartfelt ease with which he sang the band's tribute to the late John Lennon. Some things of rare value improve with age, Bryan's voice is one such.

Two other classic numbers followed, perfect choices for this cameo performance. First, Zev Katz, whose bass playing throughout hand solidly and fluently under-pinned the whole performance, sent the audience into more extreme realms of ecstasy with the opening grumbling, rumbling notes of 'Love is the Drug'. And then Paul thundered through 'Do the Strand', driving the band forward in the way, and it's true, only he can. There was power and precision... and enjoyment. As he turned his head to the left in the classic TGPT posture as he thrashed the hi-hat into submission, you could see him and Julia exchanging broad grins of pure good humour.

By now, a strange mood of contentment had settled on your correspondent. The fact that, for technical reasons, the band had to play 'Jealous Guy' twice more and 'Virginia Plain' yet again seemed to add to the dream like quality. It was as if the intervening eighteen years had been washed away. Here was the band, as in their pomp, throwing out songs and sounds and words that still seemed fresh and innovative nearly thirty years after their first performance. As they say in sport: "Form is temporary, class is permanent". And Roxy are exactly that - a class (and a classic) act.

On this evidence the Tour will be extraordinary. The band seem rejuvenated, re-energised. Their performances, after only a few days rehearsal, are focussed, tight and uplifting. There is more to come.

Afterwards, as we sipped much-needed cold beers on the terrace overlooking the Thames, the band chatted with family, friends and supporters. They looked relaxed and good-humoured. And there they all were: Bryan, Andy, Phil and Paul. Every now and then they would pass one another amidst the throng and smile knowingly.

So it was really true. Roxy Music were together again.
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