Andy Mackay on Roxy Music and his new proggy solo album

“I was raised as a Methodist, so we sang a lot of hymns and went to chapel twice every Sunday when I was growing up in London. We sang hymns like they do in Welsh choirs, with great enthusiasm, ”says Andy Mackay to Program during an interruption of rehearsals for his Psalms 3 concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall in November.

“Methodism was really the Anglican or British equivalent of gospel music,” he continues. “I’m sure it had an influence on me.”

For Mackay, making and enjoying music has always been an act of inclusiveness rather than something to be dogmatic about. His new album 3 Psalms reflects this long-standing approach and includes an almost kaleidoscopic whirlwind of stylistic traits and influences that present elements of church music, electronics, classical music, jazzy daubs, and subtle rocky undertow in places. Using a string orchestra and choir – which also joined him on the live show – the album very much reflects Mackay’s love for classical music, which dates back to his days of learning the oboe and being an enthusiast. Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall as a teenager in the early 1960s.

“I always want to see this music in the context of rock’n’roll,” he explains. “I am a rock musician. I am not really a classical composer. They have a much more rigorous and disciplined approach to music than I do. I have just written and played the music that suits me and reflects my varied musical background. But I still feel like it’s a rock album.

3 Psalms may have been released recently, but its genesis dates back to the mid-90s. It was also a personal challenge for Mackay.

“I was terribly excited because I had the new music software that was out there at the time, it was Cubase which was working on a second generation Mac with a 1GB hard drive. It was considered quite miraculous at the time. the time, ”recalls Mackay. “So I was excited about the idea of ​​samples and loops and so on. I wanted to work with a human voice, so I wanted something that was speech based. I have never been comfortable writing lyrics. I can’t quite get the balance and the simplicity without it sounding a little trite. I thought I would use someone else’s words and it ended with the Psalms. Initially, it was Psalm 130, ‘From the depths’, which I liked because it looked like a passage from despair to hope. Which, in the mid-90s, seemed right. My personal life had been quite difficult by this time, and writing music around Psalm 130 was a good way to concentrate.

“Then I added the other two to kind of create a symphonic setup so that it had three movements. There is a reflective and slightly more catastrophic psalm to begin with, then Psalm 90, which really concerns human mortality: “the days of our years are sixty years and ten years” and “you are dust and you will return to dust”, all that. “

Mackay faced the specter of his own mortality in 2017, when he was successfully operated on after being diagnosed with throat cancer. The addition of Psalm 150, which he says is essentially about feeling like part of a larger universe, gave the piece a three-movement shape, and a duration of around 40 minutes suited him.

Roxy Music

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Outside of Bryan Ferry’s career, when it comes to the members of Roxy Music, Phil Manzanera’s solo work tends to gain the most attention. Albums such as Manzanera’s 1975 solo album, Diamond Head and his band’s only Mainstream album Quiet Sun, both recorded together at the same time, as well as the 1976 progressive rock supergroup 801, 801 Live, have been rightly revered over the years. Mackay’s solo production, by comparison, has been largely and unfairly overlooked. His television commissions included musical themes and songs from Thames Television’s Rock Follies, whose soundtrack quickly earned Mackay a No. 1 hit album. Yet, far from his television work, his solo albums no. never received the attention they deserved. 1974’s In Search Of Eddie Riff was a sparkling, glitzy, and deliberately kitschy celebration in the style of a fictional 1950s instrumental idol, and contained fun rock’n’roll arrangements by Schubert and Wagner. Among the brash riffs, thundering organ and nasal guitar, there was also the enigmatic Time Regained, a reference to Proust, in which a choir of layered loop saxophones was connected to Terry Riley’s time shift generator and the quiet music from Eno.

Mackay’s upcoming solo album, Resolving Contradictions of 1978, offered a pan-cultural observation of life in China inspired by his visit there. Alongside grand themes, orchestral strings and burgeoning funk-tinged grooves, Mackay’s saxophones and oboes described fiery lines in tense arrangements that reconciled notions of Western rock and Eastern sensibilities. As Mackay and Phil Manzanera’s joint venture in the 1980s, Explorers, shifted towards more traditional songwriting avenues, the saxophonist’s desire to bring together extremely contrasting elements was at the heart of his perhaps solo endeavor. be the most overlooked, Andy Mackay And The Metaphors. The six-tracker, London! Paris! New York! Rome !, released in 2008, was an exquisite post-rock travel tale of tunes from American songbook such as Three Coins In The Fountain and New York, New York, and a stunning and spacious reset of the classic from The Kinks, Waterloo Sunset. Shimmering waves of processed guitar, ethereal oboe, dripping piano and Big Ben chimes create an ambient-style sonic portrayal of the town and the song’s two cursed lovers, both touching and revealing. It is a project that Mackay still has a lot of affection for.

“I really liked it, but I intended to make it a more lively thing. But then, for various reasons, we couldn’t quite make it work live due to logistics issues. I always feel like choosing difficult instrumentations to work with because we had a concert harp, Julia Thornton, another Roxy player, who was with Roxy in 2001. So we were carrying a harp as well as the drums. Paul Thompson, and we had keyboard and synthesizer experience. It ended up being more complicated because we were spread out over: Bristol, East Anglia, Newcastle and so on. So, for various reasons, I couldn’t go as far as I wanted. The record also features a darker arrangement of Roxy Music‘s Love Is The Drug.

This song, which reached the top five of the singles charts on both sides of the Atlantic, is revisited once again by Mackay as part of his concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall along with other songs from the Roxy Music repertoire.

“I sketched out some of the ideas, but a lot of it was thanks to Lucy Wilkins who played violin in Roxy Music and another of my former colleagues, Ray Russell, who worked with me on Rock Follies,” explains Mackay. “They found arrangements that are much more unusual than most rock-meet-classic collaborations. Quite often, indeed, people only play keyboard parts on strings, but what we’ve done is things that can only be done with real strings: like playing with the back of the guitar. bow bouncing on the strings, playing without vibrato and playing harmonics and very strong or very quiet attack. There’s a whole range of sounds you can get, and when there’s a 16-piece string orchestra doing that, you get a big lift that you really can’t duplicate on anything else. “

The idea of ​​adapting the songs from Roxy Music for 3 Psalms live came quite late in the day as the date for the concert began to loom.

“Because Phil Manzanera was going to be the guest of the 3 Psalms concert, I thought that since we were all going to be in the same room, I decided to use the choir and the orchestra and work on some Roxy songs. Music, ”explains Mackay. “I think it’s a great way to check out some of the ways Roxy worked in the middle of the period, sure. Most of the songs we do are the ones I co-wrote. One of them is a version of // A Song For Europe //. The fact that the play is being performed at a time when Britain’s political antipathy to the European Union is not lost on Mackay. Playing the melody now has an undeniable melancholy resonance with the current situation, he says. “You think, ‘Well, where are we going with Europe? Looks like it’s going to be a tragedy no matter what. So there is a slightly tragic quality about it. “

Andy Mackay / Phil Manzanera

(Image credit: Avenir)

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