Throughout his long career, Bryan Ferry, best known as the lead singer of legendary British rock band Roxy Music, has always projected a very cool, easy-going persona, a sort of rock and roll version of James Bond. Yet the generally unfazed Ferry is genuinely amazed that his band’s music continues to resonate with audiences five decades later. “I guess we always kept our heads down to a point,” he says. Newsweek. “So it’s very gratifying that the music still has an audience. I’m blushing, I don’t know what to say. It’s great that people like it.”
During eight studio recordings, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band received critical acclaim and recorded such memorable songs as “Re-Make/Re-Model”, “Do the Strand”, “Street Life “, “Love Is the Drug”, “Dance Away” and “More Than This”. And like David Bowie and the Velvet Underground, Roxy Music has inspired generations of musicians, including the Sex Pistols, Chic, U2, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Duran Duran, Garbage, Goldfrapp and St. Vincent.
On the 50th anniversary of the band’s formation and the release of their self-titled debut album this year, four founding members of Roxy Music—Ferry, guitarist Phil Manzanera, saxophonist/oboist Andy Mackay and drummer Paul Thompson— will tour together for the first time in over a decade. “It seemed like something to celebrate,” says Ferry, “As the 50s approached, it just seemed like, ‘Well, that would be a really nice, positive thing to do.'”
Manzanera says “Quite frankly, if we don’t come out and play the songs, who the hell is going to play them? Then we’re going to breathe new life into them.”
Starting September 7, the Arena Tour will cover North America and the UK, with a setlist drawn from pioneering 70s art rock and elegant early 80s pop. has a lot of songs to choose from,” says Ferry. “Some people have a preference for one album over another or one song over another, and there are certain songs that are so much in the repertoire that you would always want to do. But it’s good to do a left-field song or two, so we’ll see which ones work best and try to give a good representation of all the records we’ve made.
“It’s always great to make a few [early] numbers,” says Mackay, “because they’re quite original and give a lot of leeway to play an interpretation – they weren’t overloaded with formulas, so they were often quite spontaneous. When you’ve been making records for a long time, you end up with a fair choice of material.”
Formed in 1970, as glam rock was heating up, Roxy Music originally consisted of six distinct personalities – Ferry, Mackay, Manzanera, Thompson, synthesizer Brian Eno and bassist Graham Simpson – who saw themselves as inspired amateurs . Some of the members came from art schools. These ingredients and more found their way into their 1972 self-titled debut album, an unconventional blend of 50s retro rock, American R&B and experimental music.
“The first album owed a lot to my interest in visual collage,” says Ferry. “It touched on all the different possibilities and the different futures that we could have in music because there are a lot of different ideas on the album stuck together.” In addition to Ferry’s crooning, Manzanera’s guitar heroism, Mackay’s soulful sax playing and Thompson’s powerful drumming, a key part of the band’s early sound was Eno’s synthesizer and use of band effects. Ferry says, “Brian was a really big part of those albums.”
From the start, the visual style was as important as the music, from Ferry’s dapper white evening jacket to the provocatively photographed models on album covers. “When the [first] the recording was done,” Ferry recalled, it was like, “’Oh, let’s do something interesting and different for the cover.’ I met this guy, [fashion designer] Antoine Prize. We combined forces and he helped a lot in creating a look for the early album covers as well as the clothing. We were all quite reserved at Roxy Music. And getting on stage and taking on another character made it easier for us.”
Roxy achieved success on the UK charts with her single “Virginia Plain” in 1972. Mackay says of the song. “It took us from an art school band to pop stars… That’s when we were like, ‘This isn’t quite happening. as we expected, but it’s great.”
Eno left Roxy after 1973 At your service and was replaced by 18-year-old multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson. Roxy’s next two records, Failed and country life, used a more direct musical approach. Manzanera says, “We went from being a non-musician to being a musician. We were moving towards a new kind of musical palette. And we needed that, because we wanted to change and do something different.” Mackay adds, “The band changed a bit when Eno left. It was a shift in a way from experimentation to slightly more solid rock and roll values.”
Roxy Music’s fifth and perhaps most accessible album to date, 1975 Mermaid, contained “Love Is the Drug”, which became America’s first and only Top 40 hit. “I think every artist kind of wants to expand their audience,” says Ferry. “We were trying, on our terms, to make a record that might work better in America.”
After Mermaid, Roxy Music went on hiatus in 1976 and the members, notably Ferry, worked on solo records. When the band reunited three years later and released Manifest, punk rock and disco were the popular music trends, but Roxy had a second set of hit songs. According to Ferry, “[Manifesto] had more European songs and others that had a sort of American aura. We did part of this record in New York. I guess that had an effect on that.”
At this point, the band’s sound – whose lineup now consisted of Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay – became smoother and more atmospheric, first with the understated 1980s. Flesh + Blood album and a cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”, which went to number one in the UK in 1981. The change culminated in the lush and beautiful 1982 album. AvalonRoxy’s swan song.
“Avalon, I think in some ways is our best record,” Mackay says. “There is a source of completeness in the atmosphere. The sound genre of the world of this disc is very special. It’s a record that I find very satisfying.”
Roxy Music broke up in 1983 following the Avalon tour, and Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay resumed their solo careers. As the band once called it, many young British artists like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and ABC followed Roxy’s sonic and stylistic blueprint throughout the 1980s. recalls seeing Roxy for the first time on television: “Their debut on Top of the Pops in August 1972 changed everything for me… That was my moon landing.”
“It was very nice to hear that people like what you do,” Ferry marvels. “I owe so much to all the people who came before me, people who influenced me from all kinds of different directions. [I’m] very happy that some young bands liked what we did.”
In 2001, Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay and Thompson reunited as Roxy Music for a successful world tour. 18 years later, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and performed at the ceremony. Ferry echoes Manzanera and Mackay’s sentiments regarding the band’s chemistry after five decades. “There were several phases of the group and Andy and Phil were part of all of them,” he says. “They are both versatile and very good musicians with a strong character. They have a sound, like Paul Thompson. Everyone plays an important role.” As for this 50th anniversary tour, the singer says, “It’s going to be quite emotional to find the public again. It will be great.”
At your service (Island, 1973)
Roxy Music avoided the second jinx with their second album. At your service pays homage to rock’s past (rockers “Do the Strand” and “Editions of You”) while foreshadowing its future (the haunting “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” and epic “The Bogus Man”). “The second album is still one of my favorite records I’ve been involved with,” Ferry said. “He had character, he had a personality, which was very strong.” Manzanera adds: “It’s my favorite album. I guess it was because it was the last we were all together as a band. [with Brian Eno].”
Mermaid (Island, 1975)
Mermaid was Roxy’s bid to appeal to mainstream audiences, combining art rock (“Sentimental Fool,” “Just Another High,” “End of the Line”) with dance grooves (“Love Is the Drug,” Both Ends Burning). [‘Love Is the Drug’] like a kind of slightly slower, more majestic song,” Mackay recalled of Siren’s biggest hit, “Bryan would keep things close to his chest and not really give too much away and go and write lyrics, then surprised us all by walking in with a finished song. And so ‘Love is the Drug’ became a more rhythmic, catchy song.”
Flesh + Blood (Polydor, 1980)
A somewhat underrated release in the band’s catalog, Flesh + Blood presaged the immaculate sound of Avalon. He produced several notable songs in the romantic “Oh Yeah” and “Over You”, the dazzling rocker “Same Old Scene” and the longing “My Only Love”. Flesh + Blood also found the band (whose lineup consisted of only Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay) attacking covers for the first time, including Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” and the band’s “Eight Miles High”. Byrds.