Roxy Music saxophonist Andy Mackay was on his way to England’s West Country in mid-December when he received a text from Bryan Ferry saying they had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I knew we were nominated,” Mackay says. “But I always felt like we were a little too far away for the mainstream American public, even though we have a lot of subscribers there. It was very surprising to hear.
The band haven’t performed together since their quiet split after touring in 2011, but it seems highly likely that they will perform at the ceremony. We spoke to Mackay about the big night, the possibility of original Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno coming, the band’s aborted reunion album in 2007, why they stopped touring, and the possibility that the Hall of Fame leads to more shows.
What does being inducted into the Hall of Fame mean on a personal level?
There is some satisfaction there. We get a lot of great feedback on things we did a long time ago, but it’s nice enough to feel that we still want to say something for all generations, really. I think it’s good to think that there is a bigger audience than those who grew up with us in the 70’s who think we played a part in rock & roll history.
Did you talk to any of your band mates besides Bryan?
Yes. We have been in contact. We are all very happy. We’ve looked at how we’re going to approach induction proper, whether or not we’re going to play. I hope we will. As you probably know, Roxy hasn’t actually worked together as a band for about nine years. But we are friendly. I see [guitarist] Phil Manzanera a lot. I did a concert with him in November of last year. I work with him a lot. Bryan and I are talking. We see each other from time to time. [Drummer] Paul Thompson and I speak from time to time. I haven’t seen him in years, but I know he’s there. I played on one of his albums about four years ago. Generally speaking, we are in contact. We’re all pretty optimistic about it, but I wouldn’t want to say for sure what’s going to happen. It can be complicated to understand.
They welcome Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Eddie Jobson, you, Phil Manzanera, Graham Simpson and Paul Thompson. Did they understand correctly? Did they miss anyone?
It’s difficult, isn’t it? During the band’s career, there were a lot of different people. For a while we worked with American studio musicians on a few records. Overall, the four of us at the start were there at the end. This is probably what matters. And Eddie Jobson obviously played on three records in the middle of the band’s career. With bassists, it’s hard to say who the definitive bassist is. The guy who played on “Love Is the Drug”, John Gustafson, passed away a few years ago. He was a fantastic player who had been in a Liverpool band before the Beatles. He was a great player who did a lot of session work in London.
Who knows? I think we’ll find something. Obviously, if the ceremony is in New York, if there is someone based there, that will be a bonus. But we are still talking about it. I would be very happy to do so. It would be nice to see the others and I hope they feel the same.
Why have you been through so many bassists in the life of the band?
Graham Simpson was friends with Bryan from Newcastle. When I bet to meet Bryan for the first time, it was he and Graham Simpson playing in an apartment in Kensington, London with a piano and a bass. That was it. They would play these rather weird songs and very occasionally a guitarist would come by. Then we formed the first group. And then Graham Simpson got very sick. He had a severe depression and couldn’t stand rock music anymore. Unfortunately, we parted ways with him. He had a very interesting life and unfortunately passed away a few years ago.
After that we had a lot of great bass players, but none of them settled down. They were coming and going in a way. John Porter did a lot of work in the early days. And then on tour, we had different players. I think any of them would be great. John Wetton was a bassist for a while. And Guy Pratt worked directly with us. He played with Pink Floyd, but I think we’ll probably find an American player. But I don’t really know how the series works. We’ll have to see.
When was the last time you played with Brian Eno in concert in any capacity?
The last time he played with Roxy was in 1974. It was a difficult time. The second or third year of a band, there’s a lot of positioning and people… you always think it’s going to end soon enough and so you try to do everything very quickly. And then you find out 40 years later that maybe you could have spent more time on it. But the way things worked, we’ve all had great careers. On and off, we all worked together until the end. On this recent project that I did, the 3Psalms project, I worked a lot with Phil on it. We still think there is something new to do, maybe.
Do you think Eno could show up at the ceremony?
I really do not know. He’s shy sometimes, but I haven’t really talked to him about it. I have been very busy and I don’t know what he is doing. But I really couldn’t tell. I’m just going to say, “You never know.”
In 2007 you started working on a new album. What happened? Why didn’t he come out?
It started well. Part of the problem is that with Roxy, Bryan has always been key in terms of lyrics and vocals. It’s one of those things that although we’ve all written music and a lot of Roxy’s successful songs were co-written – not that there aren’t some great ones either. Bryan’s songs – and I think at that point, making an entire album worth the lyrics was kind of a challenge. He didn’t really feel like this was going the right way for him, so he wanted to work on material he had. It was the Olympia album, which contained very beautiful things. And then we all got distracted in different ways.
Personally, I would love to revisit these songs. I haven’t listened to them for a long time. I would like to see if there is a possibility of working on it. But Bryan is very busy. He likes to work. He’s working live right now. He does a lot, so he’s not really thinking about the studio now.
Brian Eno was involved in this album, wasn’t he?
It was. The original five members with Guy Pratt on bass were the lineup. Chris Thompson was producing. It was excellent programming. Who knows? Something may or may not come out. Who knows? It may not be very good. We won’t know until we finish it.
You stopped touring under the name Roxy Music in 2011. Why?
Various things. I wanted to stop touring at that point for various personal / family reasons. I didn’t want to spend any more time away. I had a growing young child and wanted to spend more time with the family. I also had other projects I was working on. Bryan really wanted to work on finishing some recordings and then he enjoys the kind of touring he’s doing now, which is a very controlled kind of thing with smaller venues and a very polite band. He’s getting great reviews and he’s enjoying it right now. He booked for much of this year. Good luck to him. And I’m in charge of this big electronic orchestral choir project that I just finished at the end of November. I can’t wait to keep playing this and retire it. It is a complicated piece that involves a 16 piece string section and a 16 piece choir and percussion player. It is not easy to do, but I find it very satisfying.
Is a future Roxy Music tour possible?
It’s a possibility. In fact, we never announced a farewell tour, except in 1975. While we’re all still playing, it’s still a possibility. Who knows? It’s been a long time now since we played together. Maybe we would find that a little strange. Also, we would need to revise the hardware a bit. We can’t jump on stage playing the arrangements you used to play in your mid-twenties when you’re in the early seventies. It doesn’t quite work, but there’s still a lot of rock & roll in us, so who knows ? Maybe the Hall of Fame is the thing that will get us thinking.
What do you think of Bryan Ferry Avalon tour where he’s doing a bunch of songs from the album touring this year?
I just saw that. It makes sense in America since it was our best-selling album there. I see there would be an appetite for it, but who knows? It’s a pretty important thing to take on.
In most of his solo concerts, he devotes about 75 percent of his show to Roxy Music songs.
These are also his songs. I guess that’s what he likes to do. I work a lot on Roxy musical material. These recent concerts I did were called Roxy Symphony with slightly offbeat string arrangements of Roxy songs. It’s a different approach from Roxy. I think we all think these are our songs. I’m sure Bryan thinks these are his songs and we all think we all share them. I’m always happy to hear them. What if Bryan wants to take Avalon outside, I can’t wait to hear them.
Groups often play three songs at the Hall of Fame. What are the three songs that you think you can do to sum up your entire career?
I guess we would do the songs that people know. “Avalon” is a song that people love. “Love Is the Drug” is one of our defining tracks and I think, probably, we would like to do something from our beginnings like “Virginia Plain” or “Re-Make / Re-Model”. It would be my choice, but we haven’t really discussed this in detail.
If this performance happens, it could be Roxy Music’s last performance. Going out to the Hall of Fame would be nice in a way.
It seems too dark to me. I don’t like to think of the “last never” because you never know. We wish I was more optimistic than that, or at least I would.