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Roxy Music

With all the suave and debonair sophistication of a film noir movie of the 40s, glam-pop act ROXY MUSIC were as much style and fashion as they were rock and roll. With art-school graduate and northern lad Bryan Ferry as their crooning protagonist, the glittering 70s were made for this London-based outfit. A change of shape and musical make-up took place as the new wave scene took over, but Ferry and Co (he was also a top-selling solo artist in his own right) rode the terrain, securing them further hits in the exasperating 80s.
Co-founded towards the fall of 1970 by the aforementioned frontman (the son of a coal miner), with bassist Graham Simpson, the pair quickly let go of their R&B exercise The Gas Board, enlisting saxophonist Andy Mackay and electronic brainchild Brian Eno along the way. Through an ad placed in the Melody Maker weekly, two others were found in Dexter Lloyd (a classical percussionist) and guitarist Roger Bunn, although by July ’71 both had made way for Paul Thompson and former NICE original David O’List. Even then, ROXY MUSIC were not the complete article. But this was rectified when the latter was superseded by Phil Manzanera at the turn of 1972; Simpson was also a casualty of the line-up, but he at least stayed around long enough to play on their debut set.
While songwriter Ferry made sure the sextet would be hot property after only a handful of gigs, fashioning the band in an outlandish hybrid of decadent glamour and glitz, the other prime mover behind their ease to stardom was Eno, who shaped the band’s pioneering sound by wrenching all manner of bizarre electronic noises from his mini-Moog, feeding the rest of the instruments through an EMS modular synth and masterminding pre-recorded special effects.
Almost immediately signing to Island Records, the band released their self-titled debut ROXY MUSIC {*8/*9 revised edition} in the summer of 1972. Produced by Pete Sinfield (KING CRIMSON’s lyricist), the set effortlessly married Ferry’s swooning croon, the pulsing rhythm section, Mackay’s subversive sax, Manzanera’s guitars and Eno’s inspired electronic proto-punk synthetics. With a myriad of twists and turns along the way, opening salvos such as `Re-Make/Re-Model’, `Ladytron’ and the doo-wop-to-doo-wild `If There Is Something’, listeners were hooked from the get-go. The smoothness of `2HB’, the battle-ground antics of `The Bob (Medley)’, the melancholy of `Chance Meeting’ and the surrealism of `Sea Breezes’, or the added pastiche resounding throughout the set, Roxy’s first foray into the world of music was just dandy. Intentionally and tantalisingly left out of the original LP, the single `Virginia Plain’ – almost overnight – launched the band into pop stardom and managed to breach the upper echelons of the UK charts. Later editions of their Top 10 debut included the classic 45; Rik Kenton would play bass, although a series of temps (John Porter was the next in line) filled-out the group’s subsequent recordings.
The first of these, `Pyjamarama’ (another non-LP anomaly), again took the UK charts by storm, obliging an eager audience to purchase the group’s sophomore set, FOR YOUR PLEASURE (1973) {*9}, complete with S&M cover shot. Juxtaposing the ironic wig-out of tracks like opener `Do The Strand’ and `Editions Of You’ with the atonal desolation of `In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ (the story of a man’s lust for an inflatable doll), the album distilled the essence of Ferry’s original vision. Without a weak song on show (although `Grey Lagoons’ was a contender!?), the pleasure was indeed the listeners courtesy of the set’s more lengthy excursions, `The Bogus Man’ (all 9 minutes of it) and the shimmering closing title track. The enigmatic ENO left soon afterwards, his more extreme experimental leanings at odds with the alt-pop direction in which Ferry wanted to take the band. Roxy fans in the know considered this as the first nail in the coffin of one of rock’s most promising acts.
BRYAN FERRY also began a solo career around this time, which he ran in tandem with the band’s more sublime releases. An album of cover versions, `These Foolish Things’ (1973), was one for the frontman’s flourishing female fanclub, although Roxy’s male maelstrom were seeing signs of self-indulgence and sell-out.
ROXY MUSIC, meanwhile (discarding their short-lived policy of non-LP hits), re-booted their musical manifesto with another Top 10 hit, `Street Life’, an ambiguous and discordant pop 45 and the first to feature ENO’s replacement, violinist/keyboard-player Eddie Jobson; formerly of one-hit-wonders CURVED AIR. Parent album, STRANDED (1973) {*8} went straight to No.1 – a record less confrontational and more assured in terms of songwriting. The cool persona of Ferry excelled once again as the haunting romanticism of `Mother Of Pearl’ and the sweeping grandeur of `A Song For Europe’ (penned with Mackay) set the template and tone. Swathed with layers of Manzanera’s dreamy riffs and Jobson’s piano rather than ENO’s synths, the set’s character was in its rhythm, cohort Phil’s contribution `Amazona’ another highlight alongside the passion-fuelled crescendo-esque 8-minute `Psalm’ and subdued curtain-closer `Sunset’.
By the following summer, FERRY had yet another solo covers album on the shelves: `Another Time, Another Place’ (1974). It was apparent that the crooner had other prospects in mind.
More on the side of elegant rather than glam (and featuring a soft-porn shot on the cover), Top 3 set (and first to breech the US Top 5) COUNTRY LIFE (1974) {*7} saw the band in rock-out mode on tracks like `The Thrill Of It All, while still buffing the sound with an ironic sheen. With Manzanera or Mackay sharing songwriting duties with their well-groomed leader, Roxy smouldered throughout the string-laced pop-rock of hit single `All I Want Is You’ and `Out Of The Blue’. Like the male equivalent to Marlene Dietrich, Ferry dispatched songs such as `Bitter Sweet’, the medieval-tinged `Triptych’ and the LOU REED-esque `Casanova’, while the glam generation was gliding out of vogue.
Despite the promising near chart-topping “disco”-fied single `Love Is The Drug’ also hitting pay-dirt in America, album number five SIREN (1975) {*6} was found wanting; the cover shot was of Bryan’s girlfriend-to-be Jerry Hall. While the mainman’s studied musings sounding jaded, there was little charm or bite outside of pop-rock pieces `Both Ends Burning’ (a second Top 30 smash), `Whirlwind’ and `Sentimental Fool’. It was no surprise then that less than a year later, the band split, leaving behind a contractual live set (recorded at the Apollo in Glasgow) entitled VIVA! ROXY MUSIC (1976) {*6}; MACKAY, MANZANERA and Jobson (the latter to FRANK ZAPPA) carried on with their individual projects.
FERRY, meanwhile, concentrated on his burgeoning solo career, hitting Top 5 with the funky `Let’s Stick Together’ (an re-vamp of Wilbert Harrison’s `Let’s Work Together’ made famous by CANNED HEAT), following it up with a good-time album of the same name.
Returning to the fold after nearly four years on the hike, a re-vamped ROXY MUSIC were back on the scene. Sparked by Top 40 indent `Trash’, MANIFESTO (1979) {*6} heralding a smoother, cleaner sound with the emphasis on Ferry’s wistful crooning. Subsequent remixes `Dance Away’ and `Angel Eyes’ were the first in a string of tortured and lovelorn disco-fied pop nuggets that breached the upper reaches of the charts at the turn of the decade; the album takes were invariably different. FLESH + BLOOD (1980) {*5} extended the seductive formula to kick-start the 80s. Basically Ferry in all but name (Messrs ROXY MUSIC reduced to his backing band), the conveyor-belt of top hits continued via `Over You’, `Oh Yeah (On The Radio)’ and `Same Old Scene’, while there were blood-curdling versions of The BYRDS’ `Eight Miles High’ and WILSON PICKETT’s `In The Midnight Hour’ to sink one’s teeth into – aaargh!
Better by far and a proper tribute to its assassinated scriber, JOHN LENNON, `Jealous Guy’ actually became “the band’s” first UK No.1 single.
1982’s AVALON (*7} was, as its predecessor, another chart-topper, a finely-honed and exquisitely melody-driven set – a quintessentially 80s piece of synthesized sophistication which inspired many cool “futurist” and “new romantics” bands of the era. From FM-friendly hits such as `More Than This’, `Avalon’ and `Take A Chance With Me’, the new-look ROXY MUSIC had learned from their recent misgivings and reached out to the fickle but sophisticated post-disco yuppie. Having finished with MICK JAGGER-bound Jarry Hall, Bryan married model Lucy Helmore on the 26th of June ’82. On these er… high notes, Ferry disbanded ROXY MUSIC toward the end of the year and resumed his solo career, carving out a niche as a purveyor of refined, complex adult-orientated pop. No change there then.
With action speaking louder or more than words, rumours were rife of a post-millennium ROXY MUSIC reunion. With secretive rehearsals by Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay and Thompson out of the way, live shows around the globe between June 17 and October 2, 2001 showed that they’d never been forgotten. To mark this 30th Anniversary, a double-set simply entitled LIVE (2003) {*7} was delivered a little too late to gain ultimate exposure.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-MCS // rev-up MCS May2012-Oct2014

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