I’ve been blogging now for nearly two years and I realised I’ve never written a post entirely devoted to my all-time favourite pop/rock singer and band, namely Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. It seems like a good moment to do so as I believe a new Roxy album is imminent as opposed to another solo album, although either is always an appreciated addition to my music collection. The last solo album was “Frantic” which, rightly or wrongly, and knowing Bryan’s penchant for cinema, I’ve always assumed was named after the Roman Polanski movie starring Harrison Ford. The last studio Roxy Music album though was “Avalon”, now a quarter century old!
This post is also timely in that it’s an opportunity to let you know that Mr Ferry can be seen in concert on BBC1 this coming Friday at 11.15pm. The listings describe him as ex-Roxy which I can only hope is poor research on the part of that magazine’s compiler. Anyway, if you’re going out, set your VCRs! It’s only fifty minutes long but, nonetheless, very welcome. I do hope he performs some lesser-known songs, even some rarities would be nice, but I’m sure the programme will also include the better known hits such as “Let’s Stick Together” and, of course, “Love is the Drug”. Get ready to click your fingers to, “Late at night, I parked my car, Made my way to the singles bar…”
I could write a book on Roxy Music’s early history as they were as important to me in the Seventies as “Doctor Who” and the puppet shows of Gerry Anderson had been in the Sixties. Back in 1972, everything about the group seemed unusual which is probably what initially attracted me to them. Bryan Ferry was the singer of course, dabbling a little on keyboards, while the rest of the line-up included Phil Manzanera on guitar, Andy Mackay on oboe and saxophone, Brian Eno on synthesiser and Paul Thompson on drums. Roxy had no regular bass player. They had street cred but also an air of sophistication and it was the combination of the two that was so intoxicating.
The band signed to Island records better known as a reggae label! They released their eponymously-titled debut album before the first single. Usually a single is released a fortnight in advance as a promotional trailer for the longer work. And when the single was released, it wasn’t taken from the album. Perhaps not as business-minded back then, Ferry included no singles on either of the first two albums. In fact only four singles can be found on the first five studio albums before the band took a break from recording together. That first 45, “Virginia Plain”, was such a radical departure from anything else around at the time, even Bowie and Bolan, that I was instantly attracted to this sonic explosion.
“Pyjamarama” followed, as did a second album “For Your Pleasure” and indeed it was and still is! This record is regarded as their classic. It contains “Do the Strand” and “Editions of You”, released as a double a-sided single in the rest of Europe, as well as “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” and that’s even before you flip the LP over! It was also the last to feature Brian Eno before he left to pursue a solo career beginning with “Here Come the Warm Jets”. Meanwhile, Bryan Ferry started a solo career, to run alongside the band’s releases, allowing him to record other people’s songs, cover versions - but not the production-line pap normally associated with that term. Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” was the debut single taken from the album “These Foolish Things”.
Eddie Jobson of rock band Curved Air was recruited as a replacement for Eno, a more classically accomplished musician and violin and keyboard virtuoso. He was always cited as a proper member of the band but I’m not sure he really wasn’t a session musician. He stayed for the next three albums, “Stranded”, “Country Life” and “Siren”. Johnny Gustafson played bass on these, also, and was definitely a session player as when they toured “Country Life”, for example, ex-King Crimson bassist John Wetton took his place. Ironic, as, pre-Roxy, Bryan failed an audition to join Crimson. “Street Life” and “All I Want is You” were the third and fourth singles, from the third and fourth albums respectively. Two singles were released from “Siren”, “Love is the Drug” and “Both Ends Burning”.
Ferry followed up his first solo album with “Another Time, Another Place”, another record of cover versions but for the title track. Already the differentiating factor between solo and group career was beginning to erode. Two singles were released from this opus, “The In Crowd” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”. This period in Roxy’s history came to a close with a live album, “Viva! Roxy Music”, and a “Greatest Hits” collection including the first two singles on a long-player for the first time. They were reissued as a double a-sided single in the UK. By this time, both Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera also had solo projects underway so there was much material to keep the enthusiast happy.
Several years passed and Roxy eventually reformed to record three more albums. I caught them live, for a third and final time, on their “Manifesto” tour which they followed up with “Flesh and Blood” and “Avalon”, a highly polished swansong but a far cry from the sound with which they started out. Hits were aplenty including “Trash”, “Dance Away” and “Avalon” but, ironically, considering other people’s songs had previously been the province of Bryan’s solo work, Roxy Music’s only number one was a cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”! Drummer Paul Thompson had by now departed to run an antique firearms shop leaving the core trio of Bryan, Andy and Phil to conclude the second era of one of the most musically interesting bands of all-time, Roxy Music.