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The Sun FEBRUARY 2, 2018 - by Simon Cosyns
"WE'D NEVER GET SIGNED TODAY": ROXY MUSIC OPEN UP ON THEIR CAREER AS DEBUT ALBUM TURNS 45
Bryan Ferry and Phil Manzanera talk formation of the band, inspiration, style and cinema
Phil Manzanera's eyes rest on a small ad on the back of the music paper Melody Maker.
The year is 1971 and he is a twenty-year-old hopeful looking for his big chance.
The ad seeks "the perfect guitarist for avant-rock group" and includes a long list of extravagant demands.
The ideal candidate needs to be "original, creative, adaptable, melodic, fast, slow, elegant, witty, scary, stable, tricky". No pressure, then.
Only "quality musicians" are asked to call the mysterious "Roxy" on 223 0296.
Today, Manzanera laughs at his first attempt to join Roxy Music, which involved a discreet invitation to a house in Battersea, South London, shared by singer Bryan Ferry and sax player Andy Mackay.
He says: "I said to myself, 'Yeah OK, I tick all of those boxes, I'm gonna ring up!' Of course, I failed the audition."
For a brief time, the job went to a rival called David O'List, who made a name for himself with prog-rockers The Nice.
"May I say that was the only bit of poor judgment on their part," decides Manzanera. "It took them two more months to realise I should be the person!"
He soon forged a reputation for sleek, daring, spontaneous contributions to Roxy Music and was perfectly suited to groundbreaking "avant-rock".
"I don't remember seeing that as a genre anywhere," he continues. "There was prog rock, there was psychedelia and they hadn't invented glam rock when I answered the ad in '71."
I'm talking to Ferry and Manzanera to celebrate fabulous forty-fifth-anniversary editions of the band's debut album, complete with live performances and revealing demos.
"Avant-rock" still sums up the outlandish Roxy Music. Their fusion of thrilling, experimental sounds and Bryan Ferry's cool, retro aesthetic with a whiff of sleaze made them revolutionaries.
This was the era of bombastic demin-clad rockers like Led Zeppelin and The Who, as well as cerebral, proggy noodlers such as Pink Floyd and Yes.
But the members of Roxy bonded over a shared love of The Velvet Underground, the dark, edgy New York band created by Andy Warhol and initially featuring the twin vocal talents of Lou Reed and German chanteuse Nico.
Manzanera says: "The Velvets used very few chords and the lyrical content was fantastic. They had such charisma and a beautiful siren in Nico.
"If you could look back at me in Command Studios, Piccadilly, in 1972, you would see a little bubble coming out of my head saying, 'Ah, I'm kind of in The Velvet Underground - what would they play?'"
With the glam-rock juggernaut just around corner, Roxy's appearance in Britain's pop landscape was perfectly timed.
Manzanera says: "David Bowie once said, 'There's high glam and there's low glam'. High glam was Bowie and us. As for low glam, I don't want to mention any names." (You can guess!)
And Ferry tells me: "I think we'd learnt a lot from various kinds of music from the past - but at the same time, we wanted to create something new.
"I was a big fan of cinema and found a lot of inspiration there, as you can see in the song 2 H.B.."
The lilting 2 H.B. is short for "To Humphrey Bogart" and employs the screen idol's immortal line from Casablanca: "Here's looking at you, kid."
While Chance Meeting represents one of Roxy's more experimental soundscapes, it is inspired by Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson's impossibly romantic '40s weepie Brief Encounter. The Bob (Medley), with its doo-wop elements, refers to the 1968 war epic Battle Of Britain.
Not only did Roxy offer Ferry's distinct, stylised vocals and Manzanera's elegant guitar licks, they employed the visionary synthesiser embellishments of Brian Eno and the dynamic squall of Andy Mackay's sax and oboe-playing.
When before had a rock band incorporated such an unusual orchestral instrument as the oboe in its aural chemistry?
The debut album line-up also included Ferry's "hipster" friend Graham Simpson on bass while the drummer was a product of another Melody Maker classified ad.
This one requested a "wonder drummer" for an "avant-rock team". It secured the services of the effervescent Paul Thompson.
Ferry assesses his cohorts like this: "Brian Eno was an essential part of the sound of Roxy and together we forged a great partnership.
"As well as playing keyboards and synthesizer, he treated and enhanced the sounds of the other instruments.
"Andy Mackay had a classical music background, which gave the group a sense of gravitas.
"Phil Manzanera was an adventurous guitarist and Paul Thompson played with a unique, soulful intensity.
"Graham Simpson, the bass player, was from a modern jazz background and was a fan of the beat poets.
"All in all, it was a rather unusual collection of talents..."
Manzanera summons memories from the whirlwind days after he joined Roxy Music.
"The week after I joined Roxy, the first contract was signed," he says. "Three or four weeks later, we're in the studio recording the first album.
"Eight weeks after that, it was in the Top Ten. Looking back on it, it was ridiculous, like Christmas every day."
With a Colombian mother and an English father, Manzanera had a "very different trajectory" to the "art-school types" in the band.
"Brought up in South America, I was very much the primitive guitarist but I just jumped in playing mad stuff with all these brainy people around me," he says.
"I was learning but proud to be part of it and just laughing along with everyone else. I felt I was being swept away by a phenomenon."
Returning to that fateful audition, Manzanera remembers first being in a room with Ferry, Mackay and Eno. "They were so cool. They're five years older and I thought they were very grown-up. Imagine if you're at school and you're twelve or thirteen and you're looking at the eighteen-year-olds. It's an enormous chasm.
"They had bank accounts, they were teaching, they had cars, they borrowed money for a little PA. I thought, 'Blimey!' I also knew these were all special people."
Being in Roxy Music didn't just mean making exotic sounds. The visuals were key - their super-hip clothes, their lavish make-up, the beautiful girls that adorned their album covers.
From the start, the stage outfits were styled by Antony Price, a close friend of Ferry and then an aspiring fashion designer.
He was responsible for the singer's tiger-print jacket, Manzanera's sparkly bug-eyed glasses and bequiffed Mackay's metallic-green bomber jacket.
Price went on to become a renowned "image maker" not only with Roxy but also with David Bowie and, later, Duran Duran.
Ferry says: "Antony helped us to put together the look for the first album. He had just graduated from the Royal College of Art and was totally in tune with the feeling of the time."
But did they feel like outsiders? "Yes, we did feel like we were on the outside of the music scene at the time," replies the singer.
"We thought our music would probably only appeal to a specialised audience. We were very surprised by our sudden success."
And what was the idea behind the album cover with its retro-styled pin-up picture of model Kari-Ann Muller?
"I thought it would be much more appealing to have a beautiful woman on the cover than a group shot of me and the band," says Ferry.
"I had studied at art school in Newcastle and was very influenced by American pop culture. I wanted something rather iconic and reminiscent of the images used in US advertising, such as Coca-Cola and Cadillac.
"The artwork we came up with seemed to have the same spirit as the music within."
As for the music, Ferry says: "It was the first time any of us had made a record and so it was a bit of an adventure for us all.
"Those early demos (now being unearthed from the vaults for the first time) were so much fun to make. There was no pressure and there seemed to be no rules."
Manzanera adds: "We were inspired amateurs but we wanted to be more professional. There were so many ideas and interesting things. If this band was trying to get signed today, it wouldn't have a chance.
"People wouldn't be able to say what the music's about. They'd go, 'What is that?' For me, it's a crazy mixture of all these people creating this incredible musical context for Bryan Ferry to be Bryan Ferry. You know - the weird voice and the good looks."
His favourite track is the album's opening blast Re-Make/Re-Model "that sort of sums us up in a witty way with that ending, three chords, a lot of attack, a lot of enthusiasm".
"Well, the thing about Eno is that he's exactly same person I met in 1972," says Manzanera. "It's absolutely wonderful that someone can stick to their vision.
"Over the years I've popped in to the studio when he's doing something and he'll look at me embarrassingly and say, 'Same old shit'.
"But all power to him and sticking with what he believed in. Eno said he was a small, mobile independent unit, not built to be in a band.
"He believed you can only take compromise to a certain point, then you self-combust."
One of Eno's greatest contributions to Roxy is his unforgettable synth part in vibrant single Virginia Plain, recorded after the debut album but included on later reissues.
Ferry says: "Just after we released the first album, the record company, Island Records, asked us if we had any other songs which might make a good single.
"I had this song called Virginia Plain which we quickly recorded and that became our breakthrough single. I remember how amazed we were when we heard it on BBC daytime radio as we were driving our van up the motorway to a gig."
More than four decades on, let's hear it again for the crazy, amazing Roxy Music.