Seminal avant-rockers Roxy Music were noted as much for their outrageous stage presentation, which mixed urbane sophistication with gender-bending flamboyance, as their innovative music. Gigolo-suave frontman Bryan Ferry shared the spotlight during Roxy’s earliest years with the besequined and ostrich-feathered Brian Eno who, with tape loops and synths, kept Roxy firmly in the avant-garde. The band quickly became a sensation in their native Britain; the United States came around later, during a mellower incarnation. The group’s early work, however, in particular a string of four exceptional albums, established their enduring legacy. Rough Guide writer Chris Brook summed up the band’s work as “a fetishized projection of cinematic, rock ‘n’ roll and pop-art romanticism.” The group’s influence can be heard in the music of Pulp, Radiohead, Moby, and others.
Roxy Music was founded by Bryan Ferry, a miner’s son from the northeastern British city of Newcastle, who studied fine art at Newcastle University under the famed British pop artist Richard Hamilton. While there, Ferry played in an R&B band called the Gas Board with future Roxy bassist Graham Simpson. The two
Members include Brian Eno (group member, 1970-73), synthesizer; Bryan Ferry, vocals, keyboards; John Gustafson, bass; Eddie Jobson (joined group, 1973), violin; Andy Mackay, saxophone; Phil Manzanera (joined group, 1971), guitar; Paul Thompson, drums.
Group formed in London, England, 1970; released first album Roxy Music, toured U.S., 1972; released For Your Pleasure and Stranded, 1973; released Country Life, 1974, and Siren, 1975; group disbanded, 1976; group reunited, 1978; released Manifesto, 1979, Flesh + Blood, 1980, and Avalon, 1982; group disbanded, 1983; reunited and began touring, 2001.
relocated to London where Ferry auditioned with progrockers King Crimson as a possible replacement for the departing Greg Lake. Ferry did not get the gig, but he did make an impression on Crimson leader Robert Fripp that would benefit Ferry (and the nascent Roxy) later.
Ferry next teamed with the classically trained Andy Mackay, who had played oboe in the London Schools Symphony Orchestra and took up the saxophone while at Reading University, where he became interested in the works of John Cage and Morton Feldman. This interest in experimental music drew him into the orbit of Brian Eno, who had studied painting at art schools in Ipswich and Winchester. Eno told People contributor Arthur Lubow that he had begun “considering the paintings more like performance pieces.” While attending art school at Ipswich, Eno began experimenting with tape loops, and in a 1972 interview with Melody Maker’s Richard Williams, said, “I realized that there were certain areas of music you could enter without actually learning an instrument.” He became president of the Student’s Union at Winchester School of Art and used union funds to bring in avant-garde musicians as lecturers.
Andy Mackay invited Eno to join the newly formed Roxy, loaning him his VCS3 Synthesizer. In the 1972 interview, Eno told Williams, “At the moment, I’m mostly interested in modifying the sound of the other instruments. You get a nice quality—the skill of the performer, transformed by the electronics. Neither the player nor I know what each other is going to do—which means you get some nice accidents.”
The initial lineup included Ferry, Mackay, Eno, and Simpson, with Roger Bunn on guitar and Dexter Lloyd on drums. Lloyd soon left, replaced by Newcastle native Paul Thompson who responded to an ad in Melody Maker. “Wonder drummer required for avant-rock group.” Bunn was briefly replaced by David O’List, formerly of the Nice; at this time Phil Manzanera also became involved with the group. Manzanera, born in London to an English father and Colombian mother, had lived in Cuba, Hawaii, and Venezuela. He had formerly been in the prog-rock group Quiet Sun and originally signed on with Roxy as their sound mixer. When O’List left the band in early 1972, Manzanera quickly stepped in. Simpson also left the group, and his position was filled by a succession of different bass players. With Manzanera as guitarist, however, the core Roxy lineup was now in place.
The band began performing towards the end of 1971 and quickly created a sensation with both their music and appearance. Brook described an early Roxy performance: “Dressed like a sex-changed mermaid, Eno would electronically feed the instruments (including Ferry’s already mannered voice) through his synths while Ferry prowled the stage, orchestrating a sexy-tense, sneering vibrato. The band was a visual cacophony of satin and silver PVC, platform shoes, be-jewelled shades and leather cladding.”
At Robert Fripp’s suggestion, Roxy was taken on by E.G. Management, who also managed King Crimson and T-Rex. The band, billed with David Bowie and Alice Cooper, soon found themselves headlining on their own. The signed a record deal with Island Records and in June of 1972 released their self-titled debut, Roxy Music. The album’s cover art established what would become a trademark for the group: a glossy, high-fashion shot of a model. The album opened with “ReMake/Re-Model,” establishing the trademark interplay of Mackay’s sax and Manzanera’s guitar, Eno’s sonic fills and tape manipulations, and the ironic vocal stylings of Ferry. The album also included “2 H.B.,” Ferry’s homage to that other icon of sophisticated cool, Humphrey Bogart.
A single not included on the album, “Virginia Plain,” was released later that summer, a perfect interplay of the band members’ individual strengths; it reached number four on the British charts. Legendary deejay John Peel became an early champion of the band, and they were soon playing to packed houses. An American tour was quickly arranged and the band embarked on what would become an ill-fated venture, opening for incompatible groups such as Jethro Tull, Steve Miler, Humble Pie, Edgar Winter, and Jo Jo Gunne.
In early 1973 the group recorded their second album, For Your Pleasure, which included “Do the Strand,” “Editions of You,” and “In Every Dream Home a Heart-ache.” Brook described the title track, which closed the album, as “Eno’s finest hour with the band: using primitive tape loops and found sounds, he created an awe-some sonic landscape for Ferry’s strangest prose to linger.”
Roxy released another single, “Pyjamarama,” which they recorded at the start of the For Your Pleasure sessions. The song quickly climbed the charts, and Roxy embarked on their first European tour in February 1973, touring the United Kingdom in March and April. During this period, Ferry’s persona was becoming that of a sophisticated crooner, complete with white tux and bow tie. There were inevitable tensions within the band as Ferry and Eno, competing for prominence, also clashed on musical direction. In the summer of 1973, Eno announced that he was leaving, as Brook noted, “his fervent experimentalism having become incompatible with Ferry’s smoother aspirations.” Guardian writer Dave Simpson noted, some 29 years after the fact, that “in Roxy Music, the svelte, louche frontman, felt threatened by this wild, androgynous synth creature in peacock feathers, who had his own following.” In a 1979 interview published on the Hyperreal website, Ferry said, “I was cramping Eno’s style. Two non-musicians in a band is one too many.” In September of 1973, Ferry released his first solo single, a cover of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” followed by his solo album These Foolish Things, released in October.
With Eno’s departure, Ferry brought in violinist Eddie Jobson. The group recorded Stranded in September, their first album without Eno, which includes “Street Life,” “A Song for Europe,” and “Mother of Pearl.” The album reached number one on the United Kingdom charts. Roxy closed the year having been voted “best new act” in a Melody Maker readers’ poll.
After his departure Eno wasted no time, releasing a series of extraordinary albums and establishing himself as one of the most important producers of his era, working with David Bowie, Talking Heads, and U2 on some of their most challenging and successful works. In addition, he almost single-handedly founded a new genre of music, releasing pioneering works in what has come to be known as ambient music.
In 1974 Ferry released his second solo album, Another Time, Another Place, which included his cover of “The In Crowd.” That fall he and Roxy recorded their fourth album, Country Life, which featured a risqué cover that caused a considerable scandal. This release was preceded by a single, “All I Want Is You,” which high-lighted Manzanera’s guitar histrionics. The album itself contained some of their finest efforts, including “Thrill of It All,” “Casanova,” and “Prairie Rose.” Brook describes this album, as “a last blast of the real Roxy Music.” Country Life reached number four on the United Kingdom charts and was their first to break into the American top 40.
Siren, Roxy’s follow-up, was recorded in the summer of 1975. A transitional album, it marked a departure from the group’s more experimental origins. It included “Love Is the Drug,” which became a radio staple in the United States. The band, however, had begun to seem like a parody of itself and dissolved in 1976. Ferry released his third solo album Let’s Stick Together, which included rerecordings of “2 HB,” and “Casanova.” A fourth solo effort, In Your Mind, was released in 1977, followed by 1978’s The Bride Stripped Bare.
Two years after their split, Roxy reunited. They returned to the studio and in March of 1979 released Manifesto. The album picked up where the group had left off, moving in a quieter direction, away from their edginess and experimentation. Manifesto was their best-selling album to date in the United States and included the single “Dance Away.” Flesh + Blood, released in 1980, continued down the road toward “easy listening” and included a strangely lifeless version of “Eight Miles High.” Roxy’s music began to sound more like Ferry’s solo material as evidenced by the 1981 single “Jealous Guy.”
This trend reached its apogee with 1982’s Avalon. The title track and standout cuts “More Than This” were polished, but somewhat dull, gems. Although album sales were good and critical reaction was also positive, Roxy once again disbanded. Ferry continued to produce solo albums, including 1985’s Boys and Girls and 1987’s Bete Noire. Taxi, a collection of covers, was released in 1993, followed by Mamouna, in 1994. He recorded another collection of standards, As Time Goes By, in 1999.
In 2001 Roxy reunited for their first tour since 1983. Original band members Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera, and Ferry revisited past glories, including “Virginia Plain” and “Do The Strand.” Their live show included songs from all eight of their studio albums. Frantic, a Ferry solo effort from 2002, is significant in that it reunited former bandmates Ferry and Eno for the first time in almost 30 years.
Roxy Music, Island, 1972.
For Your Pleasure, Island, 1973.
Stranded, Island, 1973.
Country Life, Island, 1974.
Siren, Island, 1975.
Viva! Roxy Music: The Live Roxy Music Album, Atco, 1976.
Greatest Hits, Atco, 1977.
Manifesto, Polydor, 1979.
Flesh + Blood, Polydor, 1980.
Avalon, Polydor, 1982.
The Atlantic Years 1973-1980, Atlantic, 1983.
Heart Still Beating: Roxy Music Live, Virgin, 1990.
Ellingham, Jonathan, and Mark Ellingham, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, Ltd., 1996.
Guardian, April 19, 2002.
Melody Maker, July 29, 1972.
“Crimson and Roxy,” http://hyperreal.org/artists/brian_eno/roxym.html (July 9, 2002).
“Roxy Music,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists (July 9, 2002).
Roxy Music Archives, http://thewebgal.com/roxymusic (July 9, 2002).
Roxyrama! A Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music Archive, http://roxyrama.com (July 9, 2002).
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