The - - Re-made/Re-modelled - Sun 27th Nov

The - - Re-made/Re-modelled
27 November 2005




I'M DREADING the new Roxy Music album and I'm thrilled about it. These are complex feelings and I'm trying to convey them to Phil Manzanera, guitarist in Roxy, he of the scary insect-like glasses, who has a solo record to promote but is kindly indulging this fan - no, Roxy have aficionados - and emerging as the first in the band to discuss the reunion.

"We're full of trepidation, too," he says. "We want it to be really good and we're aware that recent records by the likes of Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones have not been well received. We're from the generation behind them but the dilemma for us is the same: rock was supposed to finish for you when you reached your 30s. If you don't die before you get old, what are you supposed to do?

"I'm 54 now and I've just been helping out on Dave Gilmour's new album, which will be the 43rd of my career. The 44th should be another Roxy one. I say 'should' because we'll only release it if we're happy with it. We've already recorded nine songs and I'm very excited about them. There were two more obvious routes open to us: re-hash or just give up. But we're intrigued by what artists of 30 years' standing who were once called avant-garde might still have to say. There has to be that risk, that element of danger, if you're going to produce good work, and Roxy have always had a very complicated dynamic."

He can say that again. There was Manzanera in those bug specs. Andy Mackay wore breeks of a dimpled Dalek design. Eno (the Brian was added later) favoured feather-boas. Paul Thompson (his name was soon prefaced with "The Great..." by the NME) sported tiger-skin. And of course Bryan Ferry (Brain Fury, Byron Ferrari ... the music mag's nicknames were endless) married fashion with rock like none before or since.

No other band looked like Roxy. Crediting your stylists ("Hair by Smile") was unheard of in 1972, a very denim and cheesecloth year, and was tantamount to an admission of homosexuality. And the best way of checking that you weren't gay was to lay on your bedroom floor and study the Roxy cover-girls for a whole afternoon.

Other groups didn't sound like them either. When you turned Amanda and Kari-Ann over, the early albums' gatefold sleeves revealed that Mackay not only played saxophone but oboe, while Eno was "synthesiser and tapes". How on earth did you "play" tapes? No matter. It was, as Ferry warbled in 'Do The Strand', a new sensation, a fabulous creation. The timing of the reunion is impeccable. Pop-culture pundits acclaim Roxy as the most influential British band since The Beatles. One of them, Michael Bracewell, is writing a book celebrating a whole movement and calling it Roxyism. These days Roxy get more namechecks than they used to give hairdressers, and from no one more than Franz Ferdinand.

Manzanera's three children love FF and he's impressed. "I like their style. I don't think they sound especially like Roxy but the link is there in the things they say, their approach, their attitude. We were an art band influenced by the Velvets and Franz Ferdinand seem to have that baton now.

"They're drawing from a wide backdrop of art, the guitarist [Nick McCarthy] has a pop sensibility - we were similarly unsnooty - and Alex's [Kapranos] lyrics really stand out. His take on things is similar to that of a young Bryan Ferry. They've invited me to their London show this month."

MANZANERA HAS vivid memories of the first time he encountered the trainee lounge lizard. "I had a different trajectory to Bryan and the rest of Roxy. I was younger, they'd all been to university. They had bank accounts and cars - I was impressed by that - and they seemed like special people.

"A scene was already building. Young designers waiting to make their mark like Anthony Price were friends of the band. Anthony made my glasses and now he designs dresses for Camilla Parker-Bowles. Nick de Ville, our art designer - we had one of them, too - is now professor of visual art at Goldsmith's College, and Wendy Dagworthy went from creating the wonderful, way-out costumes for the For Your Pleasure cover to being head of fashion at the Royal College of Art. So you see the Roxy family spreads far and wide."

I'm pleased to report that Manzanera still has those mad specs. He recently loaned them and his entire For Your Pleasure rig out to Jarvis Cocker because the ex-Pulp frontman had, along with Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, won parts as rock musicians in the new Harry Potter movie and they wanted to look outré.

The Roxy family has indeed scattered and it's always been reckoned that Eno has drifted too far from the possibility of a reunion. "I try never to repeat anything," the sonic wizard told Scotland on Sunday earlier this year.

But Manzanera remains optimistic that while Eno wanted no part of Roxy's festivals tour in the summer, he can be lured back for the album sessions. "Eno was never designed to be in a rock band but if there's something creative going on...

"He's given us some songs for the new album and we hope that when we resume recording in the new year he'll come into the studio and twiddle a few knobs. He's a very cool guy and I understand his philosophy. But this is going to be different." A remade and remodelled Roxy, hopefully.

Manzanera got Eno - and Mackay and Thompson - to play on his new solo record, 50 Minutes Later, which includes a track called 'Technicolor UFO' describing how it all began for him. Born in Cuba during the revolution, he moved to London in time to bluff his way, under age, into the UFO Club for Pink Floyd's Technicolor Dream, a seminal Swinging Sixties moment.

True to his psychedelic influences, he prefers early Roxy - their sound later became "too smooth" - and so was thrilled to get the chance on the summer tour to perform the likes of 'The Bogus Man' for the first time in 23 years and also 'Pyjamarama', the great, lost second Roxy single they'd only ever played live once before.

"We can't be ground-breaking any more, but we can hopefully still be interesting, still be Roxy Music," he says.

Go for it, you crazy dilettantes. You always looked like the resident band at a cocktail bar on some far-off space-station 200 years from now. Your best may be yet to come.

50 Minutes Later (HNCD) is out now

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