Roxy Music Timeless Style - Thu 1st Feb

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Roxy Music Timeless Style
01 February 2001

By Jay Hedblade of The Illinois Entertainer

Leaf through the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock 'N' Roll and you'll find nestled between Roxette (1989's #1 hit "The Look") and The Royal Guardsmen (1966's million seller "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron") a lengthy passage dedicated to Roxy Music. The band hardly holds its own in sales terms to the acts sandwiching them in the Encyclopedia: Roxy's highest charting single in the U.S., 1976's "Love Is The Drug," stalled at a mere #30, and their best U.S. selling album, 1978's Manifesto, managed an equally unimpressive peak at #23. Though Roxy Music's final studio release Avalon (1982) has over time become a million seller, the English band is hardly a household name.

Unless, of course, you talk to virtually any rock band that has emerged from Britain since the early 1970s. For those for whom music is less of a hobby and more of an obsession, Roxy Music embodies the best elements of rock 'n' roll: 1950s excitement, 1960s experimentation, the '70s extravagances, and the expressionism of the Thatcher-Reagan '80s. In their time, Roxy appealed to progressive rockers for their elaborate musicianship and punk rockers for both their sense of irreverence and their hodge-podge visual style. (In the '80s, when Roxy Music adopted a sleek, chic sense of dress, bands such as Duran Duran and ABC quickly copied it.) To match the impossibility of equal adoration from such divided and aggressively warring factions, you'd have to find common ground between Israelis and Palestinians.

Therefore, with the inclusion of Bowie, Roxy Music represented the apex of British rock in the early-to-mid-1970s, and they commanded a degree of reverence well into the next decade. As singer and primary songwriter Bryan Ferry lead the band from their campy, self-titled glam rock debut through heavier and ambitious projects such as 1974's Country Life and on to their highly sophisticated and elegant swan song Avalon, Roxy Music maintained a level of excellence that's hard to match. And despite America's inability to come to grips with them, their legacy is still rippling through the world of rock.

After an 18-year hiatus, Roxy Music is about to embark on a world tour that will take in the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Japan, and Europe. Their back catalog has just received a much-needed remastering and reissuing in the U.K., while the U.S. will see a definitive "Best Of" that encompasses hits and key album tracks for a new generation of listeners. It all comes, appropriately, as a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the band's inception. According to founding guitarist Phil Manzanera, who along with Ferry and sax player Andy Mackay is one of the three members to appear in every configuration of Roxy's widely varied lineup, this renewed interest in the band is as much of a surprise to him as it is to the fans.

"I must say, over the years I wondered whether it would ever happen again," Manzanera says fresh from a hard day of rehearsal, "but there was always a sense of unfinished business amongst us. We left on a high note in 1982 with Avalon, but it was always the way with Roxy that there would be comings and goings. This coming together just took a lot longer."

Eighteen years to be precise. Long enough for even the most ardent fans to have come to terms with the fact that the band was broken up for good. Yet Manzanera maintains that it was simply a matter of logistics - not animosity - that kept Roxy Music away for so long.

"It was a desire to go off and do solo projects," he says. "We really didn't say 'we're going to split up' after Avalon. Bryan just went off and started doing his next solo album and said, 'let's get together in a few years time.'"

Which turned into five Ferry solo albums at a snail's pace, and no sign of a Roxy reunion. Manzanera and Mackay worked together as The Explorers in the early '80s, and as the eponymous Manzanera And Mackay in the late-'80s. In between, they both also released solo material and secured copious amounts of session and live work, further keeping Roxy at bay.

After so much time apart, one wonders why Roxy Music has decided to set things in motion again. Cash is the obvious answer. Though the world tour is certain to be lucrative, Manzanera offers another reason that, unlike the rationale for many groups who mend fences and hit the comeback trail, makes a certain amount of sense.

"You listen to the radio and you hear one or two tracks played all of the time, and then you think, 'Hey, what about the other 95 songs we recorded?' We thought, if we don't play these songs, who the hell's going to play them? We'll die and they'll never be heard again, so we'd better be our own tribute band! Then the offer came and we couldn't think of a reason not to do it."

That offer, however, didn't appear to be extended to original keyboardist-cum-musical innovator and producer Brian Eno. Seen by many to have been a key ingredient in Roxy's early success, Eno's appearance on the tour would have turned the event of a Roxy reunion into a full-blown extravaganza. Manzanera is a bit sheepish when asked about Eno's no-show. "To tell you the truth, we didn't actually ask him, but we thought about it. Then we found ourselves at the press launch with people saying, 'Is Eno doing it?' and we looked at each other and said, 'Oh, shit! I thought you were going to ring him!'

"We all wondered if perhaps he hated the later stuff that he wasn't a part of," Manzanera continues. "We were all a bit afraid to ring him, I think. It's a bit embarrassing for all of us, because we would love for him to be a part of it. He's not really the kind of person to go out on a big tour any more, as Bryan asked him a couple of years ago to do something live and he said, 'No. I'm a studio animal these days. I don't do live.' But if he'd only turn up and go on with us somewhere, we would love it and the audience would love it."

As a sort of consolation prize, the touring ensemble will include original Roxy drummer Paul Thompson, legendary British session guitarist Chris Spedding, two percussionists, a harp player, and a female violinist, Lucy Wilkins, who, in Manzanera's words, "combines Eddie Jobson [Roxy alumni 1973-1975] and Eno in her sound - but looks a lot prettier!" In addition to Roxy classics such as "Virginia Plain," "Do The Strand," and "Out Of The Blue," the audience will also be treated to a variety of songs Manzanera says the band has never performed live, in large part due to technical limitations. "We'll play things like 'Oh Yeah' [from 1980's Flesh And Blood], which I couldn't remember a thing about; I had to go back and listen to it last week."

But the real question remains: will the band don any of the outrageous garb they so famously paraded upon their early record sleeves? Roxy wouldn't be Roxy without a hint of camp, after all.

"Do you mean the armadillo outfit I'm wearing on [1973's] For Your Pleasure?" Manzanera asks with a bountiful laugh. "Those clothes are laying around, and I'll tell you, I don't know how I got my legs into them. I can't get my elbow into them now!" But before all hopes are dashed, he adds in a hushed tone, "it's something that we're working on, but it will be a bit of a surprise. I'll say this: it will be very stylish."

That a Roxy Music tour would be replete with style was never in question, but seeing how America has recently become enamored with British acts that trade in moody, intricate songs (Doves, Coldplay, Radiohead, Travis, etc.), is it possible that Roxy Music might be considering recording again?

"Not that I know of," says Manzanera, but he admits they haven't ruled out the possibility. "We decided that we'd see how we felt at the end of the tour about doing something new. If we've enjoyed this experience, then we'll do it. One thing at a time!"

In any event, the mere fact that Roxy Music is reincarnated is reason enough for fans of the band to rejoice, and Manzanera concurs that the band that called themselves "inspired amateurs" upon their initial inception is something he still takes great pride in.

"I'm most proud of the fact that our music still has some sort of resonance," he says with humble reserve. "When I read in an article that Moby or Radiohead or someone has mentioned Roxy, I think it's amazing. We weren't, technically, incredibly proficient to begin with, but we had some ideas and a lot of enthusiasm. And I think that's the essence of rock and pop music; if you have an idea and do it with a lot of enthusiasm, you can be successful."

"Re-Make/Re-Model" the band proclaimed on the opening cut of their debut LP, but it appears for now that the essence of Roxy Music, like the tuxedos Ferry once cavorted on-stage in, remain classic and timeless. That's certainly more than we can say for Roxette or The Royal Guardsmen.

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