Roxy Music – Phil Manzanera on the 50th Anniversary Tour | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Roxy Music – Phil Manzanera on the 50th Anniversary Tour

Every Day is Christmas

Sep 09, 2022 Photography by Brian Cooke Web Exclusive
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It’s the news that their fans may not have dared to hope for. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of their debut album, Roxy Music—Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera, and Paul Thompson—have embarked on an arena tour that brings the band back together for the first time since their 2011 For Your Pleasure shows. The tour began this week in Toronto and will include 10 North American dates and three in the UK. With a catalog of music that spans from their self-titled 1972 debut album to 1982’s Avalon and singles including “Virginia Plain,” “Do the Strand,” “Love Is the Drug,” and “More Than This,” the setlists will be rich with options.

Speaking from his garden in West Sussex, England in August of 2022, guitarist Phil Manzanera shared plans for the anniversary tour. As he looked from Roxy Music’s current vinyl reissues back to the time when a young guitarist joined what was, for him, the next best thing to The Velvet Underground, Manzanera’s recollections of the excitement of Roxy Music’s early days and discussion of what lies ahead for the band revealed an infectious enthusiasm that would match any of their longtime fans.

Hays Davis (Under the Radar): How long has the band been planning for activity regarding the debut album’s 50th anniversary?

Phil Manzanera: Only since Christmas. I was down here in the countryside, and I’m about 10 minutes away from where Bryan Ferry lives when he’s down here, and I was doing a little bit of work with him on his solo project that he’s doing at the moment. We’re having a cup of tea and he said, “Do you fancy doing some gigs?” And I thought, “Well, this sounds great to me.” I suddenly thought about it. It’s our 50th. What else are we gonna do? [Laughs] We need to do something. And I think he’d had a request from his agent or something in America saying, “Would you like to come and do some gigs?” I said sure, I’m always up for doing things. And I rang Andy and Paul, and they were all into it.

We haven’t toured for 10 years and we haven’t been to America for 20 years as a band. Bryan’s done solo tours and I’ve been there with David Gilmour. But as Roxy, and because we haven’t done any Roxy tours for 10 years, we thought, “Wow, we’d better get a manager. We’d better get an infrastructure. There’s a lot to do.” [Laughs] We’re in the thick of it now. On Monday, start rehearsals. We got together and whittled down this song list from, like, 80 songs to 30 songs, and then we’ll start trying them out and see what works and what goes together to make a good show.

It’s great to see the new vinyl reissues rolling out. Prior to that, the super deluxe edition of the first album was beautiful. Are you considering something similar for any of the other Roxy albums?

Sure. Actually, the thing that took a long time on that first one was the book, which was really worth the wait. Brian Eno held the ship for that and spent a lot of time working on it, and he did a great job with his accomplices. It was frustrating that it took so long, but it was worth it in the end. We want to do it for For Your Pleasure and maybe for Avalon, but there’s just not enough years [laughing] to spend that amount of time getting it really good for all the other albums.

As you see these reissues being released, were there any albums that you feel may not have originally gotten quite the attention that you’d have liked when they first came out and that you’re glad to see brought back into the light?

Not really. It was what it was. Especially, for the first five albums, we were pretty lucky. We got good reviews and there were good songs on them. And then we had this time off, the first of the many time-offs, and when you get back together a lot of things had changed. A lot of water had gone under the bridge, and so it was almost like starting again. So, it took a bit of time to get from Manifesto to Avalon, to get to a completely different kind of album. The difference between the first album and Avalon is huge, and that reflects so much music that we’d all been involved in; not only Roxy music, but also around producing other people, working with loads of other musicians, and that changes it.

By the time we finished doing albums, which was quite prophetic that “More Than This”…that’s the lyric. [Laughs] And it pretty much is that. More than this, there’s no more albums. And Avalon, of course, was famously the resting place of King Arthur in the mythology. And so, to a certain extent, Avalon is the resting place of Roxy recordings. It’s a body of work that you’re very loathe to sort of touch that legacy.

Looking back to when the work first began on the first Roxy Music album, were there certain songs that, in hearing them come together, led you to feel that the band may be something special?

I went for audition to join the band, and I had heard a few of those tracks on the radio…well, no, had I? Maybe I hadn’t. No, I’m not sure whether I had, to tell you the truth. But when I met them, I knew these guys were special. Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay were a little bit older than me but they were very grown-up: they had bank accounts, they had cars. [Laughs] It was very cool. The material…I liked what they were all about, the concept of what they were all about, and the energy. I’d been playing a sort of prog-rock type music, so it was wonderfully liberating to really be…I felt as if I was joining The Velvet Underground, quite frankly. It was an arty sort of atmosphere/world. They’d all been to study fine arts, art school, universities, and into that jumped a primitive guitarist. [Laughs]

So, I loved all the material straight away. It had already been written when I turned up, and I was just in the right place at the right time. I happened to join a week before signing our first contract, the month before going into the studio. We just played three gigs, then went into the studio, and it was released eight weeks later, on the same day as Ziggy Stardust—David Bowie. The following week we were supporting David Bowie at a pub in Croydon, South London, and it was like Christmas every day. For me, it was just like being in the right place at the right time. I’d just turned 21. My dreams came true.

That’s a distinction I had not been aware of, that the first Roxy album was released on the same day as Ziggy Stardust.

I know! I only worked that out this year! When I looked at the dates and I started analyzing, I thought, “Oh my goodness. That is fate. That is so weird.”

Did any certain albums feel to you at the time like they were a particular achievement for the band?

Quite frankly, because of that very heavy schedule we had, just finishing an album was an achievement. [Laughs] Because the management, they would book tours and say, “Right. You’re recording from this date to that date. Then you go on tour”—like, three days later. And sometimes we’d go on tour when we hadn’t finished the album, so we’d have to drive back to London after every gig to keep finishing the album, then drive back after a gig playing the new material. And so it really was a non-stop rollercoaster. That was the big achievement. We didn’t have time to really think, “What have we done?” There was no long-term planning; it was like go, go, go. We felt like inspired amateurs, really. We had to play lots of gigs to get more professional, to just do loads and loads of gigs. Because we’d suddenly appeared out of nowhere and people expected us to live up to the hype, so we thought we’d better get good. [Laughs]

How soon after did you begin to see the impact of the band’s performance of “Virginia Plain” on Top of the Pops?

That was a great thing in England, in the U.K., is that Top of the Pops was the only program on the television for pop music. And if you got onto Top of the Pops you were guaranteed to get into the Top 20 the following week. So, everybody wanted to be on Top of the Pops. Even the bands who said they were never going to be on Top of the Pops ended up on Top of the Pops. [Laughs] There’s a lot of prog and heavy metal bands that said, “Oh, we’re too cool to be on Top of the Pops,” but then, once they’d been on it—forced to be on it by their record companies—they had hits, and it was like opening the door. So, we saw it almost immediately because people all over England saw us. That was the power of a centralized television network that everybody could get for free, and there’s one shot.

That’s where I saw Jimi Hendrix, on Top of the Pops. The first time I saw Jimi Hendrix I just ran to the screen, in 1967. I wanted to jump into the TV screen. “What was that? That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard.” And lots of people who formed bands say that when they saw us on Top of the Pops it was a changing moment for them. Especially a lot of gay people, guys and girls, they sort of went, “Wow, there’s people with extravagant outfits and all this kind of thing.” It sort of gives them permission, especially out of London, to actually just, “Yeah, okay, we can do that.” If you have some sort of role model…The Beatles were my role models, and then the Stones, and then Hendrix. If you have those sorts of people you can dream, and I think we had that effect, as did Bowie when he went on Top of the Pops in the same week.

Do you remember when you first started to see evidence of Roxy Music’s influence on other bands, whether that was musically or otherwise?

I don’t, actually. And over the years you see the name mentioned, and sometimes I look it and say, “Well, I don’t see how we could have possibly influenced them in any way, but hey, I’ll take it. That’s great. Thank you.” But it’s the kind of thing you think about when you read it and then you never think about it again because you’re always, all of us, are just looking forward to new music. We’re hardly ever looking backwards. Obviously, we’re having to now, [laughs] because it’s celebrating our 50th and we’re revisiting these songs, which we’re really, really enjoying playing. But as far as it’s normally, whether it’s Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, me, Andy Mackay, we’re always looking to a new musical project. On the same day that, a couple of weeks ago, I released a new project with Tim Finn called The Ghost of Santiago, and I looked at Twitter and there was Brian Eno announcing his new album, coming October. And Bryan Ferry’s just brought out something. And I thought, “Wow, we’re all still at it.” Because we’re into music.

As you found your own instrumental voice within the band and your own unique presence, what are some songs over the band’s lifetime, or albums, if that’s easier, that you look back on as some of your favorite performances as a guitarist?

For Your Pleasure, that was the last opportunity I got to play in Roxy with Brian Eno, and we used to do a thing where he used to treat my guitar. We used to have an interaction. So, at the end of “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” is one of those examples. At the end of the first album there’s the end of “Ladytron.” But then my guitar riff in “Amazona” on Stranded, I particularly like. There’s a solo at the end of a track called “Running Wild,” which is on the Flesh and Blood album. I really like that track. So, there’s bits and pieces all over the place.

Along with you, Bryan, Andy and Paul, was there any discussion of other earlier members being involved with the tour? That may be a bit of a thorny question…

It’s not. Obviously, it crossed my mind. We’re all friends with Brian Eno, for instance. He’s always stuck to his thing that he really shouldn’t have been in the band. He described himself as a small, independent, mobile unit. [Laughs] And he still is. He’s quite a unique character. He doesn’t really like being in a band, so I didn’t think that, really, there’d be a lot for him to do. He was very influential in those first two albums and the first two years, and of course I continued working with him for many years afterwards. But within Roxy…Roxy are 50 years old now; 48 years of those he wasn’t involved in it. From a live concept, it’d be great if he could come on and do a guest spot or something. That would be really good.

When we got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame we said, “We’re going over. Do you fancy going over?” He said, “I’m not flying any more for environmental reasons, so there’s no way I can go to New York. I’m very happy that I’m inducted as well.” And so we just had a nice conversation about it. So, I don’t think it would be appropriate for him, really, to do it. And then, Eddie Jobson, he came and played at the Hall of Fame, played some violin and keyboards. Again, that would be nice if he popped in or something. We haven’t gotten to that point yet because we’re just starting rehearsals. I would love it, quite frankly, if either of them just popped in.

Has it been easy to put together a list of songs considered for the tour? I can imagine everyone having their own ideas of what might be included that may not make it to the stage.

When I thought about it, I thought, “Well, we’ve done eight albums, so that’s, like, 80 songs. You can’t play 80 songs, so let’s try and choose a manageable number that we can rehearse, so we’ve got it down to, like, 30 songs.” You can’t play 30 songs; otherwise, people with kids will lose their will to live at a concert, probably. You’ve just got to get it right. So maybe there’s between 15 and 18 songs, it’s probably a couple of hours, we will now try out and maybe swap out songs at different gigs and see what they sound like now.

It’s like taking this wonderful, beautiful vintage car out for a spin. You say, “Shall I go at 70 miles an hour or shall I go at 30 and just cruise and dig the fins and just enjoy the ride, and then put it back in the garage and put the cover on it and look at it every now and again?” Roxy’s a bit like that for me. So, we’ve got to get in the car—to continue this metaphor—crank up the engine, see how it’s bearing, see how the wheels are. [Laughing] Give it a polish.

Is it too early to consider any Roxy activity that might continue after the tour?

We don’t know. With COVID and everything it was like doomsville. Everyone thought, “Oh, we’ll never be able to tour again.” When things opened up a bit it was, “Ooh, wouldn’t it be great to go and do some gigs, because it’s possible?” Let’s go one step at a time. Let’s see how we get on and how we enjoy it. We want to go enjoy it, want to make it a fun evening, and if we achieve that then we’ll be happy. And if someone says, “Oh, do you want to do another gig somewhere,” we’ll probably say yes. At the moment there’s just these gigs in America, 10, and three in the U.K., and that’s it.

Roxy Music 2022 Tour Dates:

09/07 - Scotiabank Arena - Toronto, ON
09/09 - Capital One Arena - Washington, DC
09/12 - Madison Square Garden - New York City, NY
09/15 - Wells Fargo Center - Philadelphia, PA
09/17 - TD Garden - Boston, MA*
09/19 - United Center - Chicago, IL
09/21 - Moody Center - Austin, TX
09/23 - American Airlines Center - Dallas, TX
09/26 - Chase Center - San Francisco, CA
09/28 - The Forum - Los Angeles, CA
10/10 - OVO Hydro - Glasgow, UK
10/12 - AO Arena - Manchester, UK
10/14 - The O2 - London, UK

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