Roxy Music

Roxy Music was an English art-rock band, led by singer Bryan Ferry, that emerged in 1972 with a self-titled album and the UK hit “Virginia Plain.” That and the 1973 followup, For Your Pleasure, feature keyboardist Brian Eno, who left for a solo career. They hired violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson for the 1973–75 albums Stranded, Country Life, and Siren, which spawned some of their best-loved material: “A Song for Europe,” “Mother of Pearl,” “The Thrill of It All,” “Out of the Blue,” “Sentimental Fool,” and “Love Is the Drug.”

During the band’s three-year hiatus (1976–78), the members engaged in side projects: reedist Andy MacKay scored music for ITV’s Rock Follies; guitarist Phil Manzanera engaged in group endeavors (Quiet Sun, 801) and issued three solo albums; and Ferry focused on his solo career.

In 1979, Roxy Music returned with the album Manifesto and the single “Angel Eyes.” Between 1980 and 1982, they released the albums Flesh and Blood and Avalon and scored hits with “Same Old Scene,” “Jealous Guy,” “More Than This,” and “Avalon.” After the 1983 live EP The High Road, they disbanded again but reunited as a touring act in the 2000s.

Members: Bryan Ferry (piano, keyboards, synthesizer, vocals), Andy Mackay (saxophone, oboe), Graham Simpson (bass, 1971-72), Brian Eno (synthesizer, 1971-73), Dexter Lloyd (drums, 1971), Roger Bunn (guitar, 1971), Paul Thompson (drums, 1971-80, 2001-11), Davy O’List (guitar, 1971-72), Phil Manzanera (guitar, 1972-2011), Rik Kenton (bass, 1972-73), John Porter (bass, 1973), Sal Maida (bass, 1973-74), Eddie Jobson (violin, synthesizer, 1973-76), John Gustafson (bass, 1973-76), Rick Wills (bass, 1973-75), John Wetton (bass, 1974-75), Gary Tibbs (bass, 1978-80), Paul Carrack (keyboards, piano, 1978-80), Alan Spenner (bass, 1978-83), Andy Newmark (drums, 1980-83)


Background

Roxy Music had its roots in The Gas Board, a late ’60s band formed at Newcastle University by singer Bryan Ferry and musicians Graham Simpson and John Porter. Ferry and Simpson formed a writing partnership.

After college, Ferry taught ceramics at an all-girl’s school. In early 1970, he auditioned for King Crimson to replace Greg Lake (who left to form Emerson Lake & Palmer). KC bandleader Robert Fripp and lyricist Peter Sinfield deemed Ferry unsuited to Crimson’s material but the two parties stayed in contact. Later that year, Ferry reconnected with Simpson and placed an ad for musicians.

Their first hire was Andy MacKay, a classically trained woodwindist who played in a sequence of bands (The Nova Express, Sunshine) while enrolled as a music and English lit major at Reading University. Just after joining Ferry’s band, MacKay had a chance train-stop encounter with Brian Eno, an enthusiast of electronic music who, despite no formal training, could handle synthesizers and reel-to-reel tape machines. They hired Eno as a sound technician and, soon enough, a full-fledged member.

The original sextet included guitarist Roger Bunn and drummer Dexter Lloyd. Bunn played on the first album by Pete Brown & Piblokto! (Things May Come and Things May Go, But the Art School Dance Goes on Forever) and released a solo album, Piece of Mind, earlier in 1970. Lloyd, a classically trained timpanist, hailed from Chicago but fled to the UK to avoid the draft.

Ferry and MacKay chose a band name by looking down a list of old cinemas. “Roxy” stood out because, in Ferry’s view, it conjured “faded glamour.” When they learned of the Canadian band named Roxy, they modified the name to Roxy Music. They gigged throughout 1971 and cut their first demo tape.

That spring, Lloyd departed (he later served as the principal timpanist in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra). Roxy Music hired Newcastle drummer Paul Thompson, who played in a slew of Tyneside beat acts (The Tyme, The Urge) and recently anchored The Influence, the starting vehicle of John Miles. After the late-summer departure of Bunn, Roxy placed an ad in Melody Maker for the “perfect guitarist,” which yielded ex-Nice member David O’List. Another applicant, Phil Manzanera, got hired as their roadie.

On January 4, 1972, the lineup of Ferry, MacKay, Eno, Thompson, Simpson, and O’List cut their first session for BBC Radio One DJ John Peel. They performed five Ferry originals that day: “If There Is Something,” “The Bob (Medley),” “Sea Breezes,” “Re-Make/Re-Model,” and “Would You Believe?” — live favorites that would later form the bulk of their debut album.

In February 1972, O’List quit after an altercation with Thompson (he later cut an album in Jet with ex-Sparks sidemen). Roxy hired Manzanera, who’d already learned their entire set, as their permanent guitarist.

Manzanera, a native Londoner, spent much of his childhood in Hawaii, Venezuela, Colombia, and Cuba, where he absorbed elements of musical exotica. As a teenage boarder at Dulwich College in east London, he formed a sequence of psych bands with his bassist friend Bill MacCormick, including Pooh & The Ostrich Feathers, which evolved into Quiet Sun with keyboardist Dave Jarrett and drummer Charles Hayward. They amassed a set of avant-garde jazz rock but made no recordings before MacCormick split to join Matching Mole, the post-Soft Machine project of Robert Wyatt.

Fripp recommended Roxy Music to EG Management, which signed the band in February 1972 and brokered their contract with Island Records.


The Eno Years: 1972–1973

Securing a deal with Island Records, the band debuted with Roxy Music (1972); a primitive yet ambitious offering on which lavish arrangements are corrupted with sonic dissonance. Songs like “Remake/Remodel” and “Sea Breezes” typify the melodic/fractious dichotomy, which the band rendered in compact form on the album’s followup single “Virginia Plain.”

Emerging at the height of rock’s embrace of pre-modernity, the band forged a decidedly post-Victorian aesthetic that mixed inner-war and space-age visuals with an alternately lavish/ominous sound, crossing lines between maximalism and minimalism.

On 1973’s sophomoric For Your Pleasure, the manic qualities of the debut are tempered with a stylized flamboyance while the band’s ominous leanings are given higher relief; a contrast shone by the theatrical camp of “Do the Strand” and the foreboding nature of “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.”

The Jobson Trilogy: 1973–1975

Shortly after the second album’s release, Eno left Roxy Music to launch a solo career. Replacing him was 18-year-old violin/keyboard prodigy Eddie Jobson, who arrived fresh from a stint with Curved Air, where he briefly deputized the role of Darryl Way.

The newcomer’s classical leanings are instantly felt on Roxy’s third album, Stranded (1973), which combs out the dissonance of prior releases while illuminating the band’s alternately romantic/decadent approach with cleaner production and tighter musicianship. The theatrical swagger of “Street Life” fortified Ferry’s metropolitan personae, while the longing melodrama of “A Song for Europe” instilled Continental sensibilities into thousands of young, chic aspirants.

Roxy Music’s newfound elegance reached its apex on Country Life (1974), where Ferry’s jet-setting croon is both propelled and provoked amidst the heady sweep of some of the band’s best-loved material, including the signature numbers “Out of the Blue” and “The Thrill of It All.”

The trajectory culminated in transatlantic triumph with 1975’s Siren, which hears Roxy crank the sonic heat on numbers like “Sentimental Fool” and “Both Ends Burning” while “Love Is the Drug” bespoke the carnal quest in the age of urban anonymity.

Initial Breakup

After promotions wrapped for Siren, the members got consumed with outside projects and Roxy Music informally folded. The 1973–75 live document Viva! Roxy Music appeared in mid-1976 to assuage public demand as Ferry focused on his solo career and Mackay wrote and produced the soundtrack to Rock Follies: a 1976 UK television drama about the fictionalized exploits of real-life singers Charlotte Cornwell, Julie Covington, and Rula Lenska. The success of the series and its soundtrack spawned a followup, Rock Follies of ’77. The saxist followed these efforts with the 1978 solo LP Resolving Contradictions.

Meanwhile, Manzanera reformed his pre-Roxy quartet Quiet Sun to dust off material for the 1975 release Mainstream. Concurrently, he launched a solo career with the Island release Diamond Head, followed by the 1977/78 titles Listen Now! and K-Scope. The last two feature contributions from Lol Creme in addition to Tim Finn and Eddie Rayner of Split Enz. Manzanera served as the Kiwi septet’s initial UK liaison and produced their Northern Hemisphere debut, Second Thoughts (1976).

Second Coming: 1979–1982

Roxy Music regrouped in late-1978, this time with ex-Vibrators bassist Gary Tibbs. Tempering their earlier dissonance, the band premiered a smoother sound on 1979’s Manifesto. The band further refined itself for the following releases Flesh and Blood (1980) and Avalon (1982). After promotions for the latter wrapped the following year, Roxy folded on a purportedly permanent basis, only to regroup for sporadic touring during the 21st century.


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