On July 2nd, 1973, Brian Eno left his formative band Roxy Music after only being with the band for their first two albums.
Known simply as Eno at the time, he held a peculiar position in the band. While most synthesiser players of the late 1960s and early ’70s would typically be positioned on the fringes of the stage, Eno was placed further forward, colourfully competing with frontman Bryan Ferry for the lion’s share of attention.
As his stage position would reflect, Eno’s role as synth player was much more involved than his counterparts in other contemporary art-rock acts. Throughout their eponymous first album and the masterpiece second album, For Your Pleasure, Eno was there to add seasoning to the recipe. Most of the band’s early hits would work their way into a frenzy of otherworldly soundscapes courtesy of Eno.
Another thing to note about the early incarnation of Roxy Music is their fashion choices. While Bryan Ferry stands clad in leopard print coats and eyeliner, crooning to the doe-eyed ladies of the audience like a siren to seamen, Eno seemed to one-up him with an even more ostentatious display. Eno’s look was much stranger; his long hair and flamboyant costumes made him appear as an elegant peacock of sorts.
The musician’s appeal generated a personal following that stood to detract from Ferry and the rest of the group. This, among other factors, began to drive a wedge between Eno and a future with Roxy Music. It seems that the band was only big enough for one Bry(i)an.
“It’s very hard to know just how honest I should be about the reasons for my demise from Roxy,” Eno told Melody Maker at the time. “The problem is that when it gets printed, it all seems to look much more meaningful and serious when unqualified by that chuckle at the back of the throat. I started off by wanting to call a press conference so that I could state my case, but that’s all so pointless.”
“Another reason for my reticence,” Eno added, “is because I don’t want to damage Roxy for the sake of the other people in it. I mean, I really like the other members, and I really like Bryan [Ferry], in a funny way.”
The friction ground between Ferry and Eno, especially while the band were working on For Your Pleasure. The pair had enough youthful ego betwixt them for a few rock bands, let alone just one. With Ferry as the chief songwriter and creative director, any moves from Eno to scratch his own creative itch were duly blocked. The friendly rivalry would simmer as they fought for the spotlight on stage and the females backstage.
As it transpires, Roxy music’s management at the time pushed for Ferry to take centre stage. “He was pushed to do it by the management,” guitarist Phil Manzanera told writer David Buckley in the Roxy Music biographical The Thrill of It All. “I remember the first time we did Top of the Pops and Eno being terribly upset because the only thing you saw of Eno is his glove, which was a terrible waste.”
If one of the two had to leave the group, it had to be Eno. Roxy Music was Ferry’s band; he wrote the bulk of the material and directed their vision. However, fans and critics gave Eno a similar level of attention due to his self-confidence and peacocky allure. “I didn’t really like the interview process,” Ferry said in The Thrill of It All. “I used to be really tongue-tied. Brian, of course, had confidence in spades.”
Eno added: “It was a typical clash of young male egos. What had happened was that because I was visually so bizarre-looking, I got a lot of press attention. I made good photographs. That distorted the impression of where the creative leadership of the band was. It was definitely Bryan’s band.”
Roxy Music played one final gig with Eno in June 1973 at the York Festival. The devout Eno fans began shouting disrespectfully over Ferry’s vocals prompting Eno to leave the stage in an effort to placate the situation. Ferry never confronted Eno about the incident, and eventually, Eno decided to leave of his own accord.
“I was pissed off at the subterfuge and wanted Bryan to actually say it to my face,” Eno argued, “but he didn’t. So eventually, I just said, ‘Okay fuck it, I’m leaving.’” The band officially announced his departure a few weeks later, on July 21st, 1973, in Melody Maker.
As they say, all’s well that ends well. Eno split off into a solo career like no other, creating pioneering ambient music and experimental rock as well as collaborating with the likes of David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2 on some of their finest albums. Meanwhile, Ferry and Roxy Music continued to impress with a further six albums, drawing to a conclusion with 1982’s Avalon.
Watch Roxy Music’s 1972 performance of ‘Ladytron’ on BBC’s The Old Grey Whistle Test below.