Remembering Roxy Music and their unstoppable performance on Musikladen in 1973
Bryan Ferry’s Roxy Music is one of those bands that are simply impossible to pin down. Their brand of space-tinged, twisted and glamorous rock and roll set tongues a-wagging when they first landed on our screens and stereos in the early seventies.
In a world where hippies were only just beginning to find themselves jobs, Ferry’s band offered something completely original and would’ve looked like proverbial aliens when landing on German show Musikladen in 1973.
Arriving with their debut track ‘Virginia Plain’ (a song about a painting of a packet of cigarettes) they tore open the idea of ‘rock and roll’ and added a heavy dose of glitter atop some antennae, placed them on their heads and made it a style of their own. They shocked everyone.
The band were, in truth, bringing the sound of tomorrow with them. The countless, and we mean countless, acts which were influenced by Roxy Music were listening and learning, they would go on to form the musical landscape of the future. Not just the glam rock of Bowie, (with whom the group shared friendly rivalry), nor the shimmy and shake of more modern acts—Roxy Music were trendsetters before that was even a word.
The group was originally comprised of Bryan Ferry (vocals, keys, and chief songwriter), Graham Simpson (bass), Phil Manzanera (guitar), Andy Mackay (saxophone and oboe), Paul Thompson (drums and percussion), and last but not least, Brian Eno (VCS3 synthesizer, tape effects, backing vocals) one of the most mercurial musicians around.
Despite coming from a working-class background Ferry appreciated the more audacious parts of life. Not content with rock and roll, his mother took him to a Bill Haley gig in the 50s, Ferry preferred jazz and soul with his ambition rooted more firmly in art than anything else. That was until the singer made his way to London to catch the great Otis Redding. It was an experience which would change his life and the point his head turned towards being a singer.
Ferry still felt like an oddity though. Never quite fitting in with his contemporaries he only really found his confidence when under the tutelage of Pop artist Richard Hamilton when studying Fine Art at Newcastle University. It was this emboldening of spirit alongside Redding’s gig which pushed Ferry to move to London after he graduated and start to sing and write his own songs.
After arriving in the capital Ferry began to put together the band he needed. Some members wouldn’t work out but in 1970 Ferry formed Roxy Music with Simpson in 1970. Andy MacKay and Eno soon joined, then Thompson and finally Phil Manzanera.
As Manzanera later recalled, the rich diversity of those early sessions together created Roxy sound: “We’d start off with ‘Memphis Soul’ Stew, and then we’d go into ‘The Bob (Medley)’, this heavy bizarre thing about the Battle Of Britain with synths and sirens. We had everything in there from King Curtis to The Velvet Underground to systems music to ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll. At the time we said this was ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s rock’n’roll.”
“Eno would respond to something that sounded like it came off the first Velvets album, then Ferry would play something ‘50s and I’d play my version of ‘50s. I was always a terrible session player. I could never learn a solo and I stuck that ‘not quite right’ approach onto Roxy. Six people in a band created this hybrid.”
By 1972 they had written and recorded their first single ‘Virginia Plain’ to wide-acclaim and open-mouthed appreciation. Fast-forward one year and we see a somewhat shocked, mostly-adoring, but still open-mouthed audience watch on as Ferry & Co. made their way through their 4-track set on Musikladen.
Their commanding performance would go on to define their lifespan as a band and become one of the many reasons Roxy Music are considered one of the founding fathers of moder rock and roll. They were the future, and probably still are.
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