Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK rock band. Original lineup included Bryan Ferry, vocals, keyboards and songwriter (b 26 September 1945, Co. Durham); Brian Eno, synths, composer; Phil Manzanera, guitar (b Philip Targett-Adams, 31 January 1951, London); Paul Thompson, drums (b 13 May 1951, Jarrow, Newcastle); Andy Mackay, sax (b 23 July 1946). Ferry studied art in Newcastle '64, worked in local R&B bands the Banshees, the Gas Board; moved to London late '60s, auditioned unsuccessfully for King Crimson, recruited Mackay and Eno for fledgling Roxy. Their first guitarist was ex-Nice David O'List, soon replaced by Roxy roadie Manzanera; they had a different bassist on every album. Roxy's rise was meteoric, a glamorous image and beguiling musical hybrid championed by disc jockey John Peel and Melody Maker's Richard Williams, only David Bowie having anything like as much stylistic influence in the early '70s.

The debut album Roxy Music '72 drew on a Beatles influence, Ferry's love of '50s rock'n'roll and Eno's experimentalism, one of the distinctive debuts of the decade, enhanced by a pile-driving single 'Virginia Plain' (no. 4 UK), follow-up 'Pyjamarama' (no. 10 '73). For Your Pleasure '73 was an extravagant and exotic follow-up, with a clutch of Ferry classics: 'Do The Strand', 'Editions Of You', 'In Every Dream A Heartache'. Eno and Ferry clashed over the band's direction and Eno left late '73. Stranded '73 introduced multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson (ex-art rock band Curved Air; b 28 April 1955), included hit single 'Street Life' (Ferry's policy of keeping singles off albumss lasting only through the first two), more originals.

Ferry's parallel solo career also began with These Foolish Things '73, including a cover of Bob Dylan's 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' (top ten UK), also covers of Beatles, Smokey Robinson, Rolling Stones, Leiber and Stoller and the title song (British cabaret standard c.1936). Another Time, Another Place '74 completed his image as a cabaret rock'n'roller and sartorial lounge lizard, with his own masterly title track, more covers (Kris Kristofferson, Joe South, Willie Nelson). Roxy's Country Life '74 was their first top 40 LP in USA, with 'All I Want Is You' and 'Out Of The Blue'; Siren '75 saw cracks appear in the fa‡ade, their weakest album to date, with soulless 'Love Is The Drug'. By then Roxy were effectively Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay, as all pursued solo projects; with Ferry's Let's Stick Together '76 his albums as showcases for others' songs also wore thin, despite a no. 4 hit title track.

They had made their stylistic point; Ferry's mannered delivery was not enough to maintain what was essentially a repertory act. Live Viva Roxy Music seemed to administer their last rites; Ferry's In Your Mind '77 did not restore his flagging reputation; model Jerry Hall choose the moment to cuckold him with Mick Jagger, another relentlessly unswinging singer. The Bride Stripped Bare '78 should have revived his credibility, but didn't receive due attention at the time: Ferry's originals were again strong and imaginative covers included the traditional Irish 'Carrickfergus' and J.J. Cale's 'Same Old Blues'. Roxy's first four LPs had been tours-de-force, elevating them far above contemporaries; like many pop acts they suffered from fickle taste: the idea of chic rock'n'roll was anathema to an audience distracted by spitting punks. Having nosedived, Ferry convened Manzanera and Mackay again for Manifesto '79, with disco-influenced 'Dance Away' and 'Angel Eyes', both hits; the album was a pale shadow of their earliest innovative work, but Flesh And Blood '80 was an improvement. A tribute to John Lennon, a cover of his 'Jealous Guy' '80, was their only UK no. 1 single. Avalon '82 was smooth and empty, though Ferry's hit 'More Than This' was refreshing; The High Road '83 was a mini-album and Roxy's last except for live Musique/The High Road, made in Glasgow and released '83.

Ferry's Boys And Girls '85 was his first solo LP in seven years; made in several different studios with guests Mark Knopfler, Dave Gilmour and Nile Rogers, it was lacklustre despite a couple of hit singles. He remained one of the distinctive rock voices; two-disc Street Life '86 was a package of Ferry and Roxy hits, a surprise no. 1 album in UK. Manzanera re-formed his early group Quiet Sun for one-off Mainstream '75, then did solo Diamond Head '75, Listen Now '77 (as Phil Manzanera and 801; he also released 801 Live), K-Scope '78, Primitive Guitars '81; CD Guitarissimo recycled some of this; CDs Manzanera And Mackay and Southern Cross were released '90. Mackay released well-received In Search Of Eddie Riff '74 and Resolving Contradictions '78, supplied music for TV show Rock Follies '76-7, appeared on Paul McCartney's Pipes Of Peace '83, joined Manzanera in the Explorers '84.

Ferry appearanced at Live Aid '86; released Bête Noire '87 with three 60-year-old tango musicians on the title track, other guests including Courtney Pine, Dave Gilmour and Johnny Marr; also Taxi '93 (with Mackay, Maceo Parker and others) and Mamouna '94 with the whole gang including Eno plus guests. Later, Ferry's Jazz Age, followed by A Selection of Yellow Cocktail Music (2013) combined flavours of 1920s jazz with traces of modern pop, the latter album inspired by Baz Luhrmann's film The Great Gatsby. A ten-piece orchestra on the latter album included the excellent British saxophonist Alan Barnes.