For Your Pleasure

A song-by-song analysis of the lyrics and music of Roxy Music and the solo work of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera in the 1970s


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Bitters End

Bitters End (Ferry), Roxy Music, 1972

Roxy Music was recorded at Command Studios, a refurbished studio formerly owned by the BBC (Piccadilly 1) in central London. Command lasted for only a few years and was beset by management rows and technical troubles (the train noise from the Piccadilly tube would spill into recordings). Nevertheless even though the studio didn’t last long, in its short span it was responsible for capturing some killer sessions: Brian Eno’s  No Pussyfooting; King Crimson’s Lark’s Tongue in Aspic; and Slade Alive! (don’t laugh, Jimi Hendrix manager Chas Chandler set up a Slade fan club concert in Command’s large studio that by all accounts was riotous.  The subsequent album launched Slade’s commercial career – three singles went straight in at No 1, one of them selling half-a-million copies in its first week). Command Studios also gave us, of course, the debut Roxy Music album.

Roxy Music was recorded and mixed in less than a month for a modest sum (£5,000). Peter Sinfield’s production of the album has been criticized over the years, and while there is no doubt that the thin sound and high-pitch tremolo of Bryan Ferry’s vocals do take some getting used to, it is the context and circumstance that serves to define the sound of the album. The producer and the studio were not a fault – Sinfield did record Virginia Plain a few months later at Command Studios, and no way can anyone say that classic single does not jump out of the speakers! The issue, if any, is the fact that the mandate for the first Roxy Music LP was to be different, to try different styles and moods, to upset or stretch expectations about what pop could do. And this meant sounding different, and getting under the skin with something we hadn’t heard before.

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The first record was really exciting to make, because it had so many different flavours.
Bryan Ferry, interview, Bracewell

‘Bitters End’ is the last cut on a musically diverse album. The lyrics are largely throwaway, though of course Pale fountains fizzing forth pink gin is a direct sign-post to the pink colour-assortment of the (soon-to-be) famous album cover. The image of decadent luxury, and old Brit cultural snobbery is embedded in the song, rife with doo-wop singers, a quivering Noel Coward vocal delivery, and some nifty sax. It’s a tuneful song, highly listenable with a subject matter and lightness close to The Beatles ‘Savoy Truffle (Creme tangerine and montelimar/A ginger sling with a pineapple heart). The party laughter and clinking of drink glasses that opens the album has its closer here, and with a wink and a nod Ferry summarizes the completion of the album – a celebration for the band – and its delivery, perhaps, to the unsuspecting record company:

Give now the host his claret cup (the host of this party, Island Records owner Chris Blackwell)

And watch madeira’s farewell drink (British cocktail: In a 2-oz. sherry glass, stir madeira with bitters and Campari. Serve)

Note his reaction acid sharp (host’s unfavourable reaction to the album’s diverse contents)

Should make the cognoscenti think (the intelligensia or ‘smart’ people to whom the record’s stylistic and lyrical pastiches and irony was aimed).

The record did appeal to the cognoscenti, and many more listeners besides: an immediate critical and commercial hit (16 weeks in the UK charts, with a high of #10). Roxy Music launched the careers of the band and its members, influenced countless others, and divided critics created who debated whether Roxy were a “real” band or just a bunch of art students taking the piss. The first single Virginia Plain would cement the band’s success and demonstrate that the group were more than just a gimmick. The following album, For Your Pleasure would deliver the first masterpiece.

Recorded: Command Studios, London, March 1972
Pics: Roxy Music album art; Roxy Music publicity shot (www.bryanferry.com/roxy-music-history-tab/#history); Command studios (www.gearslutz.com/board/so-much-gear-so-little-time/346235-1972-command-studios-piccadilly-england-what-gear.html); David Enthoven (www.theguardian.com/music/2016/aug/12/david-enthoven-obituary)

In Memory

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David Enthoven (1944 – 2016), former co-manager, Roxy Music

Roxy Music were not to everybody’s taste…they were taking good, straight forward songs and treating them, and doing something quite madly avant-garde with them…It was “fun” music…so fresh and new.

David, interview, Bracewell

Graham Simpson (1943-2012), Roxy Music co-founder and bass player

Roxy Music were not so much a hybrid of musicians with different influences but were independent musicians with their own individual voice that work well together

Graham, interview, bryanferry.com

Graham Simpson was a founding member of Roxy Music with Bryan Ferry, and was an excellent bass player and contributed much to the first Roxy album (listen particularly to the amazing bass work in Sea Breezes). In 1972, Graham lost his mother to cancer and he was depressed. The life-style and pressure of being a member of an up-and-coming band did not alleviate his increasing mental health problems, and unfortunately, Graham had to leave the band in April 1972, after the first album and his wonderful contributions were recorded.

The Bryan Ferry website has an excellent page dedicated to Graham. (http://www.bryanferry.com/graham-simpson-1943-2012).  Please visit as often as you can, and be sure to check out the excellent short film called Nothing But The Magnificent which explored the disappearance, re-emergence and ultimate path to redemption of Graham Simpson.


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Sea Breezes

Sea Breezes (Ferry), Roxy Music, 1972
Sea Breezes – John Peel Session

I. Mistakes in Love

Coming quickly after the Rock n’ Roll genre piece Would You Believe? Roxy Music deliver one of the album’s stand-out tracks, Sea Breezes. Recorded mid-way through the 2nd and final week of recording at Command Studios, the track delivers as a real group effort, highlighting not only Bryan Ferry‘s exquisite melody and lyrics, but also the genuine musical sophistication and interplay of Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera as they shine in solo instrumentation passages, adding much-needed emotional texture to this unique and satisfying song.

I’ve been thinking now for a long time
How to go my own separate way
It’s a shame to think about yesterday
It’s a shame
A shame, a shame, a shame

We’ve been running round in our present state
Hoping help would come from above
But even angels there
Made the same mistakes in love
In love, in love, in love

Thematically, ‘Sea Breezes’ finds us on familiar ground as the narrator ponders the difficulties of love. The tone is lofty and elevated, the words used to express love are not spoken in a manner that would suggest maturity or emotional availability: for this chap, the end of love’s promise is merely a shame. In Roxy Music, love is always spelled with a capital L and is never mocked or undercut, unless purposely so (Would You Believe?). In this game the stakes are high, as love takes on a religious or artistic idealism which forms viewpoints, morals, and spiritual destinies. But what happens when love is not seen as a force of nature, a deep and lasting kinship with another person, but rather as a solipsistic way to marvel at your facility for cleverness and moral detachment? In lighter moments you might say, fine, I’ll take it, but in all likelihood that path is lonely and unsatisfying:

Now that we are lonely
Life seems to get hard
Alone what a word lonely
Alone it makes me cry

The focus on alone is so acute that the mere utterance of the word “lonely” wracks the narrator: Alone what a word lonely/Alone it makes me cry. What makes the narrator cry is not the prospect of lost love or companionship, but word choice. We’ve been here before on the album – the love object in Re-Make/Re-Model is a (witty) recollection of the license plate CPL593H, not the woman herself Throughout the ages it has been the job of the poet to discuss love, loss and loneliness with words that convey significant meaning, but that effort has meant different things over time, from Classicist ideals, to Romantic, Modernist, and Post-Modernist (and many more besides). In ‘Sea Breezes’ Bryan Ferry assumes the cloak of narratorial disguise enjoyed by the Romantic poets, in this case most associated with Lord Byron (George ‘Goodtime’ Gordon), a man who, in the words of one biographer, created an immensely popular Romantic hero — defiant, melancholy, haunted by secret guilt — for which, to many, he seemed the model. This is the narrator hero of ‘Sea Breezes’- defiant, melancholy, and guilty enough to blame everyone but himself for his predicament. This is Love as solipsistic self-analysis, and Ferry is fully aware of this narrative angle and, thankfully, plays it to the hilt.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know
Lady Caroline Lamb on Romantic poet Lord Byron

II. Thought-train set in motion

The first Roxy album asks questions, and offers answers grudgingly, undercover often, and for the ear mostly. The 2nd half of Sea Breezes makes an abrupt break with the tone and mood of the music that came before it. What is cool and interesting is that the objectivity of the piece shifts to a mind mediating on what that experience is. Breaking down the track we can read it as follows:

Waves (0.1-0.37)
Eno sets the scene with a mellotron seascape (It’s the first thing anyone does when they get a synthesizer, makes the sound of waves with it – BE). For him, the instrument is a pun, a fake form of emotional rendering. This is our first entry into the song.

Been Thinking (0.38-2.07)
We’ve been running round in our present state
Hoping help would come from above
But even angels there
Made the same mistakes in love
In love, in love, in love

The young Romantic poet takes to the beaches to console himself, offering up his suffering (his sensitivity) as a work of art in its own right. The North East England coast has never been so rain swept beautiful and, lest we forget, alone. This loss and loneliness is augmented by a stunning oboe accompaniment by Andy Mackay that later bleeds cross-purpose into Phil Manzanera’s guitar. Musically, the first verses are in the key of B minor, with shifts to A, G, and Em throughout. The harmonic characteristic of Bm is often expressed as one of patience, of calm awaiting ones’s fate and of submission to divine dispensation. There can be hardly a more accurate summary of the narrator’s stance in the first verses: terribly affected, awaiting divine judgement, the distant speaker eventually drifting away, drowned in love in love in love. 

Echoes (2.05 – 3.32)
A tiny chime bell at 2.05 signals the start of an understated instrumental section, the kind of unfolding that, like the Pink Floyd at their best (Meddle, 1971) allows the music to grow from minimal information, taking the time to explore little sonic clusters and ideas. Andy Mackay plays the verse melody with a gentle line as Bryan Ferry’s electric piano carefully plucks the verse notes. Phil Manzanera’s guitar lines provide a mournful counterpoint, a sadness washed up on the tide of Eno’s mellotron seascape. This is a Roxy moment of extreme beauty and sublime interaction between the musicians that, for many fans, has never been bettered. The instrumental dissolves at 2.49, and then re-starts, mocking the anticipation of an ending. This time Mackay contributes more complex and uplifting lines. Manzanera says goodbye on a sustained root note, and then there is an abrupt change – like a windy slap in the face.

Sea Breezes (3.33-6.12)
With as little as a few piano notes to warn us, we are thrown into a very discordant, abrupt rhythm. In come two key musicians that have been waiting on the sidelines: drummer Paul Thompson and bassist Graham Simpson. Paul’s drumming is avant garde jazz splutter, and Graham’s hesitant halting bass is as discordant as Bryan Ferry’s choke-on-an-apple vocal delivery. What happened to the lush musical landscape? Now that we are lonely/Life seems to get hard. Indeed, the life message here is delivered like a bracing wind and, just as a sea breeze brings in cold air from the ocean, the impact on the music is unequivocal, like a Samuel Beckett play where language, pace, rhythm, and delivery turn into something colder and self-analyzing:screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-10-23-43-pm

Thought-train set in motion
Wheels in and around
Express our emotion
Tracks up then it cracks down, down, down, down, down

 

The internalization of thought is explicitly summoned here, tongue in cheek perhaps (motion is the key to this stanza: train/wheels/express/tracks) yet serious about what the experience of thought or thinking feels like. If the process of thought is captured as the movement of (fake) seashore waves, then a burst of cold insight comes like a punch to the gut: the narrator recognizes that to express our emotion with sensitivity and feeling is poetically admirable (Tracks up) but the down side is vulnerability and, in this case, depression or melancholia (Then it cracks down, down, down, down, down). The whole temper of the track shifts, and a gnarly solo from Phil confirms the bad tempered nature of this cold wind. We have moved, musically, from the divine calm waiting in the key of B minor to the sudden shift coming ashore in the form of D flat major. As musicologist Christian Schubart points out: [Db is] a leering key, degenerating into grief and rapture. It cannot laugh, but it can smile; it cannot howl, but it can at least grimace its crying. Consequently only unusual characters and feelings can be brought out in this key.

Help from Above (6.13-7.05)
This view offers up our narrator’s fate: from a patient, calm poet awaiting divine judgement (along with the angels, presumably), to a leering breakdown of a man degenerating into grief and rapture, marvelling at his cleverness and way with language, exposed and raw, the endless torment of the suffering creative artist. Bryan Ferry and the band have fun with this one and the outcome is as hollow as Eno’s counterfeit mellotron waves: the singer re-states the original verses and theme (Hoping help would come from above), but no knowledge has been gained. This sea breeze has passed.

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We’d often go to the seaside when I was a child…Whitley Bay or Marsden.
Bryan Ferry, before a 2016 festival gig in his hometown

III. Influences

Born in Washington, County Durham, England, Bryan Ferry knew the Tynemouth coastline and its windswept landscapes well. Schooled at Washington Grammar school and Newcastle University, the young man was rarely less than 25 minutes away from coastal shores and beaches. The landscape of his youth was the North England coast and weather-beaten seascapes, 7th Century monasteries, and fortified castles.

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This is Romantic territory, in landscape if not in social graces. Clearly the sea-swept ocean imagery was fertile ground for Ferry’s imagination (see the beached damsels of Stranded; the blue-stained mermaids of Siren). In lyric and in tone, ‘Sea Breezes’ revels in the Romance poet’s suffering as the heightened emotion crashes against the cold sandy Tynemouth surf. Alone! he cries – what a word lonely/ Alone it makes me cry/I’ll cry, I’ll cry, I’ll cry. The Smiths later adopted this pose too, as Morrissey held his weary hand to brow and begged to Please please please let me get what I want…/this time. Ferry is the early master of the idiom of self-obsessed or narcissistic narrator, and the real love-object of the first Roxy Music album is the self-love of the narrator as he marvels at his ability to, at any given time, associate himself with the love trials of the Epic Hero Odysseus (Ladytron);  align himself with the Romantic poets Byron and Shelley by melancholic over-emoting (If There is Something); and even takes sides with a dangerous sociopath, seeing love first as possession and ownership (Chance Meeting).

Hardly about love at all, and ‘Sea Breezes’ is no different: if you look closely you notice that for a song that calls itself ‘Sea Breezes’ there is actually no water or sea imagery used in the lyric and certainly nothing even loosely resembling a beach, wind, salt, storm – not a word. Why? Because the poet cannot help but present his greatest love: his genius. In keeping with Roxy Music‘s gleeful subversion of expectation, the lyric becomes increasingly self-absorbed, to the point where what we are seeing and hearing is the sound of meditation and composition, of a brain working, of the poem being written: a thought-train set in motion – words in fog prepared for paper, stark and alone, before the tide turns.

Credits: Pics: Sea Breeze pinball, homemadeLord Byron has his eye on a charming lady on beach, grabbed here; First Edition Waiting for Godot, Samuel Becket; The Rex Hotel where BF visited sea swept Whitley Bay with his parents; when you’re obsessed with music you Google Map your hero and the route he would have taken to the seaside as a boy (Nabokov: “be obsessed with scientific yet artistic appreciation of detail”); all aboard for Whitley Bay, British Railways.

Recorded: Command Studios, London, March 1972

Titbits

banshees

Susan Janet Ballion (ne. Siouxsie Sioux) was such a fan of Roxy Music that she named her band Siouxsie and the Banshees after Bryan Ferry’s formative pre-Roxy group the Banshees. Siouxsie has always worn her influences on her sleeve and in 1987 recorded an album of covers that included the Roxy Music track Sea Breezes. Though the Looking Glass tackles an excellent set of artists (John Cale, Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk, the Beatles) with exciting and mixed results in equal measure (though a UK top 3 hit was enjoyed with “Dear Prudence”). Looking Glass came at the tail end of a remarkable set of post-punk albums (Juju in particular still sounding fresh and accomplished), and Siouxsie herself can be seen on the Roxy Music documentary More Than This espousing her hatred of the suburbs and her love of the glamour of Roxy. Yeah!


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Would You Believe?

Little RichardWould you Believe (Ferry), Roxy Music, 1972

When Roxy Music recorded their first album during 14th -29th March 1972, London and much of the world’s radio-listening public was in the grip of a Rock n’ Roll revival. The Beatles and pop/rock had kicked be-bop and jazz off the world’s charts during the mid-sixties, and as beards grew longer and more unruly there was a contrarian interest in dressing up and looking smart (a trend that Roxy/Bowie/Glam capitalized on). Nowhere was the signifier of fashion more clearly felt than in the drapes n’ duds of what was to become known as the Teddy Boy style, a play on the “Edwardian” style enjoyed years before by the wealthy young men of the Brit establishment.  The younger generations of the 50s adopted the Edwardian long jackets, but added the striking tapered trousers and fancy waist coats. By the early 70s a Rock n’ Roll revival was in full swing and the Teds kept upping the ante by wearing more outlandish versions of the old idea, culminating perhaps with the addition of the most extreme shoes anyone could ever be expected to wear outside of a fancy dress ball.

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A month or so after Roxy released their first album in June 1972, The London Rock and Roll Show was held at Wembley Stadium on August 5. Bo DiddleyJerry Lee LewisLittle RichardBill Haley and His CometsChuck Berry, and others were flown in to perform an exelerating show in front of the Greasers, Teds and future punks of Londo5108g7n7k0ln. (Malcolm McLaren is shown in the concert film selling t-shirts and ‘Let it Rock’ gear five years before his own fifteen minutes of fame). Excellent performances are given, particularly by Jerry Lee and Chuck Berry, with Jerry hammering his piano keys with drop kicks and heel jabs. Watching the film gives the viewer a keen sense of London’s grit and style in the early 70’s, and reminds us of the impact Glam must have had on the collective psyche: stealing the best moves from its Rock n’ Roll masters, Glam (just rock n’ roll with lipstick! said John Lennon) was colourful, exciting, danceable and great back-drop for drinking, fighting and sex. (One supposes).

For Roxy, recording the rock n’ roll pastiche Would You Believe? and including it on the first album was just another one of their “12 different possibilities” of musical adventure. Unfortunately, doo-wop as a form is slight and repetitive and can be bit tedious after a few listens, and this track is no exception. Bryan Ferry himself did not find the rock n’ roll or vaudville styles the band were offering had much sticking power beyond the flash modernism of the first album: “What we’ll probably do is start making the changes fewer, because some people in the audience can’t really take sudden changes every 30 seconds or so. I quite like confusing people, but there are limits I suppose.”(Sounds,  July 1, 1972).

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Shackled by the form, the lyrics in Would You Believe? were intentionally written tongue-in-cheek, the rhyming scheme the poetic outcome of twelve year old girls in love:

Would you believe in what I do
When the things that I make are all for you?
Oh honey say you do
And in a while I’ll come to you
Showing showing why
What I think will all come true

And so on. Ferry is on the joke, of course, but it is clear why he and his listeners opted for the lyrical and musical possibilities of the more interesting album cuts  (Ladytron/If There is Something/Chance Meeting) to go on their journey further into the seventies. Would You Believe? was scrapped as a live staple, not performed by the band after early 1973.

Credits: Little Richard at Wembley Stadium, The London Rock and Roll Show, August 1972;  a Teddy Boy creeper shoe, courtesy EBay; film poster London and Rock and Roll Show; Andy Mackay, geezer style, cover of Best magazine, issue #65.

Titbits

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Live Peace in Toronto, Plastic Ono Band. A few years before the London Rock and Roll Show, a hastily assembled Plastic Ono band (John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, Yoko Ono, and Alan White) played at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in September 1969. 50s standards were played (nervous, drug-fuelled and scrappy), and the subsequent live album sold well, ensuring the street cred of the rock n’ roll revival into the early 70s.

Never Mind the Bollocks: Malcolm McLaren poses outside his shop on the King’s Road early 70s; by chance, London and Rock and Roll Show film still captures Malcolm and Vivienne Westwood selling Let it Rock gear at the Wembley Show August 1972; five years later Mr. J Rotten (John Lydon) proves that good duds never go out of style.

 


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Chance Meeting

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Chance Meeting (Ferry), Roxy Music, 1972

‘Chance Meeting’ is one of the more disquieting songs in the Roxy lexicon (pre-dating the Bogus Man by eight months), Bryan Ferry creates a narrator that is at once sinister and seductive. If there is a truism that the Devil gets all the best lines, then there is indeed menace in these words, a portrayal of looming violence set against Haiku-style imagery (red dress mine) that is delivered with conviction by the Roxy front-man. The performance marries unemotional detachment with a haunting melody line, creating an incongruity of meaning and intent: is this a song of lost love, or are we witnessing something more sinister – a chance meeting of integrative menace and/or murderous intent?  Whatever the case,  you can almost see the fingers on the victim’s throat as the narrator utters “time spent well is so … rare.”

I never thought I’d see you again
Where have you been until now?
Well how are you?
How have you been?
It’s a long time since we last met

A short song (10 lines), ‘Chance Meeting’ has been seen by many observers as melodic, romantic, a gentle ballad, emotional (or “emotionally inarticulate”, p39 Rigby). For critic Paul Stump the piece is a re-visioning of the 1945 romantic David Lean film Brief Encounter. This was a view that Ferry himself held and was outlined in his working notebooks – yet, without sounding presumptuous, there is the sneaking suspicion that name-checking Lean’s classic film may have provided an over-simplification and a pat way into the song. Certainly, Brian Eno’s sonic treatments of ‘Chance Meeting‘ was as far from classic romantic as can be imagined. And the song is based on a film alright, but Bryan Ferry’s cinematic influence is altogether more complex and sinister.

Bryan’s Secret Chance Meeting
David Lean’s 1945 classic film Brief Encounter was voted by a leading UK magazine as the most-romantic film ever made (despite the lack of sex or happy ending). The film is  an insightful, moving interrogation of marriage, sexual repression and self-sacrifice. The pedigree behind the production is impeccable, a masterpiece of writer-producer Noël Coward (based on his one-act stage-play Still Life) and a jewel in the filmography of director David Lean, who is no slouch when it comes to canonized classics (Lawrence of Arabia anyone?). In Michael Bracewell’s masterwork on the context and formation of early Roxy Music, “Re-Make/Re-Model: Becoming Roxy Music“, we are fortunate to be presented with Ferry’s working notes on ‘Chance Meeting’:

‘Chance Meeting’ (Quiet delicate simple plaintive)
voice & drama classical lovers chance meeting [inspired by the film Brief Encounter]

While Brief Encounter’s star-crossed lovers do happen to meet at a shadowy British railway station, and the unfolding events do have a classical doomed sensibility, the sensibility is nevertheless neither dark nor creepy, or even a tad bit dangerous: this is in stark contrast to the actual song we hear on the record – with its disassociated vocal and vacant lack of romance or emotion. In this case, the emotion isn’t inarticulate, it just isn’t there at all. By the time we get to Manzanera’s dissonant haunted-house feedback we are under the covers praying for daylight. Clearly, the execution of this “quiet delicate simple” piece is at cross-purposes with the romantic image that has been applied to it over the decades. It might be more useful to suggest that Ferry and Eno have been pulling the wool over our eyes, for there is a film that speaks more directly to the paranoia in the song, a film that was to introduce us to that girl in the red dress, and provide us no less with the actual title for the track,  ‘Chance Meeting’.

Hardy Krüger, Micheline Presle. Chance Meeting (US)

Chance Meeting is a 1959 British murder mystery film by Joseph Losey, the famous political noir film-maker. Ben Barzman and Millard Lampell were nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay and it shows: the plot is layered and nuanced and pulls few punches.  Jan (Hardy Kruger) is an artist who has recently met a high society woman. (If this isn’t a Bryan Ferry reference, I don’t know what is). When he arrives at her apartment for an afternoon tryst (as one might expect), he calls out to his lover but gets no answer. Instead Two cops show up at the door. Jan is an uncomfortable position since he doesn’t want to give away the details of his affair. 1504efe10cd815cc392f5a671aae2bc8The situation worsens as he realizes his lover lies dead under the blankets on a couch: she has been murdered, and the police think it is him. The film unfolds in flashback, and we see the complications of characters who meet but barely know one another. The high-society lover turns out to be a prostitute; the artist, honest, but naive. The working class detective, noble, but ineffective.  The killer, a high-level politician, getting away with murder.  There is a relentlessness to the film that underlines the loneliness of the main characters; their disassociation from love and their desire for sex – chance meetings and encounters and secrets that lead to grim outcomes.

To this end we should recall the tone and distance of Ferry’s vocal decision and performance on one of Roxy Music‘s best tracks. the careful enunciation and lack of emotion in the delivery; the oppressive guitar feedback 0:38 seconds in, relentless as it rides over top of the melody crashing down with oppressive weight.  This is different social worlds colliding, relentless chance meetings spinning out of control, while the killer remains disassociated, untouchable. In a completely different reading of the song – gone is the Brief Encounter enchantment of previous readings –  the Bogus Man protagonist happens upon the woman he eventually kills. Sentence fragments are highlighted to emphasize the unnatural pacing of intonation and expression:

I ne/ver thought I’d see you/again [relationship over] 
Where have you been/until now?
Well / how are you? [tone and delivery removed from sentiment]
How have you been? / It’s a long time since we last met [‘met’ is delivered with spite. This is a great dramatic performance by Ferry]
It seems like yes/ter/day [Counting the hours, days]
When I /first saw you [Obsessing]
In your red dress mine [Red: symbol of sex, lust, blood – the single use of colour imagery in the song. ‘Red dress mine’: the Bogus Man awakens…]
How could/ I forget that day? [Obsessing]
I know that time well spent is so rare [obviously the time wasn’t well spent at all – run lady, run! while you still can!]

It took a while for Ferry to get the song right, but he never stopped championing the piece. A definitive live version was recorded in 1973 on Viva! (released 1976); the live version has an even chillier delivery which emphasizes the hint of menace in the song, coupled with a sublime oboe accompaniment by Andy Mackay. In 1976 Ferry re-recorded ‘Chance Meeting’ (as he did with many of Roxy’s 1st album choice cuts): the sound is richer and better sounding, and has its supporters. Count me as one of them.

 

Titbits

David Bowie, Red Money. Bryan Ferry, Sign of the Times.  The line that plays its hand in ‘Chance Meeting’ is red dress mine. The colour red is a shock, but only in hindsight, and on a close reading. This is Bryan Ferry’s Haiku moment. As you may recall, Haiku is a poetic device that juxtaposes two images or ideas, one of which acts as a “cutting word” or verbal punctuation mark. Red is the cutting word in this song as it comes as us with its seductive connotations of red (sex), dress (flesh), mine (possession) against a backdrop of languid melody and expression. For a period in late 1979 Bowie was intrigued with the colour red and used it as a symbol that could evoke a particular emotion, bringing together thematic ideas that were subliminal instead of explicit. In Lodger, ‘Red Sails’ closes side 1 (red sail action: wakes up in wrong town). ‘Red Money’ closes side 2 (red money, project cancelled: good bye Eno, Iggy, Sister Midnight). Not to be left out, Ferry himself returned to explicit colour imagery in the late 70s: in Red is the bloody sign of the times, he sang as the end of the decade approached. Lipstick ‘n leather, wear ‘n tear….

Oblique Strategies, Eno/Schmidt
My own copy (2nd edition), purchased on eBay eons ago. Today’s Card: “Do Nothing as Long as Possible.” Now they tell me.
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The Bob (Medley)

St Paul's in the Blitz

War is hell, and The Bob (Medley) isn’t much better. Of its time, ‘The Bob’ is another first album punning titles (The Battle of Britain) and the song delivers yet another dramatic vocal performance from composer and singer Bryan Ferry. This one is strained though, and for the first (thankfully rare) time on a Roxy Music album, the lyrics are trite and forgettable – perhaps intentionally so. A year after The Bob was recorded, the band mothballed the track and never performed it again.

For all its shortcomings, The Bob did mark an important plot point for the early Roxy line-up as it was one of the songs recorded for the demo tape sent to the talented Melody Maker writer Richard Williams in 1971:

People didn’t normally send out tapes out of the blue in those days…To this day I don’t know how Bryan found my home address. But there is a note in my diary for March 1971 which states, “Brian coming in to drop off tape” – and that was Bryan. 

So I played the tape, and thought it was pretty extraordinary.
Richard Williams

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 Promotional sticker for the original Roxy Music demo tape//Malcolm Bird

Working hard to get the band a record contract – “Make me a deal and make it straight” (‘Virginia Plain‘) – Ferry’s attention to detail was exemplary (“I was quite obsessive”) as he composed the songs, compiled the tapes, ensured the artwork was striking and new, and worked the phones to get the songs in front of the right people – all this a mere four months before Roxy had played their first gig. The Bob’s heritage is marked by its inclusion as part of the early John Peel BBC sessions, first recorded in January 1972, in which the track opens with the sound of air raid sirens and Eno’s sinister pulsing VCS3. The Peel version recorded nine months later demonstrates a tighter approach, highlighting the increasing musical confidence of the band. The music was exciting art-collage for the cognoscenti:

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!
Phil Manzanera

‘The Bob (Medley)’ is as arty, funny, indulgent, worthy in subject matter and approach, but has not aged well, much like early Pink Floyd epics Ummagumma (patchy) and Atom Heart Mother (wretched). The track starts with an eerie synth drone, early “madcap technophile” Eno at the helm, before crashing into Bryan Ferry’s hysterical shrill:

I dreamed last night about your face
Your star shone all night
Over the moon it shone brighter
Star shining so bright

The problem with the track is also echoed in the lyric: the ironic stance trips over itself, meta-awareness in spades from a group of art students hip to the Velvet Underground and John Cage. It was all in the air, of course: Monty Python was launched on staid BBC 2, and only co-opted in later years by BBC 1 and Hollywood. Three channels (BBC 1, BBC 2, and ITV) held a captive audience of 17-20M UK viewers culled from a population of 56M. The Blitz was common currency, Ireland was at War (Bloody Sunday, Jan 1972), the Miners were cutting off the lights, and it was all a bit cold and drab across the sceptered isle. Why not then deliver an anti-BBC version of The Battle of Britain and revel in the antiquated poetry (Over the moon it shone brighter/Star shining so bright) and chop it all up into a 6 part play. This got up a lot of people’s noses, of course, as spoofing World War Two was seen as an easy shot, and even though Manzanera and Thompson let rip on some good rock n’ roll power chords, musically the montage just didn’t have anywhere to go.

Recorded: March 1972 at Command Studios, London

Titbits
British Tommy (sculpture)

Trauma is passed from generation to generation. I’ve unwittingly inherited what my father experienced
Pete Townshend, 2012

war kids 2

The effect of World War Two on a generation is expressed musically, at least, in two best-selling double albums of the 1970s – Tommy (’69) and The Wall (’79).  In both collections, murdered or murderous Fathers are a source of pain and anger, while the child moves through a cruel and ignorant society while encouraged to stifle emotions and not ask questions. The anger and violence is treated seriously in both records: Roger Waters re-creates sonically the horrifying realism of his father’s death in the first wave of fighting as the Allies attempted to secure the beach head at Anzio, south of Rome. And Tommy is rendered mute by the shock of witnessing more murder (father kills in the album verison; father is killed in the film version):

You didn’t hear it, you didn’t see it!
You never heard it, not a word of it!
You won’t say nothin’ to no one,
Never tell a soul what you know is the truth!

In all instances war delivers a wounded legacy to its children.

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Malcolm Bird//Biba
In addition to doing early design work for Roxy Music, Malcolm Bird’s illustrations also have appeared in magazines and newspapers,  greeting cards, comic strips, and books.

This is Tomorrow Art exhibition, August 1956
This Is Tomorrow was a seminal art exhibition in August 1956 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery on High Street in London, UK, facilitated by curator Bryan Robertson. The show is now considered a watershed in post-war British Art and in some respects kick-started the development of the British arm of Pop Art. Richard Hamilton was part of the most remembered portion of the exhibit, Group 2, with its Op Art dazzle panels. Bryan Ferry took notes and name-checked the show twenty one years later in his single ‘This is Tomorrow’ from the In Your Mind album.

Dad’s Army was a top show in 1972, further reducing WW2 to even greater depths of  cliche, which in may respects Roxy were taking the piss. Look no further: Series 5, Ep 30, A Solidier’s Farewell: Mainwaring, unhappy because his men are not living up to his expectations and believing his leadership to be unappreciated, dreams he is Napoleon after eating too much toasted cheese. 

Credits: Blitz Cinema: Daltrey, Waters, and Pink contemplate their next move.


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2HB

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Words Don’t Express My Meaning
2HB (Ferry), Roxy Music, 1972

I told Mark [Lancaster] I was writing some songs, and he said, “what are they called?” So I said that there was one called ‘2HB’, and he said “Oh that’s so great – writing a song about a pencil.” Which is a very Pop art concept really. Except that I was writing a song about Humphrey Bogart.

Bryan Ferry

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White jacket black tie wings too..
Bogart, Casablanca Anniversary Poster

Before ‘Nothing Compares 2 U,’ there was ‘2HB‘, Bryan Ferry’s homage to Humphrey Bogart and Casablanca. The song is a declaration of stylistic and thematic intent and even in these early stages there was no pulling punches on the subject and context of his art: the fourth cut on Roxy Music was important enough to Ferry in future years that he re-recorded ‘2HB’ for the B-side of his first solo single, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (1973) and made available a few years later on his solo album Let’s Stick Together in 1976. Stylistically,  the influence of the white dinner-jacketed Rick Blaine inspired Ferry to transpose Bogart’s Hollywood pose on the cover of his solo album Another Time, Another Place  (the title itself taken from a 1958 movie melodrama); Ferry also released the single Tokyo Joe, a title that was shared with Bogart’s 1949 movie of the same name. The Bogart influence continued into 1999 with Ferry recording a prime cut from Casablanca, As Time Goes By, of which key lines had already been taken and injected into Roxy’s masterpiece ‘Mother of Pearl’  (It’s still the same old story/Fight for love and glory).  A key influence indeed, with the white tux remaining one of Ferry’s stylistic conceits for much of mid-seventies, the singer himself looking every inch the 40s film star.Poster - Casablanca_13
More corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined. But when corn works, there’s nothing better.
– Casablanca
script writer Julius Epstein  

The plot and characterization in Casablanca is of course, sheer hokum. Shot in 1942, right in the middle of World War II, with millions dead and no end in sight, the Allies grouped together and planned Operation Torch – an invasion of North Africa to seize the key ports and airports of  Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. As a result, Casablanca was both entertainment and propaganda: the outcome of the war was not assured in 1942, and the killing showed no signs of letting up. The film put its stressed audiences in the position of making moral decisions within doomed or difficult circumstances: lust in Paris, love in Morocco, fear everywhere. In the end change and maturity win: night-club owner Rick Blaine’s sense of self (and duty) changes over the course of the film, and he becomes a hero by saving the woman he loves, sending her (and husband) away from the Nazis, to safe passage. Rick is left behind, but his sacrifice changes who he is and who he has been.

roxy cinema
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine..

I started going to the pictures early on — even when I was at junior school. My dad had an allotment where he grew his vegetables, and that was right next door to the cinema — the Carlton. It was a local fleapit really; but it was my Cinema Paradiso from a very early age, because my mother used to make tea for the projectionist — cakes and scones and sandwiches. So he got these free teas, and we got free tickets. There were wooden benches that you sat on … I saw Gone With the Wind there and all sorts.
Bryan Ferry, as told to Michael Bracewell.

The Carlton, Renalto, Regal, Odeon, and Roxy were typical names for 20th century British cinema houses. And so in this regard, ‘Roxy’ Music is ‘Cinema’ Music, and throughout the band’s career the lyrical heft of Ferry’s cinematic, performance driven writing is a consistent triumph. The declaration of love for art, Bogart and cinema is unequivocal:

Oh I was moved by your screen dream
Celluloid pictures are living
Your death could not kill our love for you

It is funny that many reprinted 2HB lyrics have that line as “scream dream” which makes no sense at all given that this is Casablanca and not exactly the Bride of Frankenstein. In any case, the stanza makes some interesting statements about the power of art to move and create an emotional connection; as is typical with Ferry the Romantic, we have art as the “real thing” (Celluloid pictures are living) and the belief that art will triumph death every time (Your death could not kill our love for you).

Art, death and cinema is the subject of 2HB, and the motifs move across the eye like frames of moving film: late-night detail (Two people, romantic/Smoky nightclub situation/ your cigarette traces a ladder/white jacket black tie wings too). The imagery is straight out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. And direct references to the film populate the lyric:  Here’s looking at you, kid/Ideal love flies away now/You gave her away to the hero all beautifully represent the film and its final scene, the foggy airport runway denouement:

Here’s looking at you kid
Celebrate years
Here’s looking at you kid
Wipe away tears
Long time since we’re together
Now I hope it’s forever

The references here come with a wink and some tears: on the one hand there is direct reference to star-crossed lovers Rick and Llsa in the film, their parting and never seeing one another again. Sad, to be sure, but so is the idea that Ferry is singing his dedication to Bogart (looking at you/celebrate years); while simultaneously mourning Bogart’s passing (wipe away tears) and his own Cinema Paradisio Bogart-watching youth (Long time since we’re together). Now that Ferry has immortalized the star in his own cinema music, they may co-exist, somewhere, together, forever.

Heady stuff indeed, and Ferry seems aware of the conundrum of trying to articulate this uncomfortable idea and recognizes that in a film where music is a key narrative driver – ‘As Time Goes By’ tells the story, holds the memory, divides and unites the protagonists – Ferry admits that notes could not spell out the score: neither words or music by themselves will express the meaning, but all songs can be seen as a declaration of love between composer and reader, for art is life-affirming (it lingers ever) and Ferry’s hero in 2HB is hard to forget, until, that is until his own death (at least not yet).

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Recorded: March 1972, Command Studios, London

Titbits

original play w song as time goes byferry time
As Time Goes By is an incredible song, much loved and covered. Melodies like this are indeed forever. The song was written and published by Herman Hupfeld in 1931 for the Broadway musical Everybody’s Welcome. Bryan Ferry recorded ‘As Time Goes By’ (of course he did) for his solo album of the same name. Fantastic stuff.

PlayItAgainSam-Poster
Woody Allen’s Play it Again Sam was released one month before Roxy Music in May 1972. The iconography of Bogart was stronger in the early 70s than it had been at the time of his death in 1957.
Allan: If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not on it, you’ll regret it; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
Linda: That is beautiful!
Allan: It’s from Casablanca. … I’ve waited my whole life to say it!

His journey is complete.


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If There is Something – Part 2

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 8.09.09 AMFelicity Jones (Ruth) sings Roxy Music in the celebratory ‘If there is Something‘ sequence, Flashbacks of a Fool (Baillie Walsh), 2008.

Think Roxy girl…  I’m gonna be Bryan.
Ruth

If you’re going to be Bryan, Ruth, you better be able to hit the high notes!  Ferry’s narrative exaggerations and declarations of love fill the ear and mind with wonderful images of Romantic Love and turbulent raw emotion. The song is clearly a quest narrative (if there is something/that I might find?), setting forth in vivid poetic language the signs and symbols that represent our idea of love and human connection, while simultaneously articulating the writer’s struggle to find the right words, feeling and emotion (if there are many meaning the same/Being specific is just a game).  Throughout, the narrative voice and vocal performance is wracked, raw, blissful, operatic, and aware of itself as performance. This dynamic finds its epiphanic conclusion in the final stanza, but to sweeten the deal we need first a musical bridge to take us there – a guided path to arrive satisfactorily to the conclusion of Ferry’s 4-act play. Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera respond with a perfect musical link that builds on the band interplay already established on  Re-Make/Re-Model and Ladytron, with the added bonus of introducing a third musical bedrock to the Roxy Music listening experience – The Great Paul Thompson.

roxy label
Friendly Yellow Lights

As we seen in our last (Part 1) entry of ‘If There is Something’ Brian Eno’s never-used stage directions for ‘If There is Something’ provide ample insight on band intent for the song:

Friendly yellow lights – cf ‘Oklahoma’
‘I would do.’ – dark and more dramatic
occasional reds in torrid section
grand purple guitar arpeggios – lights on player
Sax solo – fade to morose deep green and violet
‘Shake your head girl’ – pink spot on Bryan
2nd verse spot on Andy and Eno
guitar solo

The beautiful melody refrain backed by chord progression Cm/Bb/Ab/G at 1.39 will ring through the grand purple guitar arpeggios and assure there  is a light is shined on the players. Ferry’s outburst I would do anything for you! delivers the emotional cracked-voice intensity, and ushers in at 2.40-5.05 an instrumental section of some of the most sublime music Roxy ever put to vinyl.

The Bridge: Deep Green and Violet
2.39-2.50: The musical motif is repeated by piano, guitar, but is given full breath by Andy Mackay’s soprano sax, building on the notes until he hits a split (cracked) note clearly heard at 2.45. This is significant as it highlights the avant-garde sensibility and influence of John Coltrane‘s playing on Mackay’s style, a fairly brave move that was new to rock (no cracked notes on Dark Side of the Moon, for example).

2.51-3.26: We hear a rolling barrage of saxophone notes as Mackay repeats the melody motif until it tumbles back onto itself; the ear at this point is now picking up Ferry’s piano, mirroring the same pattern with his signature rhythmic drive. At 3.30 there is a distinct chance that Mackay shifts (with production edit assist?) from soprano to tenor saxophone as he now blows shimmers of wind through the instrument as the tune dives and turns bird-like over and under the signature motif.

3.27-4.44. From this moment on we witness the sublime slow build of the already accomplished horn solo as it pans across the speakers and builds in style similar to elegiac and slow tempi works such as Gorecki’s  Symphony No. 3. Between 4.24-4.39 there is a single-breath sustained note executed with breath-taking skill and emotion, finished with a splinter note at 4.44 to conclusion. If this was a jazz club the applause would leave stand-up room only.

john coltrane oboe
John Coltrane, ‘My Favourite Things’, (1961) | Open Culture

4.44-5.04. As the wind instrument dies and the sound disperses, we are aware of the steady even-handed 4/4 time drumming of Paul Thompson. We recognize the pinched but solid beat has not overwhelmed the soundscape, but rather, has been there all along, sensitive in tone and touch. Producer Pete Sinfield must have realized this for he gives the music room to breathe: drum and piano  syncopate as the song coils towards it final stanza conclusion. Heady stuff, and an absolute shining moment for the drummer Bryan Ferry would henceforth introduce to live audiences as The Great Paul Thompson.

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The Great Paul Thompson

If it hadn’t been for Paul Thompson, Roxy Music would have have just been another art rock band
Brian Eno

If There is Something’ has become a strange creature. It’s modified into something else completely…It’s Grand Music, if you know what I mean, it’s got a feeling of grandness about it.
Brian Eno 

Grand Music: Pink Spot on Bryan
In live performance and on record Ferry’s voice cracks as it implores his girl/wife/ /youth/memory to shake it one more time. We have been lifted so far by the glorious music presented by the band, and we are glad to be here. The track has fulfilled the early Roxy promise of presenting rock as artifice: mashed up and hybrid musical stylizations (vaudeville/hillbilly/prog/jazz); narrative perspectives (me/she looking at me/you looking at us); and vocally wrought performances that mimic country stylizations and poetic flights of angst. Now Ferry brings the musical and vocal performance to a religious climax – the message is rapid, repetitive, the delivery is evangelical, sacred even – this is  ‘Psalm’ 2 years ahead of its release:

Shake your hair girl with your ponytail
Takes me right back (when you were young)
Threw your precious gifts into the air
Watched them fall down (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
You used to walk upon (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The hills were higher (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The trees were taller (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
The grass was greener (when you were young)
Lift up your feet and put them on the ground
You used to walk upon (when you were young)

The shifting of viewpoint and tense is all over the place here, echoing the same strategy of displacement we have seen throughout the song. This does not make for a straight-forward reading or a hymn to innocence lost, as Jonathan Rigby suggests with his nostalgic Ferry  “mourning a ponytailed lost love…commemorating lost youth”(34). Acts 1-3 have demonstrated a shifting perspective on identity and character, and here the trend continues as the pose shifts into meta-analysis, provoked into being by the same kind of epiphanic moment seen in Re-Make/Re-Model – license plate CPL593H and ponytail serve the same function: they produce the emotional reaction that enables the song to be written.

Shake your hair girl with your ponytail – Writer evokes image
Takes me right back Writer indulges nostalgia
Threw your precious gifts into the air “Threw” is interesting; past tense; subject shifting to self?
Watched them fall downRegret 
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundEvokes Self to write a decent song
You used to walk upon – The way is intuitive, natural; the Romantic Ideal
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundAmen!
The trees were taller Obstacles were great
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundAmen!
The grass was greener – Experience was deeper
Lift up your feet and put them on the groundAmen!
You used to walk upon Get Back to the Garden.

There is something very Deliverance about the song as it cycles from hillbilly country yokel, to growing potatoes by the score, through mellotron prog, jazz, back to evangelical fervour, but Ferry and the band are absolutely right in their understanding of emotional nuances, and their powerful music and lyrical congregation produce, as Brian Eno observed, Grand Music in the Oklahoma tradition.

Recorded: 17 March 1972, Command Studios, London

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Joe remembers, and writes the letter…Flashbacks of a Fool.

Postscipt: Flashbacks of a Fool. The film, a vanity for project for chums Daniel Craig and Baillie Walsh, uses the song to drive its central narrative and emotional focus. This in itself is a delight for Roxy fans who usually have to suffer through misfired duffs like Velvet Goldmine (a story about David Bowie without any David Bowie songs, told with Roxy Music songs because Bowie wouldn’t let them do David Bowie songs). Thankfully Walsh’s film is a genuine attempt to capture what Roxy Music means to him and his generation (my generation, if you will). The sequence of Felicity Jones (Ruth) with young Joe Scot dancing to ‘If There is Something‘ is absolutely brilliant and highlights the elements that make Roxy Music so exciting. (Baille is better anyway with the shorter sequences; cutting his teeth making high profile rock classic videos for Massive Attack and Oasis). Speak with any artsy younger person about Roxy Music and there is a very good chance that this song and sequence is their reference point for the band. We salute you Baille and Daniel – seriously lads, cheers!

Titbits

philmanzanera.com
Still Talking. A nice bit of musical interplay between Andy and Phil 40+ years on.

Roxy Music - Viva!
Viva! We’ll review the live Roxy Music album when we crash, chronologically speaking, into its August 1976 release date, but this incredible version of  “If There Is Something” captured at Newcastle City Hall, 27 or 28 October 1974, is well worth calling out. Go on, give it a spin – the sirens are calling.

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Symphony No. 3 (Górecki)
The saddest record about memory and loss ever made.


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If There is Something – Part 1

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Flashbacks of a Fool (Baillie Walsh), 2008
‘If There is Something’, (Bryan Ferry), Roxy Music, 1972

How fantastic is this song? How could you choose between Bryan Ferry and David Bowie? They’re gods!
Baillie Walsh

Re-Make/Re-Model‘ and ‘Ladytron‘ received justified glowing attention in the Roxy Music album reviews during that “abnormally cool; generally changeable and dull” British summer of 1972.  The first two tracks were highly regarded both in the John Peel live session(s) format and as energetic studio cuts under Peter Sinfield. Strangely, the epic third track ‘If There is Something’ seemed to lose points by comparison, possibly due to its ambitious narrative structure or because of a stated overuse of that damn mellotron (“an obvious mistake,” noted Melody Maker). Roxy Music were fortunate to have signed with E.G. Records, David Enthhoven and John Gaydon’s respected management firm who’d managed to score a hit with King Crimson and their classic In the Court of the Crimson King. In doing so, Roxy joined a high-profile, high-prog stable that included King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, so barbs regarding the mellotron were to be expected (perhaps warranted).  Writing for the NME, Tony Tyler praised the album but judged ‘If There Is Something’ to be less successful, “I wish it weren’t there because there’s too much Crimson-quoting.” (Again with the bloody mellotron!).

Over the course of five decades the song has gained in stature and power, triggering much discussion, praise, narrative analysis, and a surprising stamp of approval from the Millennials in the form of a major Hollywood movie vanity project. And who are we to argue? ‘If There is Something’ is arguably the best track on the album, delivering a sublime Ferry lyric and melody; a John Coltrane-inspired solo from Andy Mackay; gorgeous guitar work from Phil Manzanera, and – shake your hair girl! – the definitive introduction to the Great Paul Thompson on record. You heard it here first kids, this one has it all…

oklahomaWhat interests me, far more than ambiguity, is juxtaposing things so they shock
Bryan Ferry, 1972

Writing in his diary (‘Roxy, early, 71-72’, quoted from Brackwell),  Brian Eno designed and staged (on paper at least) his idea of how the song could be presented to a live audience:

‘If There is Something’
Friendly yellow lights – cf ‘Oklahoma’
‘I would do.’ – dark and more dramatic
occasional reds in torrid section
grand purple guitar arpeggios – lights on player
Sax solo – fade to morose deep green and violet
‘Shake your head girl’ – pink spot on Bryan
2nd verse spot on Andy and Eno
guitar solo

In this notebook sketch we get a clear sense of sense of how the band felt about the song, how they  viewed its various components and narrative conceits. Eno’s reference to yellow lights viz ve ‘Oklahoma’ is prescient as in the opening bars we have big country music, the expanse and optimism of Old West sheen brought to us by Phil Manzanera’s good ‘ol boy scale runs and slide guitar refrain. It may not be ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin‘ but this is jocular, hillbilly music and the approach is cheeky indeed, considering contemporary critics didn’t like cheeky rock bands (see the Doors through the eyes of Lester Bangs, for instance). Perhaps this is the reason why ‘If There is Something’ did not click with some reviewers – the honkey tonk piano and twangy guitar was witty but suspect: it was either musically naive or it was taking the piss – neither of which was very cool to the musical press.  Of course it was taking the piss! (Of course it wasn’t taking the piss!).  This was early Roxy Music juxtaposition at play, and it was shocking (and funny).

Friendly Yellow Lights

If there is something that I might find
Look around corners try to find peace of mind,
I say Where would you go if you were me?
Try to keep a straight course not easy

After the opening coda of country guitar and drums, Ferry enters in with an Americanized strained yokel accent – I-If there is ah s-something, that ah m-might fiiindd – and we quickly recognize that our singer has kicked off a call and response here, the first and second part of the first line divided into two voices, a pattern that continues as said juxtaposed conversation between two different voices or selves throughout the first verse:

If there is something (enter wobbly country yokel) 
That I might find (enter new voice, production echo)
Look around corners (country yokel)
Try to find peace of mind (echo voice)
I say, Where would you go (yokel)
If you were me? (echo)
Try to keep a straight course not easy (yokel / echo combine)

The song is clearly a quest narrative, in this instance a quest for “peace of mind,” and it again quite uncannily captures Bryan Ferry’s key concerns, even within this early pre-fame persona: The dedication to a quest for knowledge (art school) vs. party-time wasting (rock school).  Try to keep a straight course not easy!

follow-thru 3
Follow Thru, Lloyd Corrigan & Laurence Schwab, 1930

The call and response pattern continues in the second verse but the gaze is crucially shifted from looking/seeking to being seen/sought:

Somebody spe-cial / looking at me
A certain re-action /we find what should it try to be?, 
I mean if there are many /meaning the same
Being specific is just a game

This is metafictional self-consciousness writ large: the looker now finds himself looked at (around that corner) but artfully steps outside himself to consider (construct) what his re-action should be – if many (possibilities) mean the same, then the possibility of natural Ideal Love is rendered meaningless within the slippery medium of language, awareness, and randy thought. Roxy has taken us here before: in Re-Make/Re-Model the love object is recalled through the recollection of license plate CPL593H – the cleverness of the image being the true love subject of the song!

In the first two stanzas of ‘If There Is Something’, Bryan Ferry expounds on the professional and personal conundrum that has provided the jet fuel of his exemplary writing and music for over five decades.  The man is, by many accounts, an obsessive possessing an intensity of intent and work ethic coupled with a melancholy disposition (Rigby/Bracewell/Buckley). In this regard, Bryan Ferry is truly a modern Romantic thinker in the mold of a Bryon or Shelley, intellectually gifted, seeking his one natural and passionate (intuitive) Ideal, yet also slightly morose in his infatuation with the impossibility of knowledge or love in this degraded, meta-textual world. There are sublime examples of this mind-set in the Roxy albums that follow (For Your PleasureSiren) but this record, at 1:39 in,  is just finding its voice and the band have lots of space still to deliver their extraordinary literary and muscular musical argument.

Dark and More Dramatic

The 3rd act of this 4 act play is where Ferry constructs his vision of the Ideal Love and that image is at both once profoundly touching and, let it be said, gently, intentionally,  hilarious:

I would do anything for you / I would climb mountains
I would swim all the oceans blue 
I would walk a thousand miles / reveal my secrets
More than enough for me to share
I would put roses round our door / sit in the garden
Growing potatoes by the score

What woman (or man) could resist such declarations of love?  This guy would walk a thousand miles, swim not just the ocean blue but all the oceans! This is the promise of life’s commitment to domesticity  – roses are dutifully placed round the door, secrets are revealed, and potatoes are grown by the score (this is Oklahoma after all). Look closer though, and there is doubt in the declaration, and the structural tense provides the clue: contrast the declaration of I would walk a thousand miles with I will walk a thousand miles.  Would is the past tense form of will. Because it is a past tense it is used to talk about the past, or to talk about things that are imagined rather than true. Our man is deep in his head again, imagining himself as the Byron poet declaring his love with offers of traversing endless oceans instead of actually getting down and dirty with the potatoes.  

Titbits
If There Is Something (BBC SESSION 1972)
This is an excellent BBC session recorded on 18th July 1972 at Maida Vale studios, broadcast on Sounds Of The Seventies with John Peel on August 1st.

young ferry 2

If There is Something – Memphis IndustriesScreen Shot 2016-05-08 at 8.03.54 PM
A nice synthetic version with Bryan Ferry vocals evoked with taste and confidence.

Ferry/Shelley
The picture accompanying Dark and More Dramatic is of the great Romantic Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. As the synopsis says, regarded by many as among the finest lyric, as well as epic, poets in the English language.


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Ladytron

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 7.12.48 AMLadytron‘, (David Tran)

Ladytron‘ (Bryan Ferry), Roxy Music, 1972

The sly and clever Ladytronis the second cut on Roxy Music and the first of the album’s many punning titles: ‘tron‘ is, in part, a bit of word play referencing the Mellotron keyboard used so prominently in the song – and it is also a refreshing early introduction to Bryan Ferry’s love quest narrative. In this instance, the object of desire might be (take your pick): a mechanical fantasy woman; a love letter to the writer’s ego; or maybe even an homage to the beauty of music, its difficulties and distance, and its eventual betrayal and submission at the hands of the multi-talented poet rock star.

In this regard, ‘Ladytron’ is the first entry in the canon of Ferry’s Greek Odysseus siren theme of dangerous yet beautiful women who lure seafaring sailors (read: lost men) to shipwreck and ruin with their haunting music.  The pinnacle of this idea is played out most fully in The Fifth Roxy Music album Siren, but this early sketch is an excellent example of the artist’s curse (“why am I so sensitive & talented!”) and his attempt to avoid being destroyed by all this useless beauty.

A watery death may well have been the fate of this shipwrecked sailor, but Bryan Ferry is having none of that, and with a wink and a dab of post-modern irony, he equates himself and his experience with the trials of Odysseus – the only man on record (that I know of) tie himself to a ship’s mast, weep and wail uncontrollably while his mates berate him for resisting the charms of an island full of naked women. Odysseus does eventually resist the siren’s call for, as the story goes, their power is defeated by his male cunning and will-power in the face of lute (and feathers).

the-siren
The Sirenby John Waterhouse.

His life ebbed away as she dragged him still further, And laughed when she saw she’d accomplished her goal. – Charlotte Lester

Bryan Ferry’s good friend and confidante Dr. Simon Puxley points out in the album’s liner notes that the title ‘Ladytron‘ “conflates the lady of the lyric with sound of the music.” As a result, the lyric captures Bryan Ferry’s heart-felt confession about the difficulties in writing (possessing) the song (You’ve got me girl on the run around run around), while offering himself completely to the service and mastery of his art (if you want a lover/look no further/I’ll find some way of connection). At the mid-juncture of this mellotron Odyssey, the author/suitor springs his trap, revealing the extent of his deviousness and cunning (hiding my intention/I’ll get to you).

In ‘Ladytron’ seduction roles are reversed: the song writer uses and confuses his lady/melody thereby assuming the role of predator and instead of suffering certain watery death, rides this new-found dominance, presumably, all the way to the top of the charts. This process does not make for pleasant reading (still you won’t suspect me) but Bryan Ferry is almost alone in his willingness to reveal right off the bat the ‘sinister overtones’ of the crippled male imagination and the unbridled ego of the modern rock star/poet.

I’ll find some way of connection
Hiding my intention
Then I’ll move up close to you
I’ll use you and I’ll confuse you
And then I’ll lose you
Still you won’t suspect me

‘Ladytron’ lays bare Ferry’s awareness of his increasing power as a talented tune-smith – an awareness that would have seismic repercussions for Roxy as they shifted from a critical darling art-house collective to smooth pop masters. Yet the song’s success also comes from an opposite impulse: collaboration, group dynamics, and a unified sense of purpose and effort. Here Ferry’s lyrical and narrative insights are given equal weight by the visceral impact of the music, and ‘Ladytron’ provides the first indication of something special working within this group of miscreant musicians.

“‘Ladytron’ is a sort of sci-fi lunar landscape with the oboe playing what I call the  The Haunted Landscape Theme.

Bryan Ferry, NME, 1973

Haunted LandscapeLunar Landing... the first 66 seconds of ‘Ladytron’ announces Brian Eno‘s musical gifts as he lays down a sublime sonic synth-bed for Andy Mackay‘s deftly blown oboe theme. Interrupted by a line of cackle interference that will be heard again (a rare repeat) on Manzanera/Eno solo cut Miss Shapiro, the sound double-tracks and lifts off, replicating the cadence of a lunar module arriving on some strange musical landscape. The production is good here and clearly announces that the Eno/Mackay unit is as much an essential a sound to classic Roxy Music as Ferry’s quivering tenor vocal delivery and towering presence.

‘Ladytron’ brims with collisions and allows each of the musicians to take a solo, albeit at odd angles.  It is like musical blocks are purposely being built to rub against one another in order to generate the necessary spark and tension needed to get to the next track. Even a cursory breakdown of the song reveals eight or more distinct sections running over the course of its 4:26 minutes:

1. Opening/Lunar landing – Eno/Mackay
2. Melodic and lyrical introduction:You got me girl…” – Ferry
3. Verse 1, drums and bass intro:Lady, if you want to find a lover…” – Thompson/ Simpson
4. Break 1, galloping oboe and drum trot: Mackay oboe/Manzanera slash-chords
5. Verse 2,I’ll find some way of connection…” – Ferry
6. Break 2, Deep theme: Mackay switches instrument (saxophone)/Manzanera switches approach (chords to solos)
7. Break 3, Heightened response: Manzanera reprises chords/Eno launches synth attack
8. Ending/Lunar Demise: Eno explodes the lunar pod; renders the moonscape barren.

Structurally ‘Ladytron’ pits musicians and musical ideas against one another: it’s not so much a contest to see who will remain standing, but rather to see if the results should be filed under harmony or car crash. This approach had already been successfully utilized by many classic jazz bands  – notably Miles Davis’s second great quintet (1964–68) – but jazz instruments and Moog pop pastiches were pretty fresh to rock fans in mid-1972. In this regard ‘Ladytron’ became a template for future recordings (not all necessarily by Roxy Music) and the song still holds a cultural and punch-to-the-gut visceral impact. Or, if you prefer – as one notable US critic proclaimed – “the most painful yet psyche-grabbing moment in rock this year!”

Recorded: Command Studios, London 15 March 1972

Photo Credits: Andy Mackay, consequenceofsound.net; Andy Mackay‘s book on electronic music – “Electronic Music – The Instruments, the Music & the Musicians.” A wee bit hard to find. My copy: Ebay; Australia.; Brian Eno, early 70s

Ladytron: The classic early performance
Ladytron: Ballsy as hell; Eno synth excellent, and Phil lets ‘er rip around the 4 min mark.

Passing the Sirens: Bryan Ferry has lots more where this comes from: In addition to Ladytron and half the songs on Siren, my own temptress favourite is found in ‘Editions of You‘ (And as I was drifting past the Lorelei/I heard those slinky sirens wail, whooo…!).

Marie-François_Firmin-Girard_-_Ulysses_and_the_Sirens_1868

Byron! Byron! Over here!

Elvis Costello, “Useless Beauty
If you reference useless beauty, you better reference Useless Beauty. Indispensable.

useless beauty

 

 


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Re-Make/Re-Model

rethink

Re-think/Re-entry‘ (Derek Boshier), oil on canvas, 1962

Re-Make/Re-Model‘ (Bryan Ferry), Roxy Music, 1972

‘I’ve always liked what Goethe said: “The greatest thing a person can achieve is astonishment”.’
Derek Boshier

Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry introduced their art-manifesto to the world with ‘Re-Make/Re-Model‘, the opening cut on first album Roxy Music (1972). With ‘Re-Make’ the listener is presented with the image of a Goddess sweeping by in her car, the glimpse of which stirs our Artist as Young Man to write a modern pop song. Ferry took his inspiration from Derek Boshier and his pop art painting Re-Think/Re-Entry (1962).

‘Re-think’ highlights the motifs of change and transformation: pieces of a Union Jack jigsaw are sucked into an umbilical cord and transported across time from 1644 (the period of the first English Civil War) to modern times. During the process these pieces of Britannia metamorphose into human figures falling towards the base of a modern space ship. Boshier was critical of the space race so it is safe to assume that he did not intend the trans-formative image to be a symbol of positive change for the Brits. Instead, the painter undercuts narrative expectation by opening the possibility that the human forms are in fact being catapulted back to 1644. In this reading, trans-formative forward motion is only achievable by going (looking) back and re-thinking the quality of the political, social and economic decisions since that time. A wonderful and playful painting, ‘Re-Think/Re-Entry‘ is an invitation to look at the process of perception and narrative expectation viewed through the visual language of art. In this regard, the young Bryan Ferry – student of Fine Art at the University of Newcastle – crafted one of his earliest songs to convey his fascination with artistic change and new and exciting ways of seeing:

I tried but I could not find a way
Looking back all I did was look away
Next time is the best time we all know
But if there is no next time where to go

‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ moves within a series of musical and narrative collisions and transformations.  The song also provides the earliest example of Bryan Ferry’s career-defining artistic and emotional concerns: that of the sensitive aesthete searching for love in a looking-glass world, knowing full well that memory of the chase is better than the catch (Next time is the best time we all know). In evidence is Ferry’s hallmark structural simplicity set to a sublime outcome: the poetic scheme of the song is straight-ahead rhyming couplets (way/away/know/go) set within a time-shifting verse. The playfulness becomes evident when we realize that the object of desire (the sweetest queen) is actually missing in action, comically absent from the narrative. While we might reasonably expect our day-dreaming lad to describe his Queen with shimmering bedroom eyes and Greta Garbo hair, instead he riffs and obsesses on the license plate number of the car she was driving – CPL593H. Has there ever been a song of passion whose chorus name-checks a car license plate? (Surrey registration no less). Clearly, our boy knows which side his postmodern signified/signifiers are buttered, ‘Re-Make‘ demonstrating amply that the trigger for memory can be more important (and more rewarding) than the memory itself. Ohhh show me!

bag 2

Roxy Music has always had humour in spades and it is a shame that this aspect of the band’s output is often over-looked. “The early 70s,” John Peel once complained, “were kind of boring apart from Roxy Music.” This was the era of The Band, CSNY, and George Harrison‘s lush and opulent beard. Jesus Christ Superstar was the biggest US seller of 1971.  In the UK it was no better: on the positive side, Bridge Over Troubled Water was a chart topper, but then so was Andy Williams Greatest Hits The art-school trio of Ferry, Eno and Mackay looked to the visual arts, cinema, magazines, and 50s pop to provide the band with a dress code that emphasized pastiche and theatricality at the expense of typical rock group posturing. Early band pictures highlight a hilarious collision of styles: Teddy Boy vs. Tarzan  (nice leopard suit Paul); Boa Boy vs. Space Child (Andy Mackay particularly striking with Star Trek sideburns and green sparkle regalia). The approach was a consciously disposable art that drew attention to the creative process while gently mocking it. Even the credits for Roxy Music were fresh, famously crediting “clothes, make-up and hair” to fashion designer Antony Price. “Cover concept” by Bryan Ferry; “Cover girl” by Kari-Ann; “Photography” by Karl Stoecker. The whole thing read like the Hollywood movie it was pretending to be.

In June 1972 – over 50 years ago – seven months after the release of Clockwork Orange spooked a nation (truths too close to home), the first wave of glam punk delivered the troubled spawn of the Age of Aquarius in the form of Roxy Music and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Both albums released in the same month, Roxy were even Bowie’s opening act on the Spiders of Mars tour. The shows were glammed up and hot, musically tough. A sense of humour was necessary to crank it out and take it in. Yet, in spite of the theatricality and irreverence, Roxy were asking a perfectly honest and important question: where do we go from here? The answer of course was the future, but what did the future look like, musically..?

To fresh young ears it must have sounded like a mess. It still does. The music is harsh and in your face (future Sex Pistol Steve Jones was certainly taking notes – the name of his first band was called The Strand). The sonics are thin, the vocals shrill and gimmicky (something Ferry tried to address with his re-recording of four of the original tracks for his solo album Let’s Stick Together) but the record’s overall buzz, ingenuity, energy and sense of fun are palpable. ‘Re-Make’ takes off in the key of F and races like a locomotive up the neck. It’s thrash-rock in full flight, the F root chord holding down its tubby arse as it recoils from the move to G#  (not the expected G major) and then, worse, to D#, the sharps upping the tension with sustained off-program momentum. Three chords and attitude. (Buzzcocks eat your heart out). And when the song takes a breather it’s still got plenty of sass: throwing out line and quotes from The Beatles (Day Tripper), Eddie Cochran (C’mon Everybody) and even Wagner (Ride of the Valkyries) while Brian Eno blows sploodge bubbles with his VCS3 like there is no precedent. (There wasn’t).

This song is a mashup before mashups existed, and it fuckin’ rocks!”
Song of the Day, We Ball Harder

Strident, in-your-face, a trio of firsts (first recorded, first cut, first album), ‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ is the manifesto for the group aesthetic.  From here the journey would be variants on a theme of the Roxy Machine..

Derek Boshier
Derek Boshier’s career is long, varied and innovative. He has recently updated his website with fascinating links to his back-catalogue: take a moment to check it out, www.derekboshier.comyou won’t regret it.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 7.37.36 PM
Bryan Ferry re-recorded  “Re-Make/Re-Model“, “2HB“, “Chance Meeting” and “Sea Breezes” for his Let’s Stick Together solo collection (1976). The voice is deeper, the funk is tuned, the result surprisingly strong. In bar fights I am quick to point out that the musical guests are Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson, John Wetton, and Chris Spedding. Highly recommended.