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.
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!
‘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
British Tommy (sculpture)
Trauma is passed from generation to generation. I’ve unwittingly inherited what my father experienced
Pete Townshend, 2012
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.
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.