War is hell, and The Bob (Medley) isn’t much better. Of its time, The Bob is another in Bryan Ferry’s first album punning titles (The Battle of Britain) and the song delivers yet another dramatic vocal performance. This one is strained though, and for the first (and thankfully rare) time on a 70s Roxy Music album, the lyrics are trite and forgettable. 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
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 4 months before Roxy had even 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 version recorded nine months later for Peel 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!
Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?//Richard Hamilton
The Bob (Medley) is perhaps the most succinct realization of the band’s early avant garde playbook: the track’s modernist mash-up was central to the early Roxy sound and approach. With his principal passions in music and fine art, Bryan Ferry, post-war coal-steward’s son, 3rd in a line of 4 children, left the Northern grey skies for a study of Fine Art at the University of Newcastle. Here Ferry would study under artist guru and founder of British Pop Art, Richard Hamilton, an extraordinary and key influence on Ferry and Roxy both visually and conceptually, almost to the point where the band can be seen as an actualization and output of an art work – as banal as The Monkees, yet as deep as Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Warhol’s Factory. Hamilton predicted what Pop Art (Roxy Music) should be: Popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business!
“Bryan Ferry – my greatest creation.” (Hamilton quoted in Buckley, 24).
Ferry would come to say that his earliest writings and recordings with the band were a direct attempt to combine his love of music with the creative possibilities and ideas that he had learned from fine art and the teachings of Richard Hamilton. Hamilton’s visual juxtapositions from the 1950s were at the forefront of Ferry’s mind while he composed the music for Roxy Music, with the lyrical and musical collages and collisions of If There is Something and Re-Make/Re-Model in the can, The Bob (Medley) is as arty, funny, indulgent, worthy in subject matter and approach, but not aging very 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 in the air: 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 viewers 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. 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 2 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: 22 March 1972 at Command Studios, London
Trauma is passed from generation to generation. I’ve unwittingly inherited what my father experienced – Pete Townshend, 2012
The effect of World War 2 on a generation is expressed, in part, in those searing and best-selling double albums of the 70s – Tommy (69) and The Wall (79). In both, murdered Fathers are the source of anger and experience is gained within an often cruel and ignorant society moving through reconstruction, suppressing emotion, engendering guilt (it’s a boy Mrs. Walker). The anger and violence is real in both: Roger Waters has recorded for you the sound of his father being killed 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 seeing his father murdered (again) as his mother and her killer lover yell at him:
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!
The war delivers a wounded legacy to its children. And be careful who you leave your kids with – teachers, bullies, uncles, aunts, cousins – it is chilling to consider that both these records have sold a combined total of 43 million copies.
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. 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.