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.
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)
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.