The Record Collector archives: Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music

Following on from the earlier post giving some (OK, loadsa) background to my authoring of the Ferry and Roxy reviews that Record Collector didn’t publish, well, this is them folks. Kinda timely, since a super deluxe edition of the band’s iconic debut was announced today. The legendary 1972 album finally receives a lavish four-disc treatment next February 2018: slightly missing its 45th anniversary, but set to include a plethora of previously unreleased rarities including a 1971 demo tape, alternate mixes, John Peel BBC radio sessions, never seen-before photographic outtakes from the cover artwork shoots and DVD featuring live and TV appearances plus the album remixed in 5.1 surround sound. It’ll be interesting to see whether any of the subsequent long-players mentioned below might be worthy of such treatment. Here’s hoping with you, kids.

 

Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music (Seventies/Eighties/Nineties)

Roxy Music

Viva! Roxy Music: Virgin ROXYCDX6 (46:16)

Manifesto: Virgin ROXYCDX7 (42:44)

Flesh + Blood: Virgin ROXYCDX8 (42:03)

Avalon: Virgin ROXYCDX9 (37:31)

Heart Still Beating: Virgin ROXYCDX10 (67:59)

Bryan Ferry

These Foolish Things: Virgin FERRYCDX1 (43:53) 

Another Time, Another Place: Virgin FERRYCDX2 (42:05)

Let’s Stick Together: Virgin FERRYCDX3 (37:58)

In Your Mind: Virgin FERRYCDX4 (36:11)

The Bride Stripped Bare: Virgin FERRYCDX5 (41:49)

Boys And Girls: Virgin FERRYCDX6 (38:32)

Bête Noire: Virgin FERRYCDX7 (43:46)

Taxi: Virgin FERRYCDX8 (40:02)

Mamouna: Virgin FERRYCDX9 (45:37)

 

The fourteen titles here mark the second, third and fourth (and final) batches of original Ferry and Roxy LPs reissued this autumn. Mastering supremo Bob Ludwig has again treated the tapes to the latest High Definition Compatible Digital technology, which allows the sound of the individual albums to retain the full richness and detail of the original microphone feed. So, sonically they’re superb – and putting them up against previous editions is a bit like comparing diamonds with diarrhoea – but it’s the packaging that really impresses. Visually, the albums are beautifully presented as per the first LP edition, shrunk to CD size. That means paper inners, with original artwork, credits and lyrics, if they had them, are authentically housed in miniature thick card sleeves, gatefolds where appropriate.

This wonderfully purist approach to keeping the initial design integrity is extended by thoughtfully relegating the modern barcode to a Japanese-style wrap-around obi. Two tiny complaints, though: the black vinyl groove pastiche on the discs themselves is cheap and unnecessary, and the colour looks more like charcoal. Secondly, these replicas are only limited editions in strict quantities to create some interest and satisfy the hardcore, and are sadly being replaced by conventional, uninspiring jewel case versions as I write. One wonders why the EMI Group can’t consider repackaging all catalogue product in this way, permanently. The size and type of card sleeve used here is both flexible and durable enough to house a thick CD booklet, and the faithful would be sated, while retailers would have more room to fill their racks up.

Little more than a year after Roxy Music’s debut burst onto the scene, and just seven months after their sophomore follow-up, the incomparable For Your Pleasure, the solo These Foolish Things was a chance for the flamboyant frontman to delve publicly into his record collection. Ferry could leave musical progression and experimentation to his work with the band, and concentrate on selecting “a catholic selection” of golden oldies which, adopting the premise that ‘standard’ singers like Frank Sinatra had followed, he could reinterpret in his own unique style.

“It’s a rip-off!” Ferry exclaimed when hearing about Pin Ups, and tried to file an injunction to prevent RCA releasing Bowie’s LP before his

Recording started in June 1973, and this fact is proudly stated on the reverse, and loudly by Ferry himself over the years, to remind anyone who’d listen that his friendly rival David Bowie didn’t start work on his own covers set, Pin Ups, until touring commitments ceased that July. Ferry lost out in the eventual head-to-head, with Mr Stardust shooting straight to the top the same November week These Foolish Things came in at five, though it did hang around the charts for twice as long as David’s album. An eclectic mix of originals were brought into the ‘70s, tastefully topped off by the older, more obscure title track. Further highlights include a fast and frivolous version of It’s My Party – Ferry’s “kind of tribute to the gay side” (and bringing a whole new meaning to the line “Nobody knows where my Johnny has gone”) and its top ten single, a rockin’ rendition of Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.

For 1974’s Another Time, Another Place, Ferry applied his unsettling vibrato to reworkings of another nine classics, and in a development of the concept, indulged himself further by amending it with the self-composed title track. More serious than its predecessor, the right tracks were chosen as singles, with the guitar-heavy The ‘In’ Crowd, and an effortless reading of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes many people’s chosen favourites, though the version of Help Me Make It Through The Night hardly gave Gladys Knight many of the sleepless variety.

I wonder if that Johnny’s in the pool. Best fetch for the net

One of the most chattered-about points concerned the cover, shot by by Vogue photographer Eric Boman. The singer, with more than “a touch of Rudolph Valentinos” (thanks Russell Harty!), is portrayed Hollywood poolside, dressed in an immaculate white Antony Price tuxedo. It instantly became the defining image of Bryan Ferry as the suave, crooning MOR balladeer, and no matter how many costume changes followed, it was an insignia he’s been stuck with ever since.

Just four months later Roxy released their fourth opus, Country Life, followed in 1975 by Siren, featuring the fabulously funky Love Is The Drug, their highest charting single to date. 1976 saw the release of Viva! Roxy Music, the live album. Titled with delicious irony, it loosely translates as Long Live Roxy Music, and came just a month after a statement was issued, confirming the band was, in PR-speak, embarking on a ‘devolution’ to allow its personnel to release their creative energies elsewhere – meaning that the guys dissolved their working relationship because, as guitarist Phil Manzanera, admitted, they were “sick of the sight of each other.” Manzanera had sifted through some sixty hours of tapes from their last three British tours, narrowing things down to a souvenir eight-song selection of LP tracks (all of the first five Roxy albums are represented, with the delightful perverse exception of Stranded, their only chart-topper at that point), together with a listless run through Pyjamarama.

Do the Stranded. You know you would (she’s Playboy beauty queen Marilyn Cole, actually)

Alhough If There Is Something lasts for a self-indulgent ten-and-a-half minutes, and the muddy mix meant that a lot of the vim and vigour of the original studio recordings got lost, it’s a useful historical document of the most important and influential band of the first half of the 1970s on stage in their heyday. It also marked the first and last time that a band member – Ferry in full GI garb serenading a ‘Siren’ (backing vocalist Jacquie Sullivan) – appeared on the cover of a Roxy Music album, posthumous compilations excepted. But a black mark goes against Virgin for reproducing artwork from a previous CD edition, rather than the original vinyl. The ‘digitally remastered by Denis Blackham at Tape One, Spring 1989’ line on the back was a bit of a giveaway, gents.

Let’s Stick Together, issued almost simultaneously with Viva!, was a bizarre grab-bag collection of solo odds and sods recorded over a three-year period. Atlantic, Ferry’s recalcitrant label in the States, balked at the idea of putting out anything as unconventional and outdated as an EP in 1976, so the four tracks that made up the Extended Play nostalgia trip (led by a thumping take of the Everly Brothers’ The Price Of Love, which sold it into the top ten here) were joined by the previous year’s minor hit, a string and brass-heavy version of the evergreen You Go To My Head, no less than five questionable Roxy remakes, and the super-charged gusto of the LP’s title track, an inspired, harmonica-led version of an old R&B hit, which punched its way up to No.4 earlier in the summer to become (and remains) Ferry’s highest-charting solo single.

“Yeah, Jacquie. Watch me eat this microphone.”

1977’s energetic In Your Mind was a completely new proposition, consisting entirely of Ferry originals. It fared well, in commercial terms at least, and the album even made No.1 in Australia, no doubt aided by the splendid immediacy of This Is Tomorrow and Tokyo Joe, the hits extracted from it, although it appeared to some ears that Bryan’s singles were becoming a little formularised. Apart from Rock Of Ages and the title track there’s not a great deal more to recommend here, and the treble-heavy mix didn’t help.

The Bride Stripped Bare, from 1978, is Ferry at his most austere, both vocally and visually, as by the time of its release, he had grown a rather unkempt beard, looking like he was auditioning for a job with Tin Machine a decade too early. The LP is a tense but even mixture of new material and revived oldies, mainly of the soul/R&B variety. For the first time, three cuts were used as singles fodder, with only the brilliantly bleak recklessness of Sign Of The Times managing to shuffle around the lower reaches of the top 40. Offbeat versions of Lou Reed’s What Goes On and the Irish traditional Carrickfergus (said to have been written for Judi Forsyth) were ignominious flops and failed to lift the album into the top ten. It would be another seven years before Bryan Ferry would release another.

Recorded in Switzerland, this original cover artwork for The Bride wasn’t used in the 1999 reissues. Sorry

The Roxy Music reunion was launched with the band’s Manifesto, released in 1979, and certainly more appealing than those offered by the political parties in the year Margaret Thatcher swept to power. After a three-year hiatus, inter-group politics had been (temporarily) resolved, and the line-up would be based around the remaining nucleus of Ferry/Manzanera/Mackay, augmented with a variety of hired hands. The comeback got off to a false start when the now-forgotten first single, Trash, immediately ended up in the bargain bins, though the party was quickly back on track when the disco dynamism of Angel Eyes and the elegant Dance Away took the public off the street and onto the floor to become huge sellers. Later pressings of the album (and subsequent CD reissues) have used the remixed single versions, so full marks go to Virgin for reinstating Angel Eyes in its original form, but a big black one for not doing the same with Dance Away.

A new romanticism had crept into Ferry’s work, and Manifesto was the record that presaged his musical direction for the next 15 years. From then on it would be series of impeccably crafted, sophisticated pieces of ‘quality’ music, ever more smoother, ever more slicker, ever more richer, with an ever-increasing roll call of blue chip session men to fill out the spotless sound in a string of studios in the world’s most expensive and exclusive locations. The band trilogy of Manifesto, Flesh + Blood (three substantial hits: Over You, Oh Yeah (On The Radio) and the mighty Same Old Scene) and Avalon (More Than This made the top ten, though Take A Chance With Me and the regal title track struggled a little), together with the solo Boys And Girls, were massive commercial successes, and remain Ferry’s biggest sellers.

Flesh & Blood cover stars Roslyn Ashley Bolton, Shelley Mann & Aimee Stephenson weren’t javelin throwers but they were easier on the eye than Fatima Whitbread

With 1980’s Flesh + Blood, the major surprise was the inclusion of covers – seamlessly polished versions of In The Midnight Hour and The Byrds’ Eight Miles High – on a Roxy album for the first time, and critics were quick to point out that Bryan appeared to be struggling in the lyric department, something that would have been unthinkable in the ‘70s, and a view reinforced when the boys’ 1982 swansong, the elegiac “Avalon”, contained two inessential instrumentals and a B-side released 18 months previously.

I’ve always had a personal soft spot for 1985’s Boys And Girls, as it was the record I chose to buy with my first pay packet, courtesy of British Home Stores in Milton Keynes. After disappearing from view for what felt like an eternity (even David Bowie appeared concerned about Ferry’s whereabouts, and offered him the role of his sartorially superior flat-mate in 1984’s Jazzin’ For Blue Jean video), suddenly Bryan’s back, shooting straight to the top of the charts.

“Touch me one more time and I’ll get Jimmy Savile to fix you.”

The album is rhythmically stronger than Avalon – no better examples being the deserved hits Slave To Love and Don’t Stop The Dance – and composed entirely of Ferry’s own material, elaborating on the themes of quest and soul-searching in the face of loss (his father Frederick died the previous year). The wonderfully wistful Windswept, with Ferry’s fragile vocals almost disappearing into the mix, and the suitably mournful title track remain two of his most underrated achievements.

Bête Noire, issued in 1987, had its moments, though the minor hits The Right Stuff (with Johnny Marr on board, this was essentially The Smiths’ Money Changes Everything with lyrics) and the funk-lite Kiss And Tell (which achieved an inauspicious top 40 placing in the States, his only showing to date) are distinctly average. It’s the Latin American decadence of the title track and the under-rated Limbo single that clinch it. Who spotted that Eno piccie on the dressing room mirror in the latter’s video, by the way?

By now the endless textural sumptuousness and striving for constant refinement was becoming stifling, not that anyone told Ferry, mind. As 1990’s Heart Still Beating, a collection of Roxy live music recorded on their final European tour of 1982 was selling dismally, the Libran lounger was immersed with a 56-track console perpetually piling layer-upon-layer for an album to be entitled Horoscope. In an attempt to clear the creative sinuses, he was forced to put the project on hold and went in for another dose of pop archaeology. The vehicle for a new set of reworkings, 1993’s Taxi, was completed in the one studio in just six months (relatively speaking, that’s a fast Ferry), and shot straight to No.2, boosted by the introductory single, a skilful reinterpretation of I Put A Spell On You, which rightly gave Ferry his biggest ‘new’ hit since Slave To Love, though Will You Love Me Tomorrow and a melodically muscular take of Elvis Presley’s Girl Of My Best Friend failed to repeat its success.

Four tracks from the Horoscope sessions were rescued for what eventually appeared as the densely-mixed Mamouna in 1994, the last album in this welcome re-release programme, and the first to feature the classic Roxy line-up of Ferry, Eno, Manzanera and Mackay for 21 years. Though it has to be said that even with any amount of sonic remastering, the contributions from the latter pair remain almost inaudible. Sales suffered due being released ahead of the first single, the beguiling Your Painted Smile. And Ferry didn’t exactly help matters by dressing up as an Arab in the video for the title track follow-up either. It’s horses for courses, of course, but quite why Wildcat Days, co-authored with the Eno one and the only uptempo track here, wasn’t chosen instead is a mystery. A bit like Mr Ferry himself, I guess.

BF and DB in London, 1998: “Hey Bryan, did you realise covers albums aren’t actually an original idea?”
“Get lost, short arse.”

NB As the three combined Ferry/Roxy hits and bits packages are not included in this series, one would hope that Bryan’s remaining A-sides, B-sides, surplus and soundtrack material will be featured on next year’s four-disc solo retrospective?

Steve Pafford