Phil Manzanera talks reunion tour, first album

Phil Manzanera talks reunion tour, first album

Phil Manzanera’s introduction to Roxy Music happened over a half century ago.

He had answered an ad that the U.K. avant-garde rock act placed in Melody Maker, reportedly seeking “the perfect guitarist,” and showed up up at the little house that band leader Bryan Ferry shared with fellow member Andy Mackay back in 1971.

Manzanera, then just 20 years old, was immediately impressed.

“I thought, ‘Wow, they are so cool,’” he remembers. “I was very keen on wanting to join these guys, because I knew they were special.”

And the rest was history, right? Well, not so fast.

“I failed the audition,” admits Manzanera, explaining that he had a cold on that particular day and that Roxy really had its eyes set on a more established guitarist.

Thankfully, he’d get another shot at the prize and was invited to join the band a few months later. The new combo would quickly head into the studio and begin recording 1972’s game-changing debut “Roxy Music.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group — currently featuring Manzanera, vocalist-keyboardist Ferry, sax/oboe player Mackay and mighty drummer Paul Thompson — is celebrating the 50th anniversary of that legendary album with a long-overdue reunion tour.

The trek touches down Sept. 26 at Chase Center in San Francisco, marking the first time that the hugely influential band has played in the Bay Area since Aug. 5, 2001, at the Concord Pavilion. St. Vincent is also on the bill. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets start at $47,

Roxy Music also performs Sept. 28 at the Kia Forum in Inglewood.

I recently had the chance to do a Zoom video chat with Manzanera about the highly anticipated road show.

Q: It’s been a long time since Roxy Music’s last tour, but even longer since the group played in the Bay Area. To be specific, it’s been 21 years.

A: It’s unbelievable. I had to Google it myself to find when was the last time — as Roxy — we played (the Bay Area). Obviously, I had been to San Francisco with David Gilmour on the first David Gilmour tour that I did. On the second Gilmour tour, we didn’t go to San Francisco.

I was really surprised that Roxy hadn’t (toured) in America for 20 years.

Q: And, believe me, the band has most definitely been missed. Why has it taken so long for this reunion tour to happen?

A: Time just slips by so quickly. To play these songs again, and to people who would appreciate them — the Roxy fans in America — it’s important for us to do this.

Obviously, we are celebrating 50 years. That’s why we’re out doing this. Because this is what you do when you’ve been in a band for such a long time.

And that’s not meant to happen — that bands go on forever. The whole band thing is such a weird construct. The Beatles sort of invented it. They made a template — which was basically some friends from school get together and form a band. I guess the Beach Boys (as well).

Q: Isn’t it wild to think that the “Roxy Music” album is now a half-century old?

A: Wow. What is great, though, is the music seems to be timeless. You listen to certain pop bands from the ‘50s or the ‘60s and you can tell (the timeframe) from the sound and everything.

But the first Roxy album sounds like it could have been recorded last week by a bunch of amateurs in London — just as it was in 1972. Inspired amateurs, may I say — people who wanted to get better. Most of the songs are in three chords, but an idea on top of them.

Q: Usually a mighty impressive idea.

A: I had to listen to all the tracks, and go to the multi-tracks to see what I played, and I’m having to learn my guitar parts from when I’m 21. And I’m thinking, “This is quite weird. How did I play that? Maybe I’ve become too conventional now. I’ve got to go back and relearn to be a bit anarchy.”

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Q: You aren’t staying long on this side of the pond — and you’re only doing a few U.K. gigs and none in Europe. So, I’m sure fans are wondering whether the band plans to add more dates in 2023.

A: You are absolutely right — what about people in Germany and Italy?

Obviously, there was COVID and the world has changed, in terms of how you think about (touring) and what’s possible and what’s not possible.

We’re just doing what’s possible at the moment. And what’s possible is that some guys in America said, “Do you want to come tour?” And we said, “Yeah, sure. We’ll come and play these songs and do a good job and then see how we get on.”

Hopefully, it’ll be great and people will say, “Why don’t you come to Italy?” or “Why don’t you come to Australia?” But, at the moment, it is just this. So, let’s just see what happens.

Q: Fair enough. I’m just thrilled to finally be able to see the band in concert again. And I know I’m not alone on that.

A: The reaction has been great, actually. It means something to a lot of people — depending on what age they were when they got into listening to Roxy. I know being a fan of bands from the ‘60s that I can remember exactly where I was when I heard “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles for the first time or I saw Jimi Hendrix on the television in London in 1967. I have a visual. Music has so much resonance for me. And I guess pop music and rock music has a lot of resonance for everybody.

Q: Especially the music we grew up with.

A: I think when we go see a live band, yeah, you are looking at the band at the time — now — but it’s filtered through all your memories. That’s fun. It’s a communal type of thing. All of the people who are coming will have heard these songs before. Maybe they have heard “More Than This” in the film, but they’ve never heard us play it live.

Supposedly people used “Avalon” as a make-out record. Obviously, that’s weird to me. Maybe it will bring back memories. (Laughs)

Q: What should fans be expecting from the set list?

A: We have 80 songs to choose from — because there are eight albums. Obviously, you can’t play 80 songs. There are certain songs that absolutely have to be played (that) we know people will want to hear — the more popular songs.

But we will rehearse something like 30 songs, maybe swap out different ones on different gigs and see what works and what doesn’t work.

Q: Roxy handled so many different musical styles over the course of eight albums. Is it hard to balance all those different sounds — going from like the avant-rocker “Re-Make/Re-Model” to, say, the polished pop of “More Than This” — in concert?

A: You are absolutely right — and therein lies the challenge for us. Especially in America, where a lot of the earlier stuff is not that well known. “Avalon” was our only album in America that went platinum. It took a lot of time, but it did. So, it tends to suggest that more people know the songs from “Avalon” than a lot of the earlier ones. We need to put in quite a few songs from “Avalon” and then put in some of our more sort of obvious ones from the early period, to show the other sides to Roxy that maybe people didn’t really know.

Q: Which songs are the most fun for you to play in concert? I’m guessing one is “Both Ends Burning” because you get to really rip.

A: Yeah, obviously, from a guitarist, what are you going to say? The favorite songs are the ones where I can just solo away. The end of “Ladytron,” the end of “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” “Both Ends of Burning” — the rockers.

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In a lot of the other songs, you are sort of serving the song. It’s not a jazz band. It’s not an improvisational act. So, you have to take your moments as a soloist. You tend to really enjoy those bits.

Q: Two of my absolute favorite songs are “If There Is Something” and “Mother of Pearl.” To me, they are kind of Roxy in a nutshell, in the way that each one travels so much ground in terms of style and feel.

A: I know what you mean. And that tends to be what a lot of the first five albums were like. Then, by the time you get to “Avalon,” it’s almost like ambient type of stuff.

That’s a development over eight albums. Not many bands get to do eight albums. Doing a lot of albums is a challenge for a band because they want to do something different. They don’t want to just repeat what went before. People want something new.

Q: I’m curious if you saw “Flashbacks of a Fool” and, if so, what you thought of the major use of “If There Is Something” in the film.

A: I thought it worked really well. Obviously, I’m biased (laughs). To me, the music of Roxy works very well in films. The one that has been used more than any is “More Than This” in films and TV.

Q: Do you have a favorite period — or album — of Roxy Music?

A: I do love “For Your Pleasure” — the second album. I guess it’s because it was the last album with Brian Eno and it’s the last time when we were really working as a band properly.

Eno’s favorite (Roxy) album is “Stranded,” the one after he left. Now whether that’s because he didn’t have to spend any time working on it or because he genuinely loves the music — I don’t know. But that’s a very Eno thing to say.

“For Your Pleasure” — I was like 22 and everything was terribly exciting. We were working with this famous producer, Chris Thomas, who had worked with George Martin and the Beatles up at George Martin’s studio. In the other control room, “Dark Side of the Moon” was being mixed. It’s like — “Wow.”

Q: “For Your Pleasure” had a lot of classics on it. But each one of the band’s albums produced some seminal Roxy tunes. One that should be considered a classic — but instead remains kind of a hidden gem — is the beauty “Running Wild.”

A: Thank you. I was just listening to it the other day and trying to work out how to play it. It almost sounds like a Neil Young song to me. It’s got a groove and just a repeating chorus. And, of course, I get to play a nice guitar solo at the end. I love that song. Obviously, I co-wrote it, so I am biased.

See if we can wheel that out (on tour). That would be fun. I don’t think we have ever played it live.

Q: I’m putting together a list of the top 25 Roxy Music songs of all time. And you can bet “Running Wild” will make the cut.

A: When that comes out, send it to me. So, just in case we are still rehearsing, I can check out if we’ve got them on the list.

Q: Years back, I was interviewing (former Roxy Music violinist/keyboardist) Eddie Jobson and asked him if he thought the band would ever get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Without missing a beat, he answered that he didn’t think it would happen. Obviously, he was wrong — and Roxy Music was enshrined in 2019. Did the induction surprise you?

A: Well, it did. Because I know that (acts) get nominated for years and then people vote and they don’t necessarily get in. So, being nominated for the first time and then suddenly getting in — it was a great surprise to all of us. We rang each other up and said, “Whoa! What happened there?” We were thrilled.

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Eno was thrilled as well, but he didn’t come (to the ceremony) because he said, “Look, for environmental reasons, I’m not traveling anymore. I’m not flying. But I’m very happy this happened.” Eno, obviously, he was inducted as well. And Eddie as well! So Eddie came and played with us.

Q: You guys played a great set at the induction ceremony.

A: We were just amazed at what a big deal it was when you get into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. I looked up from the table and I thought, “Wow. This is incredible. There are so many people.” To the right of me, there’s the whole Fleetwood Mac. There’s Janet Jackson behind us. There are the Duran-y guys, who are inducting us. The Zombies were there. The guys from Radiohead.

Q: Speaking of Duran Duran, those Birmingham lads represent just some of the huge number of artists who cite Roxy Music as a major influence. Does it ever amaze you to hear so many musicians sing Roxy’s praise?

A: It’s very nice to hear that kind of thing. Obviously, it’s not a thing you think about a lot. You just get on with doing your new music. I guess when someone like you mentions it, you reflect on it — you just go, “Wow,” for about five seconds and then you move on.

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