Saturday, 19 September 2015

Audio-Biography - Roxy Music

It is one of the first memories from a musical perspective I have, witnessing Roxy Music perform Ladytron on a VHS recording of The Old Grey Whistle Test. I was not quite sure what to make of it. The whole band clad in what appeared to be fancy dress of some sorts. I vividly remember; Bryan Ferry pouting his way through the entire performance, tarted up in more make-up than I ever saw my mom wearing, an androgynous looking Brian Eno twiddling knobs on a strange machine as if he were conducting some sort of bizarre science experiment, Phil Manzanera resourcefully utilising what appeared to be tea strainers as a replacement visual aid and last but not least Andy Mackay costumed as a clarinet wielding Dr Who villain. Initially, the spectacle appealed to me somewhat more than the music. This was glam rock after all, the age where visuals and aesthetics were often deemed more important than the artists creative output and this was the nineties where the majority looked back at the seventies with a mixture of confusion and ridicule. 

Roxy Music accompanied me through most of my formative years. As one of my dads all time favourite groups, seldom was a weekend or a car journey spent without some kind of art rock inspired soundtrack. Yet, despite my dad’s best efforts, he was not able to convince me of their apparent greatness. In the years beginning my ascent towards secondary school, I could only imagine my peers reaction should I have proudly confessed my appreciation for this old fashioned dad-rock made by men wearing dresses and eyeliner.

I was short on popularity as it stood. I don’t think advertising myself as a Roxy Music fan would have greatly improved my credibility. This was the early 00’s when alternative metal and wrestling reigned supreme in my interests. With the subsequent (and since regrettable) purchases of Kid Rock and Godsmack albums, my dad presumably admitted defeat, his musical legacy nipped at the bud by a rapping redneck who in all actuality was neither a kid, nor could rock.
However, as you age you begin to appreciate your upbringing significantly more. The onset of adulthood makes you develop a retrospective of your childhood. In effect, gazing back to the past especially when the future seems so scary and superfluous. This is exactly what occurred during my inaugural year of university. It was the first time living away from home. Despite the fact I was eighteen, I still retained the mentality of a fifteen year old. I was so gracelessly shy that the mere prospect of making trivial conversation with those I was due to be living with seemed an impossibly daunting task. They all seemed far more mature and enlightened to life’s ways than me. I had bought my entire CD collection along (yet only one pair of socks) with me hoping that I would be able to bond over a mutual admiration of music. I devised a plan and carefully selected a mixture of my more well known albums to play loudly enough to draw in the masses, then I would bring out the lesser known albums once I’d singled out those I had common ground with. Ultimately I found myself discussing more about bands I merely kind of liked (or pretended to) but there was no substance to the discussion. It was just a mutual agreement of appreciation.

It took a chance meeting with a now close friend to make me realise the sentimental power of music. Like myself, my associate had a strong musical influence emanating from his dad. One of the bands he had grown up with was also Roxy Music. And there I was thinking I’d make friends with Killswitch Engage and Bleeding Through. Unlike me, however he had not diluted his preferences with discordant metal and actually appreciated the music. It took some convincing but I reluctantly began to rediscover Roxy Music. I had somehow stored the lyrics away in some distant nostalgia related portion of my brain and still remembered every song. My now musically enlightened understanding was able to fully appreciate the unique instrumentation and song writing. Most importantly however, I remembered the songs reconnected me to memories of my childhood, be it lazy weekends with my dad whilst my mom was working, the excitement of long car journeys to traditional British holiday destinations or making cassette compilations and always requesting the same songs.
The music I was listening to during this time was still too new and fresh in my mind to formulate any higher association from it. With Roxy Music I could effectively recreate the home comforts whilst I struggled to develop my own identity. It was almost therapeutic. What was once strange and un-cool was now enjoyable. It didn’t matter that my peers wouldn’t approve anymore either; we were now all adults free to enjoy and share whatever we pleased. The admiration for Roxy Music has since developed into more than just a sentimental affinity. I can now appreciate how progressive and influential they are. Saxophonist Andy Mackay perfectly addresses their influence with this quote;

"We certainly didn't invent eclecticism but we did say and prove that rock 'n' roll could accommodate – well, anything really."

This is apparent not just in musical terms either. Bryan Ferry has set the bar unreasonably high for every wannabe suave crooner that has dared challenge his legacy, Eno’s synthesizer wizardry became a staple part of the succeeding decades music, even the risqué imagery on their albums covers, famously depicting whoever Ferry was, to put subtlety, courting at the time has been replicated by many. As the title implies, that’s what progressive music does, it pushes boundaries, be it creatively and/or controversially. For example, I’m sure there were a few eyebrows raised when the choice of album cover for Country Life was decided. On a side note, I remember finding the album as a small child and being unable to comprehend how such a masculine face could have such ample breasts. 

My preferences for more conventional rock have, unfortunately ensured I’ve largely bypassed anything after 1975’s Siren. Not even the pioneers could escape the cultural phenomenon (or travesty) of disco and by 1982’s Avalon it might as well have been a completely different band altogether, a timid collection of radio- friendly ballads owing more to Ferry’s solo career and the onset of the new romantics than a collaborative effort.

Their best and most memorable material derives from 1972’s self titled release, which has since been regarded as something of a classic, Virginia Plain and Ladytron have since become my most significant songs to memory; The former due to my dad’s insistence that it is the greatest single of all time and the latter on account of an occasion whereby I jokingly sang the introduction to a girl who was so besotted by my apparent impassioned vocal delivery that she decided to become my girlfriend the same night. Owe it all to you Bryan.
Of course the main point to take away from this first of many insights into my musical upbringing is to appreciate the past. Paradoxically, disregarding Roxy Music as a child, only heightened their appeal later when they became my correspondence to times gone by. They essentially became something of a stand in for an absent paternal influence, if you will. Coinciding memories to music is now something I actively pursue as it not only adds a greater meaning, but also sentiment. Songs have the magical ability to transport you back to a previous time or even state of mind and Roxy Music have the distinction of being the first band to make me realise this. 


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