ROXY MUSIC don’t do austerity. Their style and attitude was best reflected in the appearance of their dapper lead singer Bryan Ferry and their album covers.
When their eponymously-titled first album came out in 1972, Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath was having to deal with growing social strife as he struggled to deal with a stagnating economy.
The country had faced power cuts and a three-day week, belts were being tightened and the country looked like it was on its uppers. Yet no hint of this can be found on the Roxy Music album cover, featuring scantily-clad model Kari-Ann Muller looking provocatively up at the camera. Ironically, she only got paid £20 for the shoot as Roxy Music were little-known at the time and their management were keeping a tight grip on the purse strings.
The artwork set the theme, as the subsequent albums imitated the visual style of classic “girlie” and fashion magazines, featuring high-fashion shots of scantily-clad models. Ferry dated many of the cover stars, apart from Muller, who went on to marry Chris Jagger – brother of Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger.
Today, with Britain again enduring a period of austerity, a box set of all their studio albums and a few extras thrown in for good measure is being sold. It will be interesting to see how many will stump up £50 for it.
The origins of the band began in 1970. Ferry from Washington, Tyne and Wear – whose farmer dad looked after pit ponies – had by then studied fine art at Newcastle University and gone on to teach ceramics at Holland Park School in London. However, he was sacked for holding impromptu record listening sessions and decided to form a band.
That year, Ferry had auditioned as lead singer for King Crimson and, although the band thought his voice unsuitable for their material, they were impressed with his talent and helped the fledgling Roxy Music to obtain a contract with E.G. Records.
Ferry advertised for a keyboard player to collaborate with him and Graham Simpson, a bass player he knew from his Newcastle art college band, The Gas Board.
Andy Mackay replied, not as a keyboard player but a saxophonist and oboist, though he did have a VCS3 synthesizer. Mackay had already met Brian Eno during university days, as both were interested in avant-garde and electronic music.
Although Eno was a non-musician, he could operate a synthesizer and owned a Revox reel-to-reel tape machine, so Mackay convinced him to join the band as a technical adviser. Before long, Eno was a member of the group.
Newcastle-born Paul Thompson responded to an advert for a drummer and the band was complete with the addition of guitarist Phil Manzanera.
As they recorded material they came to the attention of DJ John Peel, who became a big fan, and the group’s management decided it was time to take them on the road. And it was here where Geoff Docherty came in. In the 1970s, Geoff was perhaps the top rock promoter in the North East.
He said: “On one of my frequent trips to London in 1972 I got a call from Kenny Bell at Chrysalis who had signed them. He said they hadn’t done any gigs yet but they were going to be huge and invited me to see them rehearse.
“When I arrived they said they couldn’t play because the bass player hadn’t turned up, so I said I’d catch them another night.”
By the time the first single off the album Virginia Plain was released that September and had charted, Roxy Music had still to play a gig. “I thought it was an excellent single and, with John Peel singing its praises, it seemed they could do no wrong.
“What made it all the more remarkable was that Bryan Ferry and Paul Thompson were local lads and I’d previously promoted Bryan at The Bay in Sunderland when he was in The Gas Board.
“Kenny Bell rang again and said Roxy Music want to get out of the clubs and play their first ever major concert and asked if I wanted to promote it. He suggested Newcastle City Hall and asked for a guaranteed minimum fee for the band.
“I thought long and hard because although Roxy Music were undeniably becoming bigger by the day, coming out of small clubs into a City Hall gig with 2,241 seats was a big step up. I decided to take a gamble and, after working hard on the promotion, it eventually sold out on the night.”
However, truth be told, after meeting their £750 fee, Geoff wasn’t too enamoured with the group’s attitude, bar Brian Eno, before he introduced them to the crowd.
“Apart from Eno, who was a gentleman, the others were surly.” But he added: “80 minutes later, the audience was in raptures. Their first major concert had gone down fantastically well and, out front, the atmosphere was unbelievable. Afterwards, I wandered into the dressing room to be met with the same air of indifference, Brian Eno again being the exception.”
However, as related in Geoff’s book, A Promoter’s Tale, about his time bringing all the top bands to the region, including The Who, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Free and Rod Stewart, he met a more approachable Ferry later at a party in Seaburn.
“He was most friendly. Maybe the occasion of their first major concert had overwhelmed them and they’d been nervous.”
In all, Roxy Music recorded eight studio albums, the last being Avalon in 1982, while Ferry has done a number of solo projects.
In 1983, they split, but reformed in 2001 for a 30th anniversary tour and have toured intermittently since then, last playing in the region at the Metro Radio Arena in January 2011 while, in November that year, Ferry was awarded a CBE.
In their time, the band enjoyed popular and critical success in Europe and Australia but never quite made it big in the US, although that didn’t stop top US music magazine Rolling Stone acknowledging the influence of the band, ranking it No 98 on its “The Immortals – 100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list.
Geoff added: “I thought, good luck to them. I like seeing people get on. Whenever I see Paul now he always says hello. He’s a nice fella.”