Wednesday, February 02, 2011


More music I’m afraid.

On Monday night I took myself off, together with about 20,000 other people, to the National Exhibition Centre to see Roxy Music. It was a slightly strange experience, almost two concerts in one.

Let’s get the whinges over first. I turned up at the time advertised on my ticket, but for the next 90 minutes after the allotted time for the concert to start, I listened to two other bands, neither of whom I’d ever heard, one of which I didn’t like, and the other which I did, and neither of which was shown on my ticket. I paid a tad over £70 for a ticket to see Ferry etc, and not a band which wanted to thrust Ska, Bluebeat and UB40 lookalike music down my throat.

When Roxy Music finally made it on stage, I thought the sound, and to a degree the layout of the stage and the lighting were not that great. Being generous, you’d give it all 5 out of 10. The sound was very muffled in places, with the piano very artificial and over amplified. The lighting was bad. The performers often played unlit on their solos, and for some daft reason, when Ferry sat at the piano to play instead of being out front literally and physically in the spotlight, he melted into the background, verging on invisibility.

Normally, the saving grace here is the bank of huge Video screens where the players’ faces and all the details you want to see, are displayed in 20 feet high glory. Not here. I was sitting quite close to the stage and I couldn’t see a great deal. So, I’ve no idea what the poor people right at the back saw of the band. Well, actually I have. Nothing.

It felt like a slightly shambolic first night, the sort where you know they were still trying to organise themselves and that in a couple of evenings time, they’ll get it all sorted out. Except that I’d paid £70 to see them tonight. Oh well.

BUT .....

There’s always the music, and the simple truth is that it was the music I went to hear. They did a 90 minute set straight off. All of the original members were there apart from Brian Eno. Yes, I know there were a few even more original members, but you have to be the Roxy Music Archivist to remember who they were. I certainly don’t.

Ferry, Phil Manzenera and Andy Mackay took centre stage, playing the part in their smooth suits, and all looking very lounge lizardish. But that’s part of the group’s image, Louche, laid back, slightly dissolute, and ever so slightly world weary. They’d got all the usual Roxy Music accompaniments, the girl instrumentalists with legs that never ended and black sequined shorts that almost never started, a new skinny, long haired, but very good guitarist (Oliver Thompson) and a couple of diaphanously, almost clad dancers who most definitely took your mind off the music on occasions.

I suppose the two concerts I referred to at the beginning of this piece mirrored the life of Roxy Music. They started chronologically at the beginning, in the early Seventies, and played a fair number of songs from their “experimental” phase. The album “For your Pleasure” was raided for quite a few of them, which, given that that also was the name of the Concert should have been a bit of a clue as to what was going to happen tonight. In truth though, for the first 40 minutes or so, there were quite a few of their songs I’d never heard before.

I actually spent most of the Seventies in a rather snobbish Classical Music only frame of mind, so managed to miss the likes of early Genesis, Pink Floyd and all the other bands I love today. It was a Hi-Fi exhibition around 1980, where I happened upon to a new record, “Funeral for a Friend” by Elton John off his “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album, which literally blew me away, and thankfully knocked me off my Classical Music only Poseur’s perch. It’s taken me twenty odd years since that time to work my way back to the roots of these bands. And it’s the same for me with Roxy Music.

But you could either close your ears for the first half of their set, and wait for the more familiar strains of songs from “Flesh and Blood” and “Avalon” (which some people around me were clearly doing). Or you could marvel at some very original sounds which must have sounded even more original 35 years ago. It was quite a brave thing to do in front of 20,000 people for the band to make a real thing about dusting off songs which I suspect had not seen the light of day for many years, and which they knew would be unfamiliar to most of the audience.

The pundits write about how most people underestimate just how important and influential this band was, not just in what they themselves sang, but in the way they led other people into new avenues of music, you could sense that coming over loud and clear from somewhere 35 years later. Well, not always CLEAR, because of the slightly iffy sound set-up, but you know what I mean.

About half way through, the songs “Us Proles” know started to appear, and the place literally came alive. You could almost feel the anoraks there bristling at the change to what they saw as the commercial sell-out of “Manifesto” onwards, but I reckon 90% of the audience felt that the concert was finally getting under way!

You can’t please all the people all of the time, and this was a classic reminder of that fact. The place got on its feet, the hands started clapping, the geriatrics rewound and replayed their lives from about 25 years, and the smiles appeared. They stopped just short of throwing their Zimmer frames in the air to celebrate, but you could certainly feel a sigh of relief around you.

To me, the guitar of Phil Manzenera and the saxophones of Andy Mackay were the real stars of the evening, both of them serious Class Acts. They both played brilliantly, with Andy Mackay blowing so hard, you feared occasionally for his health. Bryan Ferry’s voice was not that strong now, and to me he seemed almost disconnected from the audience for much of the show. He got his act together towards the end, but for much of the time it looked like he was going through the motions. Maybe he’s just like that, I don’t know.

Anyway, I came away having heard a lot of new (actually very old) stuff I would need to follow up on, heard a few of my all-time favourite songs and also seen the guys in action for the first time in my life. Not, I have to say, the best concert I’ve ever been to, but certainly not the worst.

Seven and a Half out of Ten for me, with the dancers easily rounding it up to Eight!

No comments: