Q Magazine

Phil Manzanera Has Put Roxy Music Back on the Shelf, But He and Andy Mackay Are Still Together

The guitar legend discusses his latest endeavor, his debut solo LP, and past collaborations with Brian Eno, David Gilmour, and Split Enz

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Phil Manzanera: guitar slinger extraordinaire

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When Roxy Music wrapped up their original run at the conclusion of their Avalon tour in the early '80s, Bryan Ferry might've been the one who walked away with the strongest solo career, but with a lineup containing that much talent and individual name recognition, there was little chance that any of them would be left hurting for work. Indeed, two of them almost immediately launched into a second musical partnership, with guitarist Phil Manzanera and saxophonist Andy Mackay recording a pair of albums under the moniker of - you guessed it - Manzanera & Mackay.

Having recently completed a reunion tour with Roxy Music, Manzanera and Mackay are back together again, this time delivering their first-ever instrumental album, AM PM. Both musicians were also kind enough to take a bit of time to chat with Q, starting with Mr. Manzanera, who - in addition to discussing the origins of this new record - also delved into some of his additional collaborations, including his work with Brian Eno, David Gilmour, and Split Enz.

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Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay, longtime Roxy Music members, now doing their first instrumental album together

I was able to check out the new album, and as a journalist, I'll offer it the highest praise I can: I found it to be fantastic writing music.

Thank you! I know it must be difficult for writers to write about an instrumental album, because I was listening to a podcast with Paul Simon, talking about instrumental music and where it comes from, and of course a lot of the stuff that he does comes from music first, not necessarily lyrics first. And it's difficult for a writer to write about instrumental music, whereas if there are lyrics, it's in the same sort of ballpark for a writer to deal with lyrics. It's very difficult to talk about instrumental music in some ways.

I have found that I ran out of adjectives somewhere around 2006 anyway, which is why I try to focus on interviews over reviews.

[Laughs.] Yeah, I mean, it comes from a different place in the brain, instrumental music. I recognize the difference between writing a song and serving a song with the words that hopefully convey something that has some resonance to this sort of abstract kind of sensation that you get from instrumental music. But it's wonderful to have that alternative to do!

Well, I obviously know the story of how you and Andy first came to collaborate as musicians, but what actually led you down the path to do this particular album?

Well, me and Andy have been... You know, it's 51 years now since we met, and we've been...interacting, I suppose, if you like. Having musical conversations. And Roxy was always about the musical context that we created for Bryan's voice to inhabit, really. I saw Bryan's voice as another instrument, because it was quite a different kind of sounding voice. So I was watching a bit of footage from the Montreux Golden Rose Festival in 1973, when Brian Eno was in the band still, and I was amazed how we'd expanded a lot of the Roxy songs, in particular the one called "Ladytron." And then I was thinking about last year touring in America, and I thought, "We're pretty much doing exactly the same kind of thing that we did back there!" [Laughs.] Which was an interacting between me and Andy in a sort of weird, experimental way.

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This is more of the same stuff. It's a continuation of what we've always done, but I guess we haven't put it up front and center for many, many years. It's always been in the context of songs. I think this is actually the first instrumental album that we've done together. So where I was coming from was, this was a reaction to last year's tour, really, in the sense that one was looking back over songs and material and serving the songs. What you tend to do when you're in a band and you've got a singer and you want the words to come across, you don't want to play all over the singer and spoil his vibe, so you have to be quite controlled. So this is the antidote: after practicing for two months with all those songs and playing them live, then we're going into the studio and saying, "Fuck it, let's just improvise and do anything we want!" [Laughs.] "Let's let loose!"

And what transpired, to me, is that it's like shifting sand. Even I don't quite understand. I'm listening to the music, and I'm, like, "Wait, that doesn't seem to have structure. That doesn't seem to have a verse-chorus or repetitive themes..." When I started as a teenager with a band at my school, it was at the height of psychedelia and all that, freeform jamming and jazz and stuff, and you'd play a little theme, and then you'd go off on a little journey, and whatever happened, happened. And then you'd come back to the theme at the end really just to help the punters. And you can spot that in all jazz since the second World War, with Miles Davis and stuff like that. And it's that kind of experimental thing that I love as well, just to see what's in there, what's in the brain and what's the interaction between the two of us when there are no boundaries. So...it is what it is. [Laughs.] Which I love! You know, it's not chasing chart success, it's not for dancing to, it's just a bit of music.

If I may just say as a momentary sidebar, regarding your early days in psychedelia, kudos on being part of a band called Pooh and the Ostrich Feathers.

Ah, yes. [Laughs.] Well, to his credit, it was thought up by my friend Bill MacCormick's brother, Ian MacCormick, better known as Ian MacDonald, who wrote Revolution in the Head. We were just his puppets, quite frankly. He was about four years older than us, and...talk about having some sort of genius mentor! Unfortunately, he's died, and quite a few years ago now, but he was really ahead of his time and an incredible sort of mentor to his younger brother as well as me. But he said, "This is the name of the band." And we said, "Okay, fine!"

I'm easily led. Like, when I joined Roxy and we had to do the first album cover, I'd just turned 21, the others had gone to art school and all that kind of stuff, and I said, "What the hell am I gonna wear?" So I turned up, and there was this friend of Bryan and Andy's called Antony Price, who made all the outfits, and he took one look at me and said, "Oh, my God. What are we gonna do with you?" [Laughs.] He said, "Put these glasses on!" The famous bug-eyes. "Put this leather jacket on. Right, you're done! Image!" So I was easily led. But I thanked him last year. I said, "You know what, Antony? Thank you, thank you, thank you. You really just gave me an instant image." Those bug-eyes, they're still with me!

They are literally still visible in the profile photo for your page on Discogs.


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Phil Manzanera in his infamous bug-eye glasses.

Speaking of Roxy, I neglected to mention that you've also got Paul Thompson on drums as well.

Yeah, Paul was playing fantastically well on the tour we did last September in America and a few little gigs in England, and he was playing so well that I thought, "We've just come off the tour, let's just go into the studio and finish these tracks off." And I asked him if he'd come and play, and he kindly played on, like, four of the tracks. He's somebody who, again, we've played with for over 50 years at different times, and he has something special about him. And when the three of us play together, it sounds a bit like Roxy, I guess, regardless of the context.

Almost by default.

By default, yes! What's wonderful when you think back on it... Each musician - and there are hundreds of thousands of musicians in the world - has their own unique thing. They just have to let it come out. And what it's all about is choices. "Shall I play this? Or shall I play that? Should I play it that way? Or should I play it this way?" I used to say that Roxy and its sound was a summation of all our inadequacies, and it's a bit like that, really. We're not technically the best people in the world, musically speaking, but we support each other in a funny sort of way with our strange kind of way of playing.

As far as the early Roxy days, you mentioned Brian Eno, and I'm sure you've been asked about his brief tenure in the band thousands of times, but in your mind, when he left, did you ever think, "Eh, he'll be back"? Or were you pretty sure that when he was gone, he was gone?

Oh, no, I never thought he'd be back. In fact, we shared an apartment in that period, and I continued working with him for quite a bit after that. He used to call himself a small independent mobile unit, and he was absolutely right. He was spot on. He wasn't designed to be in a band. Whatever planet he came from, he was not designed to be in a rock and roll band. That was about the limit. I think it was great that he was doing it for a couple of years, because he wasn't destined to be in a band. I always wanted to be in a band. When the Beatles happened, like most other musicians, I was, like, "I want to be in a band!" I imagined it was going to be like the Four Musketeers: all for one and one for all. Except in bands, everybody eventually starts impaling each other with their swords! [Laughs.]

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You know, it's funny, but even though I knew that you'd worked on Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets, I'd never realized that you'd co-written "Needles in the Camel's Eye."

Absolutely! And co-produced Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). And then we did the 801 Band together, and then he went off with his new chum, David Bowie, and I practically never saw him again! [Laughs.] That's not quite true, actually. He just got busy in other areas.

What made you decide to go off and do your own album, Diamond Head?

Well, it was because everybody else in the band immediately started doing their albums. I'd worked on the album with Eno, Bryan was doing a solo album, Andy Mackay was doing a solo album...and I'd played on bits and pieces on all of them! So I put my hand up to the manager and said, "What about me? Can I do a solo album?" [Laughs.] And they asked Island Records, and they said, "Oh, yeah, okay, off you go..."I fit it in between the end of a Roxy tour and the beginning of the next Roxy tour. And that's what did! I just jumped in and secretly did two albums, one with my old band, Quiet Sun. That was my band before Roxy, and I slipped them into the studio without the record company realizing it. I did Diamond Head upstairs at Basing Street Studios from 12 to 6, and then from 6 to 12 I was downstairs with Quiet Sun! And then I collapsed on arrival in Toronto for a Roxy tour, and I got my door broken down by the Mounties. But that's another story, innit?

But it sounds like a great one.

It's a good one! But we haven't got time. [Laughs.]

Writer's note: A little bit of online research resulted in this tidbit from the March 22, 1975 issue of Record Mirror:

“Roxy Music, a band certainly more closely associated with champagne than dope, was nonetheless given a rude Toronto reception by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on their just -completed tour. All six members' hotel rooms were ransacked, the Mounties making incoherent allegations regarding heroin. After smashing down the door of guitarist Phil Manzanera, they warned him not to attempt to ’pass’ any of the British pound notes contained in his wallet. And they then accused Andy Mackay of running a gambling operation with his backgammon set. The search of course, turned up only empty wine glasses and a sweaty tuxedo.”

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Another factoid I didn't realize until prepping for our conversation: I knew that you'd worked with David Gilmour, of course, but I hadn't realized you'd known him since you were a teenager.

Yeah, he was a friend of my brother's, I was 16, and just before my 17th birthday... My mother was a widow, Columbian, we were back in England from South America, and I said, "I want to be a pop musician, a rock musician." And Columbian music? Yes, that she knew, but she was, like, "What's this rock and roll stuff?" My brother said, "I know this guy, he's just joined a band, let's go and talk to him and see what you have to do to become a professional musician,"That was David Gilmour! He'd just joined Pink Floyd. So we had lunch, and he can't remember what he said, but he said, "It must've been good, because five years later, you managed to get into Roxy Music. So you owe me, mate!" [Laughs.] "I should have a percentage of your earnings!" So, yeah, I've known him since then...and I live five minutes away from him now! So we go back a hell of a long way, and he's a lovely man. Yeah, when I look at my Wikipedia, apparently I worked on and off with him for 10 years! Time flies when you're having fun...

It's interesting that I spoke with Stephen Duffy the other day, and he pointedly cited David Gilmour as being someone who's still enthusiastic about music. He said they went back to David's place and he put on a tape with a Syd Barrett song on it, and Stephen could just tell that, even now, David couldn't believe he had a hand in it.

Oh, absolutely. He helped Syd incredibly on those albums. In fact, we were on tour in Austria when Syd died, and David played a Syd song on his own that night. And they're not easy to play, Syd songs. [Laughs.] Because, basically, they're word-led. So they don't fall into rhythmic patterns that are easy to play. But David can do it!

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You and David had known each other for so long, but what took so long for you to actually work with him?

Well, I co-wrote a song with him called "One Slip," and that was the first time I actually did any work with him...and, obviously and luckily, it ended up proving to be the title track of the Pink Floyd album ("A momentary lapse of reason / That binds a life for a life"). So we kept in touch. He used to leave near me when I lived somewhere else, and he used to come over. And then he and I had the same manager eventually: Steve O'Rourke. So I think they were doing that album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and Steve was my manager then, and I think they wanted a little bit of extra input, so he said, "Why don't you go and write something with Phil?" So he came 'round to my studio, and there were a couple of tracks, and one of them was "One Slip."

And then years later Claire, my wife, ended up doing the press for a thing he did at the Festival Hall in 1999 or 2000, and then we moved to this house, which is very close, and we began seeing each other more and more. And then one day, he hadn't done an album for 10 years, and he said, "Fancy giving me a hand?" "Yeah, sure. I'll come have a listen. I can't guarantee I'll like everything, but I'll tell you straight, Dave." [Laughs.] And it was a great ride. It's difficult producing a super-duper guitarist like that! You know, you've got to do your best. You've got to be on your A-game. Especially if you're comping together, different solos and things like that, and you say, "Well, I'll come back, have a listen and see if you like what's been done." And then you pray! But, no, I'm very happy with the albums we did. On an Island in particular is a beautiful album.

It really is.

I mean, it's something very magical. And that's after 10 years of not putting out an album. It's a lot to sort of get going again.

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I also enjoyed the work you did recently with Tim Finn. Yes, well, you know, I produced what was a version of their first album when he was in the band Split Enz. In 1975, Roxy went to play in Australia, we were in Sydney, and I turned on the television, and there was Split Enz. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know what to expect from the music in Australia, but they came on...and then, by coincidence, they were the support act at the Hordern Pavilion! [Laughs.] So I saw them, and I said, "Hi, guys! This is fantastic!" And I said, "Whatever I can do to help, just let me know!" And I walked on past their dressing room, and a little head came out and said, "Will you produce our album?" I said, "Hang on, I'm in England!" So they did do a version in Australia, but then we re-recorded the whole thing in England something like six months later. So I've known Tim for years. Not as long for Neil, though, because he was obviously too young to be in the band then! Although eventually he came over. But I've been friends with the band since 1975, and they're wonderful people and fantastically talented.

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So I stayed in touch with Tim, and when I went in played in Australia or New Zealand, I'd pop in and see him after gigs. And, of course, he did sing on some of my solo albums, as did Neil, actually. And then during the pandemic, Tim sent me a text - I was sitting right here, in this little hutch in the garden - and he said, "Have you got any tunes I could write with and put my dulcet tones on?" I said, "You've come to the right place, mate. I've got hundreds of 'em! "[Laughs.] So every morning he'd send back the track I'd sent him the night before, with singing and lyrics on it. It was just ridiculous. The guy's beyond talented.

And I just loved it, so I just kept doing it 'til I ran out of stuff. And I thought, "I should send him something that he'll never be able to write something on." And, of course, he did! So we ended up with two albums there, and we've got another thing coming out in November, a triple vinyl with five new tracks. So we'll have done 25 tracks in two years...and it's really only because of him, because he's so good. I'd send him something and say, "Tell me if you want to change anything," and he'd say, "No, I don't want anything changed. I'm just gonna work with exactly what you gave me." "Are you sure?" "Yes!" He liked it. It was a totally different way of working for him.

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Just for fun, do you remember the first person you met where you had to fight from going full fanboy on them?

Well, I guess the first time I met McCartney. Because he was a friend of a friend of mine - Eric Stewart from 10CC - so it was all very natural, but I was thinking, "Oh, my God, it's Paul McCartney!" [Laughs.] If you'd been brought up like I was, from the age of 9 or 10, being just a complete Beatles fanatic, like virtually every musician of my generation... And then you're looking at this person and talking to them and you're thinking, "Oh, my God... It's that guy!" It's just beyond a surreal experience. So, yeah, that's the one.

To bring it back to you and Andy, is there any talk of touring behind the new album?

I doubt it. But I was talking to Mike Boddy, who's our co-producer and engineer, and he said, "Oh, Andy said something about, 'Shall we do a gig?'" And that put the fear of God into me. [Laughs.] So I said, "Really? I don't think so..." And then he said, "Oh, yes, and I'll tell you how we can do it..." I said, "Are you sure? What's the space?" As always, there's nothing planned, and we don't have a career, and we just go from pillar to post, for five minutes thinking, "Wow, that'd be great!" and then thinking, "Oh, gosh, that could be difficult." But let's see what happens. There's no plans, no. But, hey, it's instrumental music. It's a new market!

Do you foresee that there'll be any further touring from Roxy Music?

I can't see it. That was what people kindly said was our victory lap, and I think we acquitted ourselves well. So if that's it, I'm very happy. We finished at the O2 in London, people seemed to like it, and... You know, it's a bit like poker: let's stick on that.

As for yourself, do you plan to play 'til you drop?

God only knows what I'm going to do. [Laughs.]


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