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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Roxy Music's not-so-secret ingredient

I caught "The Roxy Music Story" via the iPlayer. It was OK. All the members past and present appear reassuringly sane. I could hug the drummer Paul Thompson if my arms were only long enough. They rowed everyone out to talk about them. Richard Williams, who discovered them. Michael Bracewell, who talked about their artistic credentials. Steve Jones was there to give them a free pass on behalf of punk rock. Siouxsie did the same thing on behalf of wimmin. Simon Reynolds explained where they fitted in critic-wise, which is funny because, if Wikipedia is to be believed, he was only nine when their first record came out.

But these documentaries are always so busy trying to underscore the seriousness of the subject that they invariably miss the elephant in the room. Roxy Music were, for about four years, the hottest ticket in the UK, because Bryan Ferry was a bigger sex symbol than Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue combined. Plus they made records that perfectly framed that sexuality. It wasn't just chin-stroking Velvet Underground fans and customers of Zandra Rhodes who loved Roxy Music. It was girls in Leeds. It was brickies in Cardiff. People screamed. People swooned. People dressed up. When Bryan Ferry appeared on stage dressed as a G.I. out of "South Pacific" everyone I knew talked about the way he had his tie tucked into his shirt. In the mid-70s there was a glamour and swagger about Roxy Music that has not been equalled by anyone in British music since. Of course the Americans didn't buy it and so it was inevitable that they would implode as nearly every British group has done ever since. But at their height they were more dazzling than they're given credit for.