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Review: Roxy Music/MEN Arena

Wild Swans man Paul Simpson finds out if the lifelong spell still holds

Published on February 1st 2011.

Review: Roxy Music/MEN Arena

SEPTEMBER, 1972. My chemistry teacher looks angry. I can see his lips moving but I’m not listening, for hidden in the inside pocket of my school blazer is a tiny transistor radio, a wire running up the inside of my sleeve to a hidden ear-piece.

Roxy’s actual 'music' is, above all else, wonderfully optimistic - and that’s a rare and difficult thing to pull off in rock n’ roll.

I’m listening to something astonishing, it's called Virginia Plain, the début single by a new group calling themselves Roxy Music. Thirty-nine years later I’m sitting in the Manchester Evening News Arena with butterflies in my stomach waiting for my all time favourite band to walk on stage.

I can’t help smiling because not only have I have obtained a backstage pass but Elle McPherson is sitting in the row directly behind me. No, she really is.

A lot of turgid Mersey water has passed under the bridge since my last encounter with Roxy at the Southport Floral Hall back in 1974.

Punk rock replaced progressive rock, I lost my virginity and, on a less important note, the Berlin Wall came down, a princess died and we returned Hong Kong to the Chinese.

But, as the 12-piece band strike the first chord of The Main Thing from 1982’s beautiful Avalon album, time telescopes and those intervening years of births, marriages and deaths are temporarily forgotten.

Tonight, just for a few hours, we, the chosen few thousand, can forget the kids, the mortgage, the Grecian 2000, the HRT and remember a time our hormones were raging in a good way.

Roxy’s 1974 show in Southport was glamorous, but on a diamanté and fake leopard-skin budget.

Now, with nine musicians on stage, three backing singers and two girls dancing in front of a Titanic-sized backdrop, this is a flawless diamond, £65-a-ticket spectacle.

Sadly, gone are the Gaucho outfits, G.I. uniforms and bug-eye spex of yore, tonight the Roxy “boys” sport tasteful, if slightly boring, black suits.

Drummer Paul Thompson and guitarist Phil Manzanera’s once-luxuriant manes are long gone, and saxophonist Andy McKay now wears vision correction spectacles rather than wraparound

shades. But then if I want to see him in any detail, I have to too.

Mr Ferry too appears a little thicker around the waist, a little less nimble on his feet, but boy do these old men make an exquisite noise. A blistering Street Life is followed by an astonishing version of my favourite Roxy song of all; Pyjamarama.

Each one of the band's eight albums are represented tonight and, thankfully, not just by the hits. It’s high energy for the most part with pumping versions of If There Is Something, Prairie Rose, Amazona and Re-make-Re-model followed by a surprisingly successful reworking of Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane.

Do The Strand gets everyone’s blood really pumping – briefly - just before we are sedated and seduced by Avalon and, lest we forget, the bands only No.1 single, their cover of Jealous Guy.

After Love Is The Drug and a truly breakneck rendition of Editions Of You, they end proceedings dramatically on an incredible reading of For Your Pleasure during which, at prescribed intervals, each musician leaves the stage until there is just an eerie piano echoing through the arena’s cavernous metal rafters.So, can these four 60-something men still be the danceable solution to teenage revolution? Well, yes and no.

He may be the king of studied reserve, but Bryan Ferry could have made a little more effort to engage with his audience. Forty years of fan loyalty deserves some acknowledgement beyond “Good evening, its good to be back in Manchester,” and introducing the band, but something important occurred to me earlier, during Phil Manzanera’s epic solo on Amazona.

Perhaps it’s a result of the band's art school roots and their obsession with the romantic escapism of the 1930s, but Roxy’s actual “music” is, above all else, wonderfully optimistic - and that’s a rare and difficult thing to pull off in rock n’ roll.

I have the opportunity to meet the band at the after show party but I decline. It's not chickening out, I just don’t want to break the lifelong spell.

Driving home towards Liverpool, I’m smiling again. Friends will never believe me, but earlier tonight, in the middle of a storming Virginia Plain I glanced back and caught Elle Macpherson’s eye and she smiled at me. The glamour!

I feel like a schoolboy again, lost in the thrill of it all.


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