The art-pop legends are currently midway through a US sting on their third reunion tour – following celebrated comebacks in 2001 and 2011 – before a three-show homecoming UK run starting on October 10 in Glasgow. The band have been treating fans to a career-spanning setlist.
“I don’t know why I’m surprised, but it’s been going incredibly well. You can see there’s a resonance in people’s faces, so it’s a communal experience that really is terrific fun to do,” guitarist Phil Manzanera told NME. “We’re incredibly lucky to be doing this.”
Ahead of their return to the UK, NME caught up with the guitarist to discuss the joys of getting back together, their choice of support acts, the chances of Brian Eno returning to the band, and the rumours of them playing the legends slot at Glastonbury 2023.
NME: Hello Phil! So, 50 years is an obvious anniversary for a tour, but how long had you actually been planning it all?
Manzanera: “Virtually no time at all. I went round to Bryan’s place for a cup of tea last Christmas and he said: ‘Shall we do some gigs?’ I told him: ‘So long as you really want to do this, I’m up for it.’ I rang Andy, then Paul, and here we are. It’s the 50th anniversary, what else are we going to do? At our age, some people do sudoku, but we fiddle around rehearsing Roxy tracks.”
How hard is it condensing eight albums into a 105-minute setlist?
“You can only play a maximum of 20 songs before people start losing the will to live. Then you have to look at the difference between the first Roxy album and [1982 album] ‘Avalon’. How Roxy went from one style to another is another conversation, but there’s a great expression in Spanish that means: ‘A journey without any destination.’ That was Roxy’s thing, and you have to balance all of that in the show.”
How challenging is it to work out how to play songs you wrote in your 20s, now you’re in your 70s?
“We don’t want to do a Bob Dylan, where people sit there thinking: ‘What song is this?’ until he gets to the chorus and you go: ‘Oh, it’s that one!’ As a punter, I don’t want that experience. I want to hear the musicianship, but really I want to hear the songs as they are on the record.
“I have had to relearn what to play, and I listen back to early songs like ‘ReMake/ReModel’ and think: ‘How was I allowed to play that guitar part? It’s just bonkers!’ I listen to my 21-year-old self and think: ‘The nerve of that guy! I’m meant to serve the song, but I’m playing all over Brian Eno.’”
Was there any chance Brian Eno could have been involved in this tour?
“We love Brian to bits and I still communicate with him a lot, but Brian said from the beginning that he was a small, independent mobile unit, to which I added, ‘From the planet Zog.’ Brian is an amazing, unique person who wasn’t designed to be in a band. He finds it terribly awkward, so one is hesitant to say: ‘Fancy going on tour?’
“Wouldn’t it be great if Brian came on for a few numbers at a show? In a dreamworld, that’d be perfect. But Brian just isn’t that kind of guy and it’s not going to happen.”
What has the experience been like of having St. Vincent support you on the US shows?
“I adore St. Vincent, and having her as our special guest is amazing. If I wasn’t in Roxy, I’d buy a ticket to see Roxy Music and St. Vincent together. I can’t get a grasp of how good her show is. Only an American musician has that level of showmanship and she’s one step away from being Prince.”
What made you choose Nilufer Yanya as the support for the UK shows?
“We loved the idea of having a new, relatively unknown artist. Hopefully the audiences will appreciate Nilufer, as she’s a very interesting, innovative artist. I stay in touch with new music all the time, mainly through 6 Music.”
Is this run of dates a one-off, or could you carry on?
“We had an opportunity to do 10 dates in America and three in England. We wanted to just do those, then see if people like it and if we still enjoy it. We’ll take it from there, it’s one step at a time. As always, Roxy had no masterplan with this tour. I love that anything could happen, or not.”
What’s the truth of the rumours that Roxy are doing the legends slot at Glastonbury next year?
“I’ve had friends texting and emailing, saying: ‘I see you might be playing Glastonbury!’ To which my reply is: ‘Well, tell me about it, because I’ve got no idea.’ I’ll wait to see what happens there. Who knows? I don’t.”
You reportedly started work on a new album with Eno a decade ago. What are the chances of new music?
“Oh, recording is a totally different ballgame. People always ask: ‘What about new stuff?’ You think: ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ But once you’ve done it, you listen and go: ‘Oh, but that’s awful. Why did we do that?’ Fans can be unforgiving, and if they heard something sub-par, we’d know about it. If we came up with something brilliant, I’m sure we’d release it. But the standards of Roxy Music’s recorded music is quite high, and there’s no immediate rush to do any new music.”
Roxy recently re-released all eight albums on vinyl as half-speed remasters, and ‘The Best Of’ compilation is out for the first time on vinyl too. How closely involved are you with reissues?
“I had no idea it was coming out until they told me, but I love vinyl, and that special mastering is lovely, a different experience for people who really love the albums. The reissue I’ve been closest to was the boxset of the first album, when Steven Wilson did a new mix of it in 5.1. Because of the limitations of vinyl in 1972, nobody had ever heard the album the way we had in the studio until that boxset. It was great hearing the extended version of ‘Ladytron’ with me and Eno wigging out. It’s incredible, but we hadn’t had room for it on the original vinyl in ’72.”
Will there be more boxsets of other Roxy albums, in that case?
“I’d love it if there was, I’m all for it. ‘For Your Pleasure’ and ‘Avalon’ in particular would be great to do. You could do a big, deep exploration of those and see what extras you could bring to the surface.’
It’s also 40 years since Roxy’s final album, ‘Avalon’. Did it feel like you ended on a high at the time?
“No, as I didn’t want us to end at that particular juncture. In America, it wasn’t until ‘Avalon’ that we started to get successful in the US, and then we stopped. It’s so appropriate that ‘More Than This’ is our most listened to song in America: ‘More than this, there’s nothing.’ That was Roxy.
“We stopped at a time when the whole industry was expanding, with CDs, stadium concerts… Had we continued, we probably would have been huge. However, looking back on it with a bit of perspective, stopping when we did fits into the whole idea of Roxy as a band. We were really a bunch of individuals who liked different music, who wanted to go off on our own and explore those sides. We’d come back together for Roxy, but we continued doing all this other stuff too.”
But you feel good with Roxy today?
“It’s wonderful to come back now, as for a lot of people this is their first chance to see what Roxy is. But stopping when we did was good, because we didn’t try to do ‘Avalon 2’.”
Roxy Music’s 50th Anniversary UK tour begins at Glasgow OVO Hydro on October 10, through to Manchester AO Arena on October 12 and London O2 Arena on October 14. Visit here for tickets and more information.
‘The Best Of Roxy Music’ is out now, available on vinyl for the first time, on 2LP 180-gram black vinyl and limited yellow vinyl, via Virgin / UMC. Each of Roxy Music’s eight studio albums are also reissued on vinyl this year.