Transcript: Transcript Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay: Musician, composer and founding member. The journey.

Welcome to the show. Hope all’s terrific in your world. This week’s guest is English multi instrumentalist Andy Mackay, who’s best known as founding member of the British avant garde art rock group Roxy Music. Andy played oboe and saxophone with the band and became known for his Chuck Berry inspired duckwalk during saxophone solos like this one.


0:01:19 Andy Mackay was also known for his pronounced quiff, his Star Trek sideburns and outlandish Motown inspired stage costumes. He made a big contribution to the unique Roxy Music look, much of which seemed to be a retro futurist throwback to 1950s rock and rollers. As you’re about to hear. Andy’s worked with some incredible artists like Duran Duran, Mott the Hoople, John Mellencamp and Paul McCartney. And did I mention his song writing credits?


0:01:51This one’s definitely my favourite.


0:02:58 Andy McKay. Fantastic to speak with you. If we can go back to the very start when you were at university and met Brian Eno. Tell us what happened then.


0:03:08  I had a kind of slightly pretentious kind of avant garde performing group that we done because I became very interested in experimental music at that time. And we started doing a few with some people from the art department at Reading, doing some events and happenings and performings. And we ended up in Winchester, where Eno was at art school at that time, and he came for the performance and we started chatting and became friends.


0:03:36 We sort of lost touch after that and I bumped into him on a Tube train in London about four years later, just when I’d been reintroduced to Brian Ferry, who I knew very, very slightly before that. And it just was a sort of natural fit from there to say, hey, Brian, I’ve just met this guy. You should come along and do the synthesizer because I’m doing oboe and sax. And it sort of went from there.


0:04:01 So you had already joined Brian in Roxy Music at that time?


0:04:05 Well, the early history of Roxy Music is sort of always slightly represented different ways.


0:04:12 Brian had come down from Newcastle and was living in London and had with him the bass player from the band he’d been in in Newcastle University and was just basically Brian and Graham Simpson were working together.


0:04:26 Brian was writing songs and had a piano and a kind of harmonium, I seem to remember. And I was introduced through another mutual friend and she said, oh, I know this guy who’s starting a band and I was trying to start a band. And I just bought this early synthesizer called a VCs Three. Marvelous thing. It looks like an L shape with pins and buttons, of course.


0:04:51 Sorry to interrupt you, that was the very early days of the synthesizer wasn’t of incorporating that into song, but what.


0:04:57 Was great about the VCs Three is that up till then most electronic music had been in studios, in kind of radio facilities or similar and VCs Three was expensive. It cost 300 pounds, which in 1971.


0:05:13 Was an awful lot of money, a few thousand now. So I was kind of looking for ways to use that. So I kind of turned up Brian’s front door and said Hi. And he said hi. We went in, played around a bit. And then I ended up playing quite a lot of oboe and alto sax, which I played then, and I brought the synthesizer, but we used it for treatments on Brian’s voice.


0:05:35 We put it through various things and I said, I know this guy who’d be really good at operating this. He’s not really a musician, he doesn’t play any specific instrument. And so Eno came along at that point. We actually auditioned for other players and we auditioned for drummers when we ended up with Paul Thompson. We had a guitarist back then who had the site, a name guitarist called Davio List. We’d been in a band called the Nice what went on to be part of Emerson Lake and Palmer.



0:06:41 Davey played with us for a while but didn’t really work out. Brian thought he had a slight name and we needed that. And then we auditioned for guitarist and Phil then came and joined us just before we started recording. So from that point on the line up was stable except that Graham Simpson left because he had a nervous breakdown, alas. And so we never had a permanent bass trainer after that.


0:07:08 That was the early seventy s. You were accepted quite widely really early on, weren’t you? It was something so new and different, everyone embraced it.


0:07:18 There was something kind of quite unusual maybe wouldn’t happen so easily now, is that we saw ourselves as we were kind of amateurs. We really liked what we were doing and we kind of played all the music that we liked. So Brian liked a lot of kind of 50s vocal bands and do Op and stuff. He liked jazz a lot. I didn’t really like jazz, but I had some classical stuff. Plus, we all loved ordinary rock and roll and pop music. And we also had this element of Avant Garde experimental music. We didn’t really think about it, but we assumed, I think, that the closest model would probably been the Velvet Underground, that we were a band that would work in that kind of milieu of slightly arty experimental things.



0:09:50 The first album was very well received but as being a bit weird. And then the single that we released Virginia Plain, which wasn’t on the album became a Top Ten hit. It was like number seven, I think in the UK chart.


0:10:06 That completely changed it because that suddenly meant we became like pop stars, basically, and we could play quite big venues and we had followers and people would run after us in the street. It was kind of OD. So we then moved into that role that we had, I think, of being sort of an avant garde band in some ways, but largely kind of mainstream.


0:10:30 But mainstream pop. Right. How did that affect you when that changed? I mean, you must have been incredibly surprised both at the success of that single, but then the after-effects of it would have taken you completely by surprise.


0:10:44: Yeah, I mean, I was actually still doing a day job when we went into the studio.


0:10:49 I was teaching music at a comprehensive school in London, which I was not very good at, but was kind of quite fun.


0:10:57 I actually left at half term. I didn’t go back.I sent them a letter and said, I’m really sorry I’ve had to leave. They’re very nice about it. And so then we kind of immediately became professional musicians and things moved fairly steadily. We were playing quite big venues. Our first date was at a festival, which was terrifying, but it launched us quite well.


0:12:18 We supported Bowie at the Rainbow, which was a very good gig. We then played that. The Rainbow was a kind of large theatre venue in London of about 3000 seater very, very good place at that time for rock and roll?


0:12:33 Did you have to pinch yourself? I mean, you’ve gone from ordinary, matter of fact music teacher with lots of students who would have looked up to you, I’m sure, to having girls chase you down the street and play huge venues supporting people like David Bowie. It would have been, like, totally surreal.


0:12:52 I can imagine it was. We weren’t super young. We were kind of 25, 26.


0:12:59 It’s not exactly old.


0:13:01 Not exactly old, but you think you’re quite old when you’re 25. You think life is passing you by. And some musicians at that time had been around playing professionally since they were 17 or 18. Some of the English blues players, they were guys who had just been doing it for a long time. And I think some of the established bands slightly resented the fact that people thought that we were more manufactured than we were. I think they thought that there was some kind of big organization behind us, which was not true. I mean, Brian is an organization in himself. He’s very incredibly proactive about setting things up and working. But, yeah, it all moved fairly naturally. And I suppose we were lucky.


0:13:50 At that time, record companies supported you in a way that they don’t know.

I mean, record companies hardly exist now. They just collect money. But at that time, we ended up with a small management company who put us with Island Records, who really liked the artists they liked, they would support. Even if they didn’t sell enough records in the first year, they’d support you for your second album third. We were lucky. We sold quite well on the first album. But that backup of having someone who would advance money for you to record so he could use their recording studio. And also get a decent producer. Those things don’t happen as much now. I mean, you need to have a big hit right away.


0:14:59 Album sales or vinyl sales were very big then. And people would save up and go out on a Saturday morning, go to the record shop, look through the racks.  Notice a cover that they liked and so the covers were very important.


0:15:13 That’s right. How different it is these days. And you buy it for your whatever pounds it was and take it home. Play it while you try it out. Yeah.


0:15:23 And you could make money from selling records. You didn’t make money from touring then?


0:15:29 We’d lost money touring all the time, really, the whole of the 1970s, we never made a profit on touring.


0:15:35 How come now people make all their money out of touring and hope that they’ll sell a few physical copies at the gig? How come you didn’t make money out of touring then?


0:15:45 No one did at that time. Venues didn’t have their own PA. Nowadays you turn up almost any gig and there will be a house PA that. Almost certainly would be okay to use.

But people go around with three articulated lorries with a big PA in it with bass bins and a mixing desk and speakers and the whole stage set up lighting rig. So that was ruinously expensive. The band had to pay for all of that. Band had to pay for that, essentially. And I think ticket prices weren’t that high. People now will pay for a theatre ticket, people will pay 100 pounds. And for a rock concert in a decent venue, anything from 50 to 100 pounds is normal. I think back then, people didn’t expect that. They expected to pay a few shillings.

Whatever, back in old money. Actually, England didn’t go decimal until 19.


0:16:41 That’s okay. We come from shillings and pence, too.


0:16:47I may be confusing it with joining the European Union because that’s right.

I don’t know about that one. So you did continue touring, though, despite losing money, having done so, because that was the only way to get notes We made money selling records. I mean, that was the difference. You did a tour to promote record Sales and you also used radio and Radio interviews and things to backed up what you’re doing. So we made money. It took a long time to pay off all of the debts of recording and touring. But essentially the record companies will advance you money. Song writing is the thing that makes most money and Brian was doing most of that. So it wasn’t that easy. But we were sending large volumes of records and we were on a reasonable sort of deal. And I think that’s just the way it worked then. Everyone toured to promote their records.


0:17:41 Roxy Music toured relentlessly and with their thrillingly, strange 1972 debut, announced themselves as a band that were unlike anyone else.




0:00:07 With roots in Britain’s glam and art rock movements, Roxy Music’s flamboyant mix of pop hooks and avant garde adventurousness created quite a stir. The band’s debut album, Roxy Music, was driven largely by the creative tension between suave singer Brian Ferry and experimentally inclined keyboardist Brian Eno.


0:00:32 Were you having fun during those years?


0:00:34 Oh, yeah, a huge amount of fun. I mean, we went to America in the beginning of 19, well over the winter of 72, 73, which is fantastic. I’d always dreamt of going to America, which was brilliant. We toured Europe a lot. We were very big in Germany, we were big in France for a while, holland, all of those countries. And we went to Australia in, I think, 74, was it? I think so. I think Brian had had a solo his solo records did quite well, where he did Carpa’s albums, and I think they did really rather well in Australia. So when we went there, he was kind of better known, really, than the band, which was interesting. That happens in some countries.


0:01:16 I seem to remember all the crazy outfits that you guys wore and the mad haircuts. What was that all about?


0:01:23 You know what? I think we just were having fun, really. Again, it was partly the kind of arty background in the fact that our friends tended to be fashion designers, photographers, painters, filmmakers, not so much musicians. If they were musicians, they were often sort of slightly more highbrow. Yeah. And I think we just sort of just to have fun, we’d be talking to someone and say, oh, would you design me something? And I’d like something that looks like a space adventure, like a Star Trek or something a little bit kind of funny. And then we had a hairdresser friend who’s actually credited on the first album, who dyed my hair. They could just do hair dye. I think I was one of the first people I remember all of this part was dyed blue and some streaks at the site. And I had it done in Knightsbridge in central London. And I remember sort of walking out of the salon and going back down the road to get a bus or maybe even a taxi, and people were kind of slowing down.


0:03:38 I’m not actually a show off, but I think yeah. And we also, you know, we knew that what we wore and how we looked was going to sell what we were doing. And, you know, I mean, obviously we weren’t the sort of musicians who thought that you should just do what you want. And it doesn’t matter whether the public like it. I mean, we were popular musicians, we were making pop music.


0:04:02 You were appealing to the masses. That’s right. When you look back at yourself in those days and you see video clips of the way that you looked and moved and of course, you were known particularly for this Chuck Berry inspired duckwalk that you did during your sax solos. What do you think of yourself when you see your younger self doing all this?


0:04:24 I think the reason is actually, as I said, we’re really very shy. I mean, Brian Ferry and Brian Eno. Actually, surprisingly shy. And I think that in those circumstances, it’s all or nothing. You can’t go on stage just wearing your day clothes and play, which is, what, say, jazz musicians might do or someone like Neil Young.


0:04:45 Yeah. Or going, close your eyes, play, ignore the audience.


0:04:50  That’s right.


0:04:51 I mean, the only way I could do it without being nervous was to sort of dress up and treat it as a theatrical performance. Really.


0:04:59 So you’re kind of play acting? So putting on the outfit and some makeup, which was sort of stage makeup. I mean, you didn’t actually wear ladies makeup and that just gave you the thing. Okay, you’re out there and you have to perform. And in the very early days, brian was too shy to stand in the middle of the stage. Kind of back in 1971, before we really got the record deal and things, we did some dates when we were unsigned and Brian would play the keyboard at the side and I would be standing with the sax and the drums in the middle. And Phil and Eno was either at the side, the other side from Brian, or he’d be at the mixing desk where he used to have a synthesizer at the mixing. He could hide behind there while he was mixing. And we had to persuade Brian Ferry to go out centre stage and say, look, stand there and sing.


0:06:03 That’s hilarious. I mean, as somebody in the audience, you never think that the people that you’re watching strutting on the stage would have any qualms about performing like that. But of course, it’s like anything, you’re just human. And it takes a bit of getting used to.


0:07:39 Let’s do The Strand. The first from Roxy Music’s for your Pleasure album. It was a song about a made up dance craze that tipped a hat to the fashionable London street of the same name.


0:07:52 We always saw it as like this element of know, you cannot take rock and roll too seriously. It can be serious. It’s serious in people’s lives often, but in itself it’s not that serious.


0:08:07 Andy, you talk about the fact that Brian was the main songwriter, yet you also co wrote some of those huge hits, didn’t you?


0:08:16 Yeah, I wrote in the early days, Brian did all the song writing, which became then a slight bone of contention know, we were writing and I think we were getting to the point where Brian wrote the most amazing lyrics. He was the greatest lyric writer of his era, in my opinion. But his musical structures were quite simple. He tended to use one or two chords and sing on top of them. And I felt that we needed a bit more structure. So on the third album, Stranded, I had a song, song for Europe, which is much more kind of structured. I mean, nowadays you’ve called it slightly Progrock, which we never thought ourselves as prog rock, but it’s got a classical sort of element to it.



0:09:59 Tell me a little bit about love is the drug Tell me about what you were writing about there because everyone was running down the street singing that song.


0:10:08 Yeah, I mean, the way Roxy worked was that when we were writing songs, Phil and myself, Eno never wrote any songs on Roxy albums. It was very interesting thought that he wrote a lot of great songs from his first solo album, which might have been great Roxy songs, but the politics to the band was such that that didn’t happen. But we would put together the kind of chords and a riff or feel and then we’d play it in the studio or in rehearsal and then we’d work on it. And Brian would then kind of listen to it and maybe hum along. But basically he would then take it away and write a top line and a lyric that went with it, which often we didn’t hear until we nearly finished a track. Sometimes overworked the track. Then he would turn up and deliver this amazing vocal performance in the studio. So he always worked that way and it was always mute. First lyrics afterwards.


0:12:58 1970 five’s love Is The Drug started life as a distinctly Englishy instrumental that Andy McKay composed on a wirlitzer electronic piano before it became more groove driven. He says his original tempo was slow, with a majestic, sweeping feel that moved in a dreamy and ambient direction. But Brian and drummer Paul Thompson pushed it along to make it more dancey. It’s arguably Roxy Music’s best known song and is often described as the band’s disco tune.


0:13:31 Although the forceful rhythms seem to border a bit on Cuban funk, it’s a song that contains one of rock’s most famous bass lines. According to Brian Ferry, it’s all about hitting the streets in search of some casual, no strings attached sex.


0:14:37 Don’t know if you know, but around 1976 I worked on a TV drama series called Rock Follies. Yes, I did.


0:14:45 That was actually a big success for me. It was a number one album and the series won a BAFTA award and very exciting time for me. I worked on that with an American writer, dramatist and songwriter called Howard Schumann. And Howard wrote all the lyrics first. So I then did this completely much more like a West End musical, where you have a lyric writer and a songwriter and a drama, and the songs were part of the drama. So that was a completely different way of using the sort of song writing.


0:15:18 Yeah. But with Roxy, was it always a harmonious process or were there disagreements between you?


0:15:25 No, there were plenty of disagreements. I mean, I don’t think rock bands are ever that harmonious, really. Not all the time. Yes, there were disagreements and I think sometimes someone would argue for something being included or not included or changed and sometimes you approved right, sometimes you approved wrong. But, yeah, there were resentments and arguments and particularly, I think, as I mentioned earlier, the thing about song writing and music is that song writing money comes from record one. So whenever a record is sold, the publishers and the writers of the song earn some money.

But the people who’ve actually played the music and made the album, you’ve got to pay for the album recording costs before you earn anything. So you might have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in today’s money on recording until you’ve sold enough records to get that money back. The band don’t actually earn anything, but the songwriter is earning. Now, a lot of bands split it and say all songs are written by all of the band which I don’t think is necessarily fair either.


0:16:37 And sometimes a great song is what makes you successful. So it’s the thing, without Brian’s songs, we wouldn’t have made it. At the same time there were probably your music, it wouldn’t have made it. So it needs one hand to wash the other, doesn’t it?


0:16:53 Yeah. I mean, sometimes the band sells the song, sometimes the song sells the band. That balance is a tricky one and I think most bands sort of had some sort of disagreements about that, or not disagreements, resentments, whatever, and you don’t break up and storm out, you be pragmatic, decide that what you’re doing is still worth doing. And I’m very pleased we did and I like the later albums that maybe wouldn’t have happened if we all sort of argued too much.


0:17:26 The enigmatic Brian Eno had waved goodbye to his bandmates in Roxy Music in 1973. There was always a friendly rivalry between Brian Eno and Brian Ferry, from who could steal the spotlight on stage to who could get the most girls backstage. It basically came down to Ferry’s natural stage present, fighting it out. With Eno’s outlandish wardrobe and sonic delights, there was plenty of other dissension in the ranks too. And the band decided to take some time out.


0:17:57 Stay tuned as their story continues.



0:01 Welcome back. We’re chatting with Roxy Music co founder six oftenest oboist and songwriter Andy Mackay. Despite Brian Eno leaving the band some years earlier, he’s influenced lingered when the band did come back they moved into a smoothly sophisticated dance pop direction that culminated with 1980 two’s Avalon, Avalon, it’s one of my favorite tracks. This was the band’s biggest commercial success yet, launching the singles more than this and the title track, but it was also Roxy Music’s last new studio effort, and it set the stage for both Brian ferries and Andy McKay’s successful solo careers. You ended up releasing two instrumental solo albums of your own in the 70s. And then you worked with a whole lot of people including Duran, Duran, Mott, the Hoople. John Cale, Pavlov’s dog. So many people, John Mellencamp Paul McCartney, are there any favoruites amongst those?



Well, I’ve been working with McCartney would be the sort of thing. It I didn’t I didn’t actually play very much on McCarthy’s records. I was I went to the I was in the sessions quite a lot for what types of peace and tug of war were recorded. The Sessions was sort of straight across two albums. So they’re in the studio for quite a long time. And part of that material came up as I’m so pleased to some of the tug of war for obviously working with balls, like, you know, great with George Martin producing, you know, Geoff Emerick, engineering, I mean, there’s like a dream, you know, so and you know, I was quite friendly with Paul at that time. And then do I like very much. So that was great.



What with one thing, and another, which we expected with one thing, and another, we were trying to outdo each other in the hoop or the guys died there in the studio often happened, there’s a big studio in central London, at Oxford Circus, actually, as central as you can get called our studios, it was George Martin video. And in its heyday, there, I think three or four studios and you would get in a major bands in all of them. So you would have Roxy in one room and not open in another separate in another new tended to you bumped into people, you know, in the corridor or in a coffee. And so quite often, someone would say, oh, we need to have sex on this, you know, we’ve just been listening to this track. And so I just go in and puppy, still run, do ya? Do it, which was, you know, a nice, nice way to work. And then, obviously, people like Duran Duran, who are big fans, big Roxy fans, obviously 10 years younger than us. And Duran Duran, inducted us into the Rock Roll Hall of Fame, which is a very nice kind of tribute from them. And I think they wanted work with me, and you know, with Ferlin, because they admired the band, and you know, so that was another thing. So yeah, I did. I mean, I was there for a session player in the sense of adverse to doing it for a living, I tended to do it for bands I knew. And sometimes for a young band, it’s possible to play unless they’re bold enough to ask you guys tell musicians think of the person you most want to play with, and ask them to do it. And they’ll probably say, yes, it’s quite interesting to say no, but they often say, okay,



that’s fabulous. Why did Roxy Music breakup? Come 1983


I think they’d always been from Brian particularly a feeling that his solo career and Roxy ran in parallel, so that in the 70s Brian, who works very hard, you can never stop working. I mean, you. No it’s his life he just doesn’t and so he would be making other when we’re doing Roxy art and then immediately do one of his solo covers albums then, he started wanting to put his own songs onto this. So he would then have as an album which had salt covers, like let’s stick together on on an album with primary rituals. And I think that by the time we’d finished half a lot, Ryan had songs, he thought, well, these are slightly more Bryan Ferry songs that Roxy songs and I think everyone’s who’s got more time to make albums so you could really do both. So I think at that point he thought well actually I will now go not just be Bryan Ferry several artists and he made the album boys and girls



we are back on tour in the 2000s and started recording but never finished an album. So there is sort of a slightly unfinished chapters there be nice to get back at the studio. Who knows? That’s a possibility. It’s always a possibility for or you can still play I think it’s still possible. Yeah.



And you keep up with all the other guys.



yeah. I talk to Phil quite often. I talked to Brian there. So you know, we’ve known each other we’ve brought Thompson I would keep in touch with and you know, Phil, as worked on most of my other projects.



Yeah. Oh, keep our fingers crossed that maybe you guys will come back together again get into studio and hit the road one more time.



Yeah, there is some unreleased material around they’re not finished, but you never know.



And funnily enough that that rock phonies project is suddenly 40 years later that it’s become much more contemporary because it was it was about women and they were being exploited and women in music being exploited and about some gay do so it was kind of way at this time and people have sort of sometimes rediscovering that so that’s quite fun. There’s I wrote a lot of songs



Rock follies and it’s sequel rock follies of 77 with a musical dramas shown on British TV in the 70s. The storyline followed the ups and downs of a fictional female rock band called The little ladies as they struggled for recognition and success. The band was made up on screen of talented session musicians, as well as the three lead actresses who actually proved they could sing and the spin off album of music from the series into the UK charts at number one,



we had an orchestra conductor a great cast so we I said to Phil, why don’t we do some orchestral arrangements so Roxy songs this crossover rock classic project. So we did some arranging got got some friends to help with the string arrangements and stuff and the first half of the concert was was the rock sinfully arrangements and those also out and that was great. It sort of worked really well I went down very well with the audience. And we were all set to we’re going to play some cathedrals and a fuse with other venues so we would do the Psalms as part of it and then the Roxy roughly you know Sager nice acoustic things, and we had to cancel it because COVID was the one I made back in the early 80s After I’ve been to China called resolving contradictions.



The Touring thing is difficult because the other sort of project I did a few years back was Andy Mackay and the metaphors, an album called London, New York, Paris, Rome, which is an arrangement of sort of film tunes and also as another deconstructed post rock and develop an instrumental and I wanted to take that on to that. I had a heart player and and on top of that was drumming. I had a great experimental guitarist and since player the great classical keyboard player had it was just too expensive. But that’s an album I liked very much



Thank you so much for talking to me, Andy. I really appreciate your time




Were you lucky enough to catch Roxy Music recently as they reunited to celebrate their 50th anniversary. From all accounts these guys in concert are still Pretty awesome. Thanks to Rick in Leeds in the UK for asking me to have a chat with Andy Mackay. And don’t forget, if you’d like to hear from somebody to, all you’ve got to do is send me a message through the website, a breath of fresh I’d be only too happy to try and get that artist onto the show. Thanks for your company again today. It’s been terrific having you along and I really hope you’ve enjoyed the show. If you’d like to catch up with any back episodes, just head to your favorite podcast platform. I’ll look forward to being back with you again same time next week. Have fun in the meantime, won’t you by now because it’s a beautiful day.