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A Roxy Music reunion celebrates 50 years of style and substance

The Boston Globe 9/15/2022 James Sullivan
Phil Manzanera (left) and Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music perform at Madison Square Garden in New York City earlier this week on the band's 50th anniversary tour. © Steven Ferdman Phil Manzanera (left) and Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music perform at Madison Square Garden in New York City earlier this week on the band's 50th anniversary tour.

After 50 years in the music world, Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera still knows how it feels to be a fan. He and his good friend David Gilmour saw Leonard Cohen perform several times, for instance.

“I like being a punter, going to concerts,” he says. And when he does, he wants his favorite acts to play the music he recognizes. “I don’t want to hear jamming.”

Though he has played alongside Bob Dylan, he’s still a fan. “If I go see Dylan, I would really like him to play it as it is on the record,” he says. “Of course he doesn’t do that.” It is, he admits, “slightly annoying.”

With that in mind, he and his fellow members of Roxy Music have been working hard in rehearsals to pick up where they left off — whether in 1982, when the group disbanded, or 10 years ago, when Roxy last reunited. Manzanera, frontman Bryan Ferry, multi-instrumentalist Andy Mackay, and drummer Paul Thompson will stop in Boston Saturday on their 50th anniversary tour, playing the new MGM Music Hall at Fenway.

Manzanera is widely acknowledged as a super-innovator on electric guitar. His rule-shunning textures helped make Roxy Music one of a kind — a glam band that prefigured punk, an exuberant collision of sounds infused with savoir faire.

So it’s curious to hear him say that he has to bone up on his own playing from the band’s early days.

“I had a lot of enthusiasm, and my fingers were going to places they won’t go to now,” he explains. “It’s like, ‘Who is this guy?’ He was actually quite weird. I was just bluffing it, you know.” He laughs.

Ferry, the suave crooner who has had significant solo success, has fond memories of the band’s origins, when Mackay brought in the electronic artist Brian Eno (who would only stick around for the band’s first two albums) and they settled on Manzanera after advertising for “the perfect guitarist.”

“Those were amusing times,” Ferry says on a separate call. “We were pleased to have discovered each other, I guess. I felt so lucky to have this very interesting collection of people. Each one had a personality on their instrument.”

The group’s self-titled 1972 debut album was “very much a collage of elements,” he says. It was a musical adaptation of Ferry’s art-school studies with Richard Hamilton, the British pop artist known for his influential collage works.

“It felt good to explore all these different avenues,” Ferry says. “Andy had a different background to me, and Phil again.” Manzanera’s mother was from Colombia, and he grew up in various places, including Cuba, Venezuela, and Hawaii.

“Our first bass player, Graham [Simpson], was very much into the jazz world, Blue Note jazz albums,” Ferry continues. “I really wanted to be an artist, and I ended up doing it in music.”

Despite his debonair persona, which would become more pronounced by the band’s final album (“Avalon”) and solo singles such as “Slave to Love” and “Kiss and Tell,” Ferry grew up very much working-class.

“My dad was a real salt-of-the-earth character,” he says. Frederick Charles Ferry came from a farming family; he was a caretaker for mining horses.

It was Ferry’s mother, Mary Ann, who encouraged his creative aspirations. “She was more modern, more switched on,” he says. “She was from the town. She encouraged us to look smart to go to school or church. As a kid, I worked in a tailor’s shop on weekends to make pocket money. I was interested in clothes at quite an early age.”

There was a piano in the house, but it was mostly his older sister who played it. Even today, Ferry says that he introduces his mates to music he’s working on by playing rudimentary chords or melodies. Has he ever vowed to improve his playing?

“Oh, no,” he says with a laugh. “Maybe one day.”

In 2019 Roxy Music was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The members of Duran Duran called their heroes “a psychedelic Sinatra crooning pop-art poetry over driving drums.” Manzanera says he was surprised at how moved he was by the honor.

“Unlike some other bands, we never expected it,” he says. “We never even thought about being nominated. When we were, I thought, oh, that’s nice.”

But at the ceremony at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, he looked around and spotted Fleetwood Mac at one table and Janet Jackson seated behind him.

“The Zombies, the guys from Radiohead . . . It was amazing! We had the most fantastic time. Even Eno, who didn’t come — he was very appreciative as well. We rehearsed for a week, even though we only played for 15 minutes, to make sure we acquitted ourselves.”

He still owns the famous bug-eye glasses he often wore during the band’s heyday. In fact, he just got them back from the Rock Hall, where they were on loan. (His kids insisted.)

To mark their 40th anniversary in 2011, Roxy played a series of shows in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. They did not tour the States.

Manzanera says he doesn’t remember making much of the band’s 40th anniversary.

“But 50 — that sounds, like, big,” he says.

When the band first signed with Island Records, there was no thought whatsoever of longevity, he says.

“When you start a rock ‘n’ roll band, you think, ‘I don’t care — I’ll sign whatever.’ You just want to make a record, to be in a recording studio. It’s like joining the Navy to see the world, or something.”

Not in your wildest dreams, he says, are you thinking about yourself 50 years in the future.

E-mail James Sullivan at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.

ROXY MUSIC

At MGM Music Hall at Fenway, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets from $49.50. crossroadspresents.com

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