Roxy Music saxophonist Andy Mackay was driving down to England’s West Country in mid-December when he got a text from Bryan Ferry saying that they’d been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I knew we had been nominated,” says Mackay. “But I always felt that we were a little too far out there for the general public in America even though we have a strong following in some pockets over there. It was very surprising to hear.”
The group hasn’t performed together since they quietly disbanded after a 2011 tour, but it seems quite likely that they’re going to play at the ceremony. We spoke to Mackay about the big night, the possibility of original Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno coming, the band’s aborted 2007 reunion album, why they stopped touring and the possibility of the Hall of Fame leading to more shows.
What does the Hall of Fame induction mean on a personal level?
There some satisfaction in it. We get a lot of nice comments about stuff we’ve done a long time ago, but it’s quite nice to feel that we still mean something to all generations, really. I think it’s nice to think there’s a broader spectrum of the public than those who grew up with us in the Seventies who are thinking that we played some part in rock & roll history.
Have you spoken to any of your bandmates about it besides Bryan?
Yeah. We’ve been in touch. We’re all very pleased. We’ve been looking into how we’re going to approach the actual induction, whether or not we’re going to play. I’m hopeful that we will. As you probably know, Roxy hasn’t actually worked together as a band for about nine years. But we’re friendly. I see [guitarist] Phil Manzanera a lot. I did a concert with him in November of last year. I work a lot with him. Bryan and I talk. We see each other from time to time. [Drummer] Paul Thompson and I talk to from time to time. I haven’t seen him in some years, but I know he’s there. I played on an album of his about four years ago. Generally speaking, we are in contact. We are all feeling quite optimistic about it, but I wouldn’t like to say for sure what’s going to happen. It could be complicated to figure out.
They’re taking in Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Eddie Jobson, you, Phil Manzanera, Graham Simpson and Paul Thompson. Did they get that right? Did they miss anybody?
It’s difficult, isn’t it? Over the band’s career there were many different people. For a period, we worked with American session musicians on a few records. By and large, the four of us there at the beginning were there at the end. That’s probably what counts. And Eddie Jobson obviously did play on three records in the middle of the band’s career. With bass players, it is hard to say who is the definitive bass player. The guy who played on “Love Is the Drug,” John Gustafson, died a few years ago. He was a fantastic player who had been in a Liverpool band before the Beatles. He was a great player that did a lot of session work in London.
Who knows? I think we’ll come up with something. Obviously if the ceremony is in New York, if there’s someone based there that’ll be a bonus. But we’re still talking about it. I’d be very happy to do it. It would be nice to see the others and I hope they feel the same way.
Why did you go through so many bass players in the lifespan of the band?
Graham Simpson was Bryan’s friend from Newcastle. When I bet met Bryan for the first time, it was him and Graham Simpson that were playing in a flat in Kensington in London with a piano and a bass. That was it. They were playing these rather strange songs and very occasionally a guitarist would drop in. Then we put the first band together. And then Graham Simpson got very unwell. He had a bad breakdown and just couldn’t cope with the rock thing anymore. Sadly, we parted company with him. He had a very interesting life and, sadly, he died a few years ago.
After that, we had a lot of good bass players, but none of them settled. They kind of came and went. John Porter did a lot of work in the early days. And then on tour, we had different players. I think any of them would be great. John Wetton was the bass player for a while. And Guy Pratt did live work with us. He played with Pink Floyd, but I think we’ll probably find an American player. But I don’t really know how the show works. We’ll have to see.
When was the last time you played with Brian Eno in concert in any capacity?
The last time he played with Roxy was 1974. That was a difficult time. The second or third year of a band there’s a lot of positioning and people … you always think it’s going to end quite soon and so you try and get everything done very quickly. And then you find out 40 years later you possibly could have taken more time with it. But the way things worked, we’ve all had great careers. On and off, we have all worked together right through. On this recent project I did, the 3Psalms project, I worked quite a lot with Phil on that. We always think there’s something new to do, maybe.
Do you think Eno might show up to the ceremony?
I really don’t know. He’s shy sometimes, but I haven’t actually spoken to him about it. I’ve been very busy and I don’t know what he’s up to. But I really couldn’t say. I’ll just say, “You never know.”
In 2007, you guys began work on a new album. What happened? Why didn’t it come out?
It started well. Part of the thing is that with Roxy, Bryan has always been the key in terms of lyrics and vocals. It’s one of those things that although we all wrote music and a lot of the Roxy songs that were successful were the co-written ones — not that there’s no great Bryan songs as well — and I think that at that time doing a whole album’s worth of lyrics was kind of a challenge. He didn’t really feel it was going the right way for him, so he wanted to work on some material that he had. That was the Olympia album, which had some very nice stuff on it. And then we all got distracted off in different ways.
Personally, I’d very much like to revisit those tracks. I haven’t listened to them in a long time. I’d like to see if there’s some possibility in working on them. But Bryan is very busy. He likes working. He’s doing live work at the moment. He’s doing a lot of that, so he’s not really thinking about the studio now.
Brian Eno was involved in that album, right?
He was. The original five members with Guy Pratt on bass was the lineup. Chris Thompson was producing. It was a great lineup. Who knows? Something may come of it or it may not. Who knows? It might not be very good. We won’t know until we finish it.
You guys stopped touring as Roxy Music in 2011. Why was that?
Various things. I wanted to stop touring at that time for various personal/family reasons. I didn’t want to spend any more time away. I had a young child who was growing up and I wanted to spend more time with the family. I also had some other projects I was working on. Bryan really wanted to work on finishing some recordings and then he enjoys the kind of touring he’s doing now, which is a very controlled kind of thing with smaller venues and a very polished band. He gets great reviews and he’s enjoying that at the moment. He’s booked throughout much of this year. Good luck to him. And I am busy with this big orchestral choir electronic project that I just finished at the end of November. I am keen to continue performing that and take that out. It’s a complicated piece that involves a 16-piece string section and a 16-piece choir and a percussion player. It’s not easy to do, but I find it very satisfying.
Is a future Roxy Music tour a possibility?
It’s a possibility. We have never actually advertised a farewell tour except in 1975. While we’re all still playing it’s always a possibility. Who knows? It’s been quite a long time now we haven’t played together. Maybe we’d find it a bit strange. Also, we’d need to revisit the material a little bit. We can’t jump around onstage playing the arrangements you were playing in your mid-twenties when you’re in your early seventies. It just doesn’t quite work, but there’s plenty of rock & roll still in us, so who knows? Maybe the Hall of Fame is the thing that will make us think about it.
How do you feel about Bryan Ferry’s Avalon tour where he’s doing a bunch of songs from the album on tour this year?
I only just saw that. It makes some sense in America since it was our best selling album there. I can see there would be some appetite for that, but who knows? It’s quite a big thing to take on.
At most of his solo concerts, he devotes about 75 percent of his show to Roxy Music songs.
They’re his songs as well. I guess that’s what he likes doing. I work on Roxy music material quite a lot. These recent concerts I’ve done have been called Roxy Symphony with slightly quirky string arrangements of Roxy songs. It’s a different approach to Roxy. I think we all feel that these are our songs. I’m sure Bryan feels they are his songs and we all feel that we all share in them. I’m always pleased to hear them. And if Bryan wants to take Avalon out, I look forward to hearing them.
Bands often play three songs at the Hall of Fame. What three songs do you think you could do to sum up your whole career?
I guess we’d do the songs that people know. “Avalon” is a track that people like. “Love Is the Drug” is one of our defining tracks and I think, probably, we’d like to do something from our early period like “Virginia Plain” or “Re-Make/Re-Model.” That would be my choice, but we haven’t actually discussed this in detail.
If this performance happens, it could be the last Roxy Music performance ever. Going out at the Hall of Fame would be nice in a certain sense.
That sounds too gloomy to me. I don’t like to think about “last ever” because you never know. We’d like to me more optimistic than that, or at least I would.