Roxy Music, The O2, 14th October 2022
Updated: Oct 26, 2022
I hate dentists. Not them personally, but my experience of dentists through my childhood was not great. I wasn’t great at looking after my teeth and dentists were seemingly determined to punish me for this.
I finally found a marvellous dentist when I was 11, whose name I shamefully forget. She was great, kind, patient - I loved her. So when she moved her practice when I was 14 from Dartford to Swanley, I went with her. It was a schlep (5 miles and two buses) to get there but I stuck with her.
Even though I loved her, I was still so scared, she prescribed me Valium. I would pop a couple of these spacey pills, embark on my trippy bus journey and head in to see her. Light-headed and out of it, she would give me my check up, and off I would toddle. My treat would be to spend the cash I was now earning from caddying on a record after my trip to a world of potential torture.
Still buzzing in my Valium haze, I remember heading into Woolworths in Swanley and deciding that Street Life - the new compilation of Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry would be a good investment in my ongoing musical education. I bought the cassette, so I could play it immediately (still an instant gratification junkie) and slipped it my battered Sony Walkman.
It was a good purchase, made better by over-the-counter drugs and no fillings. I can recall hearing Virginia Plain for the first time and trying to work out what the f*** was going on. "We're all flying down to Rio" - what the Hell was this? This was madness! But I was hitting rewind before I got to the end to play the track again.
A third listen and I decided I should probably give the rest of it a go. A Hard Rain took a few listens, Pyjamarama was an instant hit, Do The Strand was a headf***….I tended to like the more New Romantic styled tracks such Same Old Scene, which to me sounded like Japan (though the influence was the other way round obviously). More Than This was all mesmeric guitar, Love Is The Drug was spectacular. I've since upgraded to vinyl, it's still a brilliant compilation.
Fast forward some 36 years later and I am finally heading to the O2 Arena to see Roxy Music live. They had reformed for some live gigs back in 2001, but I never got round to going. Given the four original members of the band’s collective age is 295, it seems unlikely I will get another chance if we didn't go now. I have checked the setlist and it’s good, though missing Pyjamarama, Same Old Scene and The Thrill Of It. But missing favourites aside, it’s a great and comprehensive run through their eight albums.
My friend Mark and I are here to celebrate his recent significant birthday and a couple of pints at The Pilot, then we enter the O2. We grab a couple more beers, which at £16 are outrageous, and then head in to our seats.
We are struck by the audience. Some have glammed up with silver trousers, one chap wearing a gold lamé vest, in the style of their drummer Paul Thompson back in the early seventies (though sadly not his leopard skin number from way back then). One woman has silver, glitzy fly-like shades, a la Phil Manzanera - it's cool they have made the effort. Others have come dressed in super posh 80s dinner party outfits, more akin to Roxy’s Avalon period.
The demographic of the audience means there are more walking sticks than I have ever seen at a gig - fair play to them from not letting mobility issues stop them getting back to live gigs. I see my future before me...
The stage set is HUGE, with staggered horizontal screens, which show the band on stage, but cutting them at the waste, so it’s a weird, distorted view of them (at one point Andy McKay looks like The Penguin from Batman, which is harsh). The images are interspersed with references to the album covers and lyrics, Oh Yeah has images of a drive-in cinema, as Ferry croons “driving you home from a movie show”. It’s impressive.
The songs range from the mad, glam pomp and croon of Remake/Re-model, Out Of The Blue and Ladytron, then they switch effortlessly to the 80s pop of Oh Yeah and the Pink Floydesque prog of The Main Thing. In Every Dream Home A Heartache explodes as surprisingly as it did when I watched in on Whistle Test repeats back in the 80s.
Ferry, Manzanera and Thompson take a break for the dinner party muzak of Tara, but it’s Andy McKay’s instrumental showcase moment…it’s probably the weakest song from a solid show. But that’s a churlish complaint. If There Is Something, Virginia Plain and Love Is The Drug are stunning and McKay, Manzanera and Thompson are incredible musicians throughout. Meanwhile, Ferry does a sterling job. His voice is a little whispery towards the end, but he is ably backed by three backing singers plus two musicians who double up on vocals. But throughout he is dapper, cool, and his voice belies his 77 years on this Earth.
Do The Strand closes proceedings, with its stomping keyboards, guitar whig-out and fabulous if deranged lyrics ("Rhododendron is a nice flower"!). It's a precursor to punk, with a pounding beat to drive its imagined new dance style ("There's a new sensation, a fabulous creation, a danceable solution to teenage revolution").
This was a GREAT gig, and if the rumours are true, they will be a brilliant “legacy act” for next year’s Glastonbury. But if this is their last ever gig, then “in the thrill of it all! I guess you were goddamn perfect”.
Right, I am off to listen to Street Life….
Pictures courtesy of Mark Davenport.