In the year or so that we’ve been hosting our vinyl listening clubs, we’ve managed some memorable moments: an intimate chat with David Gilmour, recorded especially for our Dark Side of the Moon playback; some David Bowie Heroes-worship with esteemed music writers Tim Lott and Paolo Hewitt; and the unforgettable sight of Lou Reed turning up at our New York event to introduce his own Transformer LP with photographer friend Mick Rock.
In the basement of Chiswick’s charming High Road House a fortnight ago, we witnessed another. Before the audience arrived, our guest of honour, Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, appeared clutching a small record bag. In it, next to his copy of For Your Pleasure, was an original acetate pressing of its lead single, ‘Do The Strand’. It had been taken from the master recording of the album as a way of testing the quality.
“This hasn’t been played since 1973,” said Phil as he placed it on the Linn LP12 turntable. But out of the Bowers & Wilkins 803 Diamond Series speakers hurtled the unmistakable refrain of ‘Do The Strand’. It sounded as good as ever. A little bit of history to usher in our evening.
A darker side to Roxy’s music
It was almost 40 years ago to the day that For Your Pleasure was released, just eight months after Roxy’s self-titled debut unleashed their art-rock eclecticism on the charts. Saxophonist Andy Mackay was quoted as saying of their sound, “We said, and proved, that rock’n’roll could accommodate, well, anything really.”
The jet-black sleeve, dominated by a vampish Amanda Lear and a leashed panther, suggested a darker side to the Roxy Music that had arrived with frilly pin-up girls and old movie references. It was an album that marked significant change for the band, too.
It was their first with super producer Chris Thomas at the helm (he went on to produce all of Roxy’s classic Seventies material) and their last with Brian Eno, whose pioneering synthesisers and tape treatments were key to that early Roxy sound.
Many regard For Your Pleasure as Roxy Music’s most complete album. According to Pitchfork, the online bible of musical cool, “It perfectly captures the balance and tension between Eno and leader Bryan Ferry”.
It certainly has its fans in west London: our guests had filled the room to bursting point, chatting all things Roxy while a few other sounds of ’73(ish) played, from Gil-Scott Heron to Van Morrison.
There were music journalists, PRs, teachers, filmmakers, Roxy fanatics, curious newcomers and even some nice folk from the splendid Idler Academy. They scrambled for seats as the main event began, some making do on sofa arms or lovers’ laps.
A quick introduction from our editor, Tim Willis, informed them of our thinking behind such events, and why our love for vinyl is enduring. Then our font of audio knowledge and supplier of hi-fi excellence, Simon Byles of Infidelity, delivered “the science bit”.
It transpired that the aforementioned Linn turntable was first released at almost exactly the same time as For Your Pleasure.
The album as it was intended
Then it was ‘enter Phil Manzanera’ – guitar legend, noted producer and recent award-winner – to say a few words before ceremonially placing the needle.
“I don’t think I’ve listened to this all the way through since we made it,” he said, by way of introduction.
“If my time in music has taught me anything, it’s that attention spans wander after about 20 minutes, so let’s have a drinks break after side one.” Those perched on the arms of chairs breathed a sigh of relief.
Enthusiastic applause broke out as the last strains of ‘Do The Strand’ faded out and the moody synth of ‘Beauty Queen’ came in. Attentions remained rapt right up until the fade out (and in again) of their creepy paean to a sex doll, ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’.
Wines were refilled and gin and tonics refreshed (this is a Roxy Music album, you know) and we launched back into side two. Just three songs this time: the pulsing kraut-jazz of ‘The Bogus Man’, the surreal romp of ‘Grey Lagoons’ and the haunting finale, complete with Judi Dench samples.
Then more applause, and that satisfying feeling of having enjoyed something exactly in the way it was intended.
‘Our work there is done’
Manzanera’s enjoyment was apparent as he and I took to boyband-esque stools at the front of the room for a Q&A session.
The album we had just heard was recorded not far from high50 headquarters, in Oxford Circus, at the top of what is now Topshop. “There should really be a plaque!” joked Phil.
“We found ourselves, one year on from releasing the first album, being successful and having a lot of expectation. We’d been playing half the album live anyway and so it was a question of coming up with five or six new songs.
“We were always on a deadline. There was an enormous amount of touring during that period, and you were expected to just go and rehearse for a week, then go and do the album in three. The tour was already booked – you had to be finished!”
The questions flowed with good-natured bonhomie, covering everything from another potential Roxy reunion (“Our work there is done”); Phil’s trademark bug glasses (“Jarvis Cocker borrowed them once”); and what was next on the to-do list (“There’s going to be a new David Gilmour album at some point.” (You heard it here first, folks!)
We could have sat there all night, but our time was up and after some heartfelt thanks, the room dispersed, with many vowing to dust off some old vinyl when they got home.
The pleasure was all ours.
Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure
Do the Strand
Editions of You
In Every Dream Home a Heartache
The Bogus Man
For Your Pleasure
Turntable: Linn LP12 with Keel sub-chassis and Radikal power supply
Tonearm: Linn Ekos SE
Phono cartridge: Linn Akiva
Phono preamp: Linn Euphorik
Amplifier: Naim Super Nait with Naim HiCap power supply
Speakers: B&W 803Diamond
Supplied by Infidelity, 9 High Street, Hampton Wick, KT1 4DA. Visit the Infidelity website