Interviews / Reviews
Getting Roxy Music in with 'The 'In' Crowd' - - An Interview With Davy O'List
25 April 2004
Getting Roxy Music in with 'The 'In' Crowd' - - An Interview With Davy O'List
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The story of the Genesis of Roxy Music has been told in several places by various members of Roxy Music, books and magazine interviews. I managed to have a chat recently with
Davy O'List who was an integral part of the formation of Roxy Music and helped arrange many of the songs for the first album. Davy was the second guitarist to join Roxy Music, as the band were being put together, after the departure of original guitarist Roger Bunn.
VRM: How did the Roxy Music job come about?
D.O'L.: During the late summer of 1971 I ran an advertisement in the Melody Maker music magazine saying: ‘Well-known guitarist seeking image conscious, progressive, rock group with recording contract and agency.’ Bryan Ferry replied to my advertisement. I told Bryan who I was. Bryan got very excited saying that he had been looking for me for months to complete the line up of Roxy Music (they were called Roxy Music by this time).
VRM: Did Bryan know at that time it was your advert?
D.O'L. : I am not sure. He may have guessed it was me as there would not have been too many well-known guitarists advertising at this time. I asked Bryan if the group had a recording deal with gigs. Bryan hesitated and said no. Roxy Music had been turned down by all the record companies so far. It’s just not commercial enough yet, Bryan said, that’s why I want you. Then Bryan said he would be most excited and grateful if I would play for and produce Roxy Music and make it commercial enough for a recording deal. I said although I was a record producer and produced hits by The Nice for Andrew Loog-Oldham and Immediate Records I really had advertised for a name group with a recording and agency deal and needed to earn top money straight away. I had just been filming with Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton.
Bryan replied that he was an avid fan of mine and watched me play at Newcastle City Hall with The Nice in 1968. Interestingly enough this live performance by The Nice (with Bryan Ferry in the audience) has just been released on ‘Here Comes The Nice - The Immediate Anthology’- 3 CD Set, Catalogue No: CMETD 055. It is available now through Sanctuary Records.
Realizing Bryan was a fan I asked for the line up of Roxy Music. He told me about the Avant Gaurde percussionist, VSC 3 synth player, oboe/sax player, with himself on electric piano and vocals and Bryan wanted me to complete the line up. It began to sound interesting especially for a group in 1971. I had produced The Nice into recording stars from nothing and perhaps I could produce and transform Roxy Music into a hit group, too.
VRM: What changed your mind about them if you were put off by them not having a record deal?
D.O'L.: I was interested in the unusual line up. Roxy Music were using a synthesizer and they seemed to have good ideas. Keith Emerson, who I had played with, was the only performer using a synthesizer at that time. Therefore I became interested to try out Roxy Music because of the line up.
I told Bryan I would like to audition Roxy Music with the intention of producing and writing for it. I ensured him that with my press, agency and record company contacts I could obtain a recording deal for Roxy Music if they were good enough and if I liked them. Bryan was overjoyed to hear this. I asked Bryan to guarantee royalties for my writing, performance and production work once Roxy Music had a recording contract if I did join. Bryan agreed and then I agreed to meet Bryan Ferry with current members, Andy MacKay, Brian Eno and Graham Simpson at Andy’s house in Battersea the next evening. (Andy was teaching music during the day at Holland Park Secondary School which is why it was in the evening.
VRM: So what was the set up like when you went to those rehearsals, and how did the material sound then?
D.O'L.: They were set up in a small studio room in the house with small amplifiers with Bryan sitting at an electric piano. I assessed the material (which evolved into the first album) was needing new arrangements/more chords/chord progressions/more melodies with more interesting mood changes in order for it to become commercial. They heartily agreed. Roxy Music needed to be directed by a successful commercial writer to succeed.
VRM: Could someone else have done that for them, was it just a case of someone giving them that bit of direction?
D.O'L.: Yes and no, they obviously were an interesting band and had good ideas but I don't think there was anyone else already in the business at the time who would have given them their time and effort and take a chance with them. E’G had already turned them down once and were not prepared to nurture or produce their sound themselves.
Bryan, Andy, Eno and Graham pleaded with me strongly to join the group. It was up to me to take them on and I decided to become their producer. I explained that after I had done this I wanted their assurances that I could make solo albums through the deal I got them. I made it transparent (as I had to Bryan previously on the telephone) it would also be on condition that I received royalties and credit for all my work as a writer/arranger/performer/producer in Roxy Music. Roxy Music knew I had a great deal of music business contacts and that my name could obtain all their aims and objectives. They were aware I could transform the group. My job was to ensure commercial success for Roxy Music. Once they had agreed this I said I would join Roxy Music amid loud cheers from Bryan, Andy, Eno and Graham.
A photographer friend of Bryan's, who sometimes worked for Time Out magazine, owned a large photographic studio in Hampstead. He would lend it to us for one or two evenings a week to rehearse in. Bryan and Andy secured a loan from a bank to buy a PA system. We were able to store the PA in the loft of the studio when we were not using it. The material we began rehearsing became the group's first album release. I wanted to be involved with the writing that was part of my deal. I selected two songs to start with which I was intending to release as solo singles but had not found the right calibre of musicians to record them.
VRM: What were these songs called?
D.O'L.: One, 'Green Willow Tree', the other was ‘White Indian Butterfly’. They suited Bryan's voice and we started singing them together as a duet. I had been the lead vocalist for The Nice.
VRM: How did these songs sound, and were there any recordings of them?
D.O'L.: ‘Green Willow Tree’ was like a slightly faster ‘Chance Meeting’. The songs were never recorded with Roxy Music although we were intending to record them for the first album. I had recorded demo versions before but the tapes were lost, unfortunately.
VRM: When did Paul Thompson come into all this?
D.O'L.: At the beginning Roxy Music had an Avant Gaurde percussionist (Dexter Lloyd) who was great fun to play with. Eno was experimenting treating the various percussion instruments through Andy’s VCS 3 but I knew the group needed a commercial rock drummer to make it. I discussed this with the group and the following week an advertisement appeared in the Melody Maker for a rock drummer. Several applied, one was a female called Sue. We discussed using Sue, she would have been an interesting image inclusion if she had been a more experienced drummer. Things started to move on faster.
VRM: Is this the Susie that the debut album is dedicated to?
D.O'L.: No, I believe that was Susie who was a girlfriend of Bryan's at the time. Susie used to drive us around a lot and help with transport for rehearsals and gigs. Paul Thompson, rang back to ask if he could be auditioned the following week as his kit was stuck in a ‘Tin Pan Ally’ studio. At his audition my global observation were that he was the most experienced so far.
VRM: What do you feel you brought to the songs that had already been written by Bryan Ferry?
D.O'L.: I completely rearranged the songs, rewrote parts of them and added new melodic sections to make the songs sound more fashionable. I added new beginnings, new middles, new endings and generally beefed up the sound as Bryan wanted me to. You can hear the evidence of all my work on Roxy Music’s first album. It was all kept in of course otherwise Roxy Music would not have got their contract with Island Records. Phil did not add anything to the guitar parts or arrangements when he recorded the songs, the new producer did not add anything new either. Phil replicated note for note and chord for chord what I recorded for the Roxy Music John Peel Show even buying the same Fender guitar to obtain the same sound, he was a big fan of mine.
Word had got around that Davy O’List had a new group called Roxy Music. Record company and press awareness was raised on the group. My name/reputation obtained The John Peel Show, a gig at John Peel's club Perfumed Garden supporting Genesis and the Richard Williams article in the NME. I confirm that the taped John Peel Show which I produced for Roxy Music in December 1971 secured the record contract with Island Records. The Roxy Music sound was there, we only needed better equipment to rise to top level.
Roxy Music had arrived, several record companies would be interested, I knew it. Bryan had decided to go to E'G Management with the Peel tape, he said because they managed ELP and there was a strong connection between The Nice/David O'List/ELP and Roxy Music. After listening to The John Peel Show tape (the first album) E'G expressed a keen interest in signing the group before any other company could. E’G complimented me for changing the music style of Roxy Music. They had turned down the group before but were now very interested. E’G wanted to see the band perform live and hired an old theatre/cinema near Clapham, now a bingo hall. Roxy Music only had to perform the tape live to get the contract.
VRM: Were there the tensions in the band at that time that we know of further down the line?
D.O'L.: There was some tension between Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno over who was the focal point in the group. On the way to perform for E'G there was a tension between them in the car. It was not relaxed, fun and jovial as usual. Communication levels were low on the stage. During the performance Eno decided not to play much and observed the group on stage from the back of the hall with another person, Phil Manzanera who was masquerading as a road manager by then. It didn’t look right. Phil Manzanera turned up at the previous rehearsal, which never happened as Bryan and Paul didn’t arrive. Andy was trying to make excuses but I knew something was wrong. I was surprised to see Phil and asked him who he was. He said he was the new road manager and he needed a list of new equipment I wanted. I asked him who was going to buy it. He replied the record company. It sounded suspicious.
I had been ill for a couple of weeks before this rehearsal and had unfortunately missed a synth/guitar session with Eno at his home. I guess this had put Eno’s back up. But the set was tight and I did not feel there would be any problem with E’G. Anyway I knew I could get a deal else where and that E’G were trying to contract Roxy Music before anybody else could. They liked the tape and the theatre set up was just a formality before they signed a contract with Roxy Music. On hindsight I suppose Eno instigated a change of guitarist, even though he was talking about me producing the first album just a few weeks before.
Roxy Music had toured in preparation for a larger tour when the first record came out. The first public appearance of Roxy Music was at a large reception hall above a large pub, The ‘Hand and Flower’ opposite Olympia. The show was for an all American Girls College. I remember being suitably dressed for Roxy Music’s first show in a pink satin jacket and silver boots. The second appearance was at the 100 Club in Oxford Street. It was specially put on so that Richard Williams could view the group before writing his article for the NME. The article was needed to put Roxy Music in the limelight for the record companies. Bryan Ferry and I were really good friends. We often drove around together in his nice girlfriend's Mini (I remember her name was Susie and she was a great aid to the group by providing transport) planning the future of the group.
On one drive Bryan told me about a gorgeous girl he had followed in his car. I said it should be a theme for a new song, we should write it. At the next rehearsal Bryan had written words and I put down some chords. I was never credited or received any money for it but I had more than a hand in writing ‘Re-make/Re-model’. Phil copied me exactly on the album version. The ending is something I played with The Pink Floyd, I also had the idea that in the middle of the song we should all do a little solo.
Roxy Music headlined at Bristol University, too. There was not enough room in the van for everybody so Eno and Andy took it in turns to lie on top of the equipment at the back of the van. Roxy Music headlined at London University and at a South London college, too. Roxy Music also did a show supporting The Pretty Things which turned out to be a mismatch of programming but Bryan and I laughed about it on the way home in the Mini.
It is not previously known but Roxy Music had a manager then who left before the John Peel Show to live and work in the U.S. He used to wear groovy looking jump suits to the shows. It was a shame he went as he was looking after me and making sure I was happy with everything that was going on. He knew my influence was going to guarantee Roxy Music a quick deal and appreciated what I was doing for them. I’m sure if he had been there to the end the line up would have stayed the same. There was a hole after he had gone which the others found difficult to fill by themselves.
VRM: So how did it come about that you worked again with Bryan in 1974 on his 'Another Time Another Place' album?
D.O'L.: After Roxy Music split up I contacted Bryan Ferry and said let's rejoin forces and produce a stunning hit. Bryan seemed excited about the reunion and we produced ‘The 'In' Crowd’ which I earned my first gold disc for. I was only to play on The 'In' Crowd, Chance Meeting and Let's Stick Together (though I am not credited for LST on the sleeve). The recordings were a good experience and I wish to do more with Bryan Ferry including live stadium appearances.
VRM: What can you tell us of those sessions.
D.O'L.: The backing tracks were finished, with all the horns, etc. and Bryan had done a guide vocal by the time I arrived at the studio. We recorded it at Pete Townsend's studio, Ramport which was hidden beneath a tower block in Battersea. Pete Townsend had recorded Quadrophenia there. There was an amazing atmosphere to the place. I also re-recorded Chance Meeting there which Bryan asked me to play the way I played it for Roxy Music. It turned out better than the first album version, Bryan thought so too. I believe Roxy Music’s first album would have turned out even better had I been given the chance to record for Island Records.
VRM: Have you met any of the band since then?
D.O'L. I met Phil & Andy when they were working with The Explorers in the mid '80s and I met Brian Eno around 1994. I bumped into Bryan Ferry at the end of last year as his studio is near where I live. We had a brief chat about my new film work.
VRM: ...and Graham Simpson?
D.O'L: Graham was a very nice guy. I have never seen him since then. He had a breakdown during the forming of the band. He was actually crying on stage as we recorded the Peel sessions. Graham also played Cello which would have been an interesting addition if he remained with the band. He was always into computers and that the music was not the be all and end all in his life. It was something he did as a pastime and never really wanted to get too serious about it. He never wanted to give up his day job. I think the pressure of being in a vehicle moving faster than he wanted to got to him and he just wanted out.
David O'List and Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry have not received their just deserts in the annals of pop music criticism as the true story of how Roxy Music made it has never been told publicly until now.
VRM: So what have you done since those days and what are you doing now?
Before I go into a brief history of what happened next I would like to say that I would very much enjoy playing with Bryan and Roxy Music again sometime in the future and I hope this is going to be possible. From my experiences with Roxy Music I began to write a new song repertoire and played it on acoustic guitar around local low-key gigs in London.
I would like to mention that prior to Roxy Music I had made a film with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce (this was after The Cream) Roland Kirk, Buddy Guy and Led Zeppelin called ‘Super Session’. A DVD of SUPER SESSION was released by Eagle Rock Entertainment in 2003 and is still available if you want to buy a copy. Led Zeppelin have since removed themselves from the film because they wanted to retain all their own rights but it is still interesting viewing and listening to everybody else. It was at SUPER SESSION, too, that I was introduced by Chris Welch of Melody Maker writer fame to Eric Clapton. I had played with The Nice at the 1967 Windsor Jazz Festival with The Cream headlining and it was my chance to meet Eric properly.
I spent a couple of years writing and enjoying myself before I read Eno had left Roxy Music and a new Bryan Ferry solo album was out. I saw this as a chance to play with Bryan Ferry again (details of the resulting sessions appear in the above interview) you could not turn Capital Radio on without hearing ‘The ‘In’ Crowd’ powering out above all the other records.
The track really got around and I was approached by four musicians who were desperate to make it and needed me to play the guitar and get them a contract. Well, I was talked into it and got them a deal with CBS Records (now Sony Music) in 1975. We called the group Jet. However the personalities in the band were not good. I was burgled because of them, my guitar and recently acquired effects units, amps and cabs was stolen. The record company hastily got rid of them when it became evident they had no intention of being serious, they were just there to rip everybody off.
Again ‘The ‘In’ Crowd’ came to the attention of John Cale (The Velvet Underground) who as you know did some work with Eno and Phil. I had met John Cale at the Velvet Underground’s flat in New York in 1967 while on tour with The Nice where they gave me a promotion copy of their famous first album. I had this copy well before it was released in the U.K. and new all about their sound well before anybody else did here.
When I re-met John Cale in London in late 1977 he complimented me on my work on ‘The ‘In’ Crowd’ and offered me a tour of Europe as his guest star! The tour was long, lucrative, very well organized with luxury hotels and beautiful theatres to play in. The fans in Europe were very, very happy to see me at last. I had to sign original copies of my first album ‘The Thoughts Of Emerlistdavjak’ in Berlin when the wall was up. It was very exciting being on John Cale’s tour and to experience so much fan adoration, something I had not experienced since leading The Pink Floyd on the Jimi Hendrix tour.
After the John Cale tour I formed a new group called Nice Music but a recording deal fell through as the fixer asked for too much of a cut from our advance. The group members went there own ways. The tracks are still not released. The lead backing vocalist was my sister Suzie O’List. Suzie went on to tour with Blue, The Eurythmics, members of Queen, The Pink Floyd and a host of other top name artists. She even did a session for Keith Emerson at one time. Then I decided to form my own label to release my own tracks. It now survives under the name OMIKRON which means O in Greek. At this time I was producing for Island Records and playing keyboards for a psychedelic reggae outfit called Urban Shakedown. This unfortunately ended badly as the bass player, who was very temperamental, stole my equipment.
By 1985 my label was set up and I released two singles, ‘Seal It With A Lovin’ Kiss’ and ‘You and I’. The B-side of ‘Seal It With A Lovin’ Kiss’ is ‘Facts of Life’, it became a hit on a South London Black Underground radio station before it was released. All three singles are on the new album ‘Flight of the Eagle’.
’You and I’ which was play listed on Super Channel satallite TV is co-written by Satu Redmond. She also co-wrote the track ‘Pale Girl of the Neat White Uniform’ which is all about an Air Hostess’s flying career. The guitar sound is sort of ‘In’ Crowdy. Suzie O’List my sister sings backup vocals on the opener ‘Seal It With A Loving Kiss’ and on ‘Outside Broadcast’. ‘Outside Broadcast’ was recorded after my John Cale Tour and there is evidence of that in the track. I had been playing twin guitars with John, which was a treat. The sound which sounds like a synthesiser is actually a guitar using a tremelo arm. I also play most of the keyboards, guitars, drums and basses on the album.
I originally called the group SEAL. The record was reasonably distributed and Capital Radio, GLR Radio and Satellite TV station Super Channel play listed the singles. However I could not handle all the distribution and promotion work by myself as well as the performing and recording so I thought it appropriate to go for help from a major. I ended up at Warner Brothers Music where one of Bryan Ferry’s solo albums was released which I was on. The A&R manager thought the image SEAL was very worth while marketing but he did not take the singles on, instead he said record a new dance track and bring that back to him. To my surprise, a few months later, while I was producing the track (FAX which is now on the album) W.B. launched SEAL but it wasn’t me at all, it was Henry Samuels. There was all sorts of confusion at the record shops and at the P.R.S. but that was the end of my SEAL and it was time to rethink.
I recorded FAX with Michael Seraphim who I met through P.P. Arnold (P.P. Arnold and The Nice - Pat recently toured ‘The Wall’ with Roger Waters no less) who was starring at the time in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Starlight Express’. Michael was one of the trains that would speed around the theatre on roller skates. He was very interested in recording with me, I needed a dancer to make some videos so we teamed up. We shot the video to the track FAX which is now featured on the ‘FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE’ album. Also watch out for the video of FAX which will become available through the Viva Roxy Music Fan Site soon.
The bonus track on the album is titled ‘Nylon Cowboy’ and is 8 minutes 11 seconds long. I wrote it as a theme for ITV’s live virtual TV game ‘The Race’ which was shot on location in Arizona in 2002. The guitar describes an archetypal cowboy character who clinks his spurs as he walks through town. I have always wanted to do a western. The title track ‘Flight Of The Eagle’ is the theme to the first movie I ever made. It was also written in remembrance of my days with the Pink Floyd hence its Floydion guitar style which I hope you will appreciate.
At the same time I was recording FAX and another dance track called ‘Gone To The Beach’ with Michael Seraphim I was taking an MA in Film and Video at Central Saint Martins in London and Brian Eno was asked to give a lecture at the college to the BA students. I saw him at one of the art shows but I do not believe he recognized me. I hardly recognized him but it was sort of auspicious. I was working outside the college when Eno’s lecture happened making films for Ericsson Telephones and a dance movie for Felix on BMG’s Destruction label. Two of my films actually got in to the British Short Film Festival in 1992.
I recently finished a Post Graduate Lecturers Course in Film and Music at The University of Greenwich (Nelson’s old Naval college) and have been lecturing on film production and computer music production at Westminster Kingsway College London. I am also proposing to get a Science Fiction/Super Reality TV series off the ground that I co-wrote with Malcolm Stone Art Director of Superman (one of a long list of his films). It’s title is ‘AD ASTRA’ (To the Stars) and will hopefully come out in book form first. We did shoot a short ‘teaser’ at Pinewood Studios (where Bat Man was produced) as a test.
I mentioned this to Bryan Ferry when I met him recently hoping that would interest him in me making a film for him. The ‘teaser’ of ‘AD ASTRA’ will become available through the fan site soon with the Fax video I told you about. I should be making more movies with all the training and experience I have and I was in Hollywood recently trying to drum up some more business.
The latest music project came about two years ago when my first group The Attack suddenly sold over 75,000 copies of their first single ‘We Don’t Know’ in Japan on a box set released by Universal that featured James Brown, Marvin Gaye and The Who. A mod music collection called funnily enough ‘The ‘In’ Crowd’ - the ultimate mod collection. I decided to write a follow up to capatilize on its success and came up with ‘We Still Don’t Know!!’ You never know it could happen all over again!
The Attack’s new album is in production and should be out by the end of 2004. The Attack personal includes myself on lead guitar and lead vocals and Ade Cook on Hammond organ and guitar. On the subject of synthesizers and Roxy Music Ade has programmed synthesizers for Stevie Wonder and the Moody Blues. Ade says Stevie is really a nice bloke and they became great friends. Scoop! Interestingly enough Ade was also working on the new Roxy Music Live album sorting out technical problems caused by tapes that were recorded in different formats during the tour at Bryan Ferry’s studio! Ade’s other most recent claim to fame was recording Hammond organ for Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart for a new Hollywood film, a re-make of ALFIE in March 2004. Ade also toured Japan, Europe and the USA with Frankie Goes To Hollywood and was once a columnist writer for the DJ magazine DJ Music. Ade has also worked with Roxy Music's very own Andy MacKay on some of the music Andy has done for TV and commercials. Now for ‘the engine room’, Spy the bass is an actor, he also plays for Desmond Decker (the reggae star) and drummer Sam Kelly is a very busy session player.
John Peel used the B-side of The Attack’s second single, ‘Any More Than I Do’ as the signature tune for his first ever radio programme in 1966 when I was just sixteen. It was a very popular programme broadcasting from a pirate radio ship and everybody on the scene listened to it. From this regular broadcast I received offers from John Mayell’s Blues Breakers to replace Eric Clapton and from P. P. Arnold (‘First Cut is the Deepest’). ‘Any More Than I Do’ broke me in to stardom. The new album is recorded at the recently reopened ‘Tin Pan Alley Studio’ in Denmark Street London where The Rolling Stones and The Who made their first original recordings. The engineer is the new owner Steve Kent. Steve was one of the original backing singers in Nice Music, one of my groups I mentioned earlier.
As far as live appearances by The Attack I hope to be making more exciting announcements for you soon. Through VivaRoxyMusic.com I would like to run a sort of interactive questionnaire on the subject. I would like to ask, how many of you out there would like to come to a special concert by The Attack for Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry fans? Depending on the results of course and how many people reply will depend on the size of venue. So here goes, **Let’s Stick Together** (we do that one as well) for a special concert and let’s have your ‘FEEDBACK’ now!
Finally I am pleased to be offering signed copies of my solo album ‘FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE’ via the Viva Roxy Music fan site at £10.99 a copy. A special ‘Flight of the Eagle’ link has been set up at VivaRoxyMusic.com so that you can order your copy directly on line. Please go ahead and be keen to support this link as many supporters will be welcome. We look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes to you all,