Acoustic Sounds
Phil Manzanera's memoir “Revolución to Roxy”
By: JoE Silva

July 3rd, 2024


Book Reviews

The Fly Buzzes

Roxy Music's legendary guitarist inks “Revolución to Roxy” memoir

About 23 pages into “Revolución to Roxy”, you’ll find eight-year-old Phil Manzanera carrying a small tray of cake and Cuban coffee to a man across the road standing watch over an empty house.

 By way of thanks the guard gives him a “broad smile” and then, as a sort of improvised firecracker, sets off a pinch of gun powder from an empty .303 shell.

 That’s just one charming glimpse into the life of the Roxy Music guitarist at a time that was otherwise lit up by the mayhem and uncertainty of revolution.

You see, Manzanera and the rest of his family had accidentally wound up with orchestra level seats to Fidel Castro’s 1957 Havana takeover after BOAC Airlines had posted his father to the Caribbean capital.

That friendly soldier was there to keep looters from walking off with the booty of the deposed Batista regime. It’s also around the same time  his mother came home with the small acoustic guitar her second son had been pestering her about.

And that’s all it took. From there “Revolución to Roxy” (Wordzworth Publishing) tracks our Phil from Havana to Hawaii and eventually back home to Blighty, where he somehow takes out a hire-purchase agreement on a £55 Hofner Galaxy from a local music shop that didn’t seem to care that he was just 10 years old.

By 1964 he and his friends are doing what they can to ape the magical singles their fellow classmates were spinning, until they had confidently morphed into something they called Pooh and the Ostrich Feather.

Further down the road, after he manages to tread through the premature death of his father, his older brother Eugen introduces him to one David Gilmour who, between sessions for Pink Floyd’s Saucerful of Secrets, gives Manzanera some advice.

Though neither man can remember what was said, it seems like that meeting and encounters with Robert Wyatt during Soft Machine rehearsals were a big part of what it took to commit Phil to a life in music.

That takes him inside a cottage shared by Bryan Ferry and Andy Mackay where he’s given a shot at auditioning for the recently formed Roxy Music. While all seemed to get along just fine, Manzanera was initially passed over in favor of David O’List of The Nice. But when their new guitarist’s erratic behavior became a bigger problem than the band wanted to deal with, Manzanera officially leapt from the substitute bench into their ranks. He couldn’t have been happier:

“…for me the day I was offered the gig in Roxy as a full member of the band was one of the most memorable highs of my life. A turning point, especially as just a week before I was staring into the abyss. Here was I, 21 years old and in an innovative band, with a unique sound and style which seemed to be going places: we were ready to ride the wave. Christmas was only just behind us, but now I thought it was Christmas every day.”

After a couple of weeks of frantic recording, he was handed a pair of bug like sunglasses for the album photo shoot, and his place in Roxy was cemented in.

The band was off, but the treadmill Manzanera was stepping onto wasn’t without its hazards. For a start, the media were a little less than thrilled about a group that hadn’t spent years trudging around the country’s beer halls and instead suddenly had a record in the Top 10. It wasn't long before their original bass player had had a meltdown and was shown the stage door, creative differences sent synthesist Brian Eno out the escape hatch, and Ferry’s leadership of the band wasn’t always as silky smooth as their wardrobe.

Laying all of this and more down in print, Manzanera voice comes off the page as engaging and balanced. If you’re looking for tawdry tales of drugs, groupies, and the profane amounts of money Ferry spent on champagne and hair gel, you won’t get them here – which in some “tiny” way is a shame since Roxy’s essentially impenetrable air of sophistication seems to never give way. But kidding aside, what’s more illuminating is the time the author spends on his work on the other side of the studio glass producing the likes of John Cale, Split Enz and the latter version of Pink Floyd. Manzanera’s fluency with Spanish (courtesy of his mother’s Colombian roots…) also made him a unique candidate to work with Grammy-winning, Latin heartthrob Enrique Bunbury and his former band Héroes del Silencio.

Phil, Andy Mackay Roxy Music, Madison Square Garden Sept. 12, 2022

There are great stories and enough Rock history to float the narrative, but the winning material here centers around Manzanera’s personal story – the travels he enjoyed with his nuclear family, and the artistic memories that haven’t slipped through the sieves of time. Reading about his return to Cuba many years after he left as a young boy is terribly moving and unlike a lot of similar tales that line the Barnes & Noble shelves. Throughout the pages you get the sense that you’ve genuinely come to know the guitarist and aren’t being fed a sanitized account by another Rock and Roll Hall of famer intent on just moving a few hundred cases of books.


Interview with Phil Manzanera

Tracking Angle: What was process for putting together guitar parts for Roxy?

Phil Manzanera: Normally what would happen would be that I would take the backing track home and on a revox tape recorder which is what I had in those days. I would just play the track again and again, and try to work out something interesting to play. Maybe I'd come up with two or three different things, so then I would get back to the studio the next day or whenever we were going to do that particular bit of work and I would say ‘Well I've got two or three ideas. Let me throw them at you.” So luckily I didn't have to make anything out there and then spontaneously in the studio, but that's the way we worked in those days. Everything had to be quite organized because we didn't have a lot of time to do the recordings (with) management and people like that putting in tours and stuff.

TA: I was mildly astonished about the story you mentioned where Bob Harris introduced you guys on the Old Grey Whistle Test by saying “style over substance.” It’s as if he couldn’t hear how good you all were.

PM: (That’s) because we happened very quickly and you know there was very much a feeling amongst conventional media that if you hadn't paid your dues and then became successful too quickly (that) it wasn't right. The difference was that most of the people in the band were a lot older than people normally are when they start bands. A lot of those bands that started in the 60s, the guys were like 17 or 18. When Roxy started Bryan and Andy were like 26. I was just 21, but you know that Eno, Bryan and Andy had been around (and) that was quite old to start a band in those days.

TA: Was there a certain point where you noticed that attitude falling away?

PM: I mean that fell away with success you know. Within a year people didn't care they just were interested in the music.

TA: I’m not sure many people know you for your work as a producer and I was wondering if at this point having laid all this down in the book whether or not there’s one particular production job that you appreciate more than the others.

PM: Well it is difficult. I mean there's lots of things that I’m proud of. Like all those Rock en Espa~nol albums (with) Héroes del Silencio and Enrique Bunbury. Well on June the 10th or something he's actually playing at Madison Square Garden. He's still going and he's a huge star and you know I produced first produced him when he was 20 in 1991. So that is very satisfying. But obviously you know coming to work with David Gilmore was just a dream because that's someone I met when I was 16. So to collaborate with him on his on four albums and one Pink Floyd album… you know I had to pinch myself.  I've done the strangest kind of albums and you know one of the reasons I wrote the book was to try and make sense of what happened. Because a hell of a lot happened in the last 50 years apart from the eight Roxy albums, and all my solo albums, plus all the productions. I mean there's a production I did two years ago which came out two months ago with Rod Stewart and Jules Holland and it was number one here. It was a swing band album which I never thought in a million years I would end up working on…a swing band with a 16-piece orchestra playing songs that were written in the 30s or something. It's sort of so out of my comfort zone really but I ended up doing it, and you know even I just say ‘How did that happen?’ But I'm always looking forward.


  • 2024-07-05 04:05:30 PM

    Paul Robertson wrote:

    Nice to cover this JoE, as I'll be on board for it now. I wasn't aware, but am now, and I've always loved his playing. Just a very almost minimalist approach on guitar, but extremely tasty and always musical. Underrated IMO. I've been fortunate enough to see him live with Roxy a couple of times, and numerous times with Gilmour. Not solo or 801 unfortunately, but the book will be a treat that I will look forward to. Thanks for this.

    • 2024-07-05 08:15:11 PM

      JoE Silva wrote:

      Super enjoyable read! Wish I'd got to see him play

  • 2024-07-09 05:05:45 PM

    Georges wrote:

    I bought the double CD compilation Complete Explorers (I have all their vinyls too, some beautifuk picdiscs), from Expression Records and it arrived signed by him on the back cover. Plus some kind words written just for me on an advertising label sheet. Buy his solo albums if possible, they are good. Sad that Roxy stopped 2 years ago without releasing their usual live album. For example, the New York set (4 vinyls + DVD), the crowd was crazy !