Andy Mackay, saxophonist, oboe player and composer is best known as a founder member of Roxy Music - creator of the roxysax sounds.
Lostwithiel, Cornwall was Andy's birthplace but it was in post-war Pimlico in central London where he grew up, went to school and discovered both classical music (through his father, a talented amateur pianist) and rock and roll (through the BBC Light Programme and Radio Luxembourg.)
Andy's grammar school, Westminster City, was where he began to play the oboe and his rapid progress won him a weekly scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music, at this period, classical music won over rock and roll and Andy played oboe in The London Schools Symphony Orchestra. After a brief spell as a librarian in Brixton, Andy went to Reading University to read Music and English Literature. While at Reading, Andy swopped one of his boyhood treasures, a telescope, for his first alto sax. Spending time playing sax with University group The Nova Express, Andy also became deeply involved with avant-guard and electronic music, particularly the work of John Cage, Morton Feldman and Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was at this time that he met Brian Eno, an art student at nearby Winchester College of Art, in avant-guard performance events.
Scraping a B.A.hons, Andy left University determined to earn his living from music but uncertain which direction this would take. After advertising unsuccessfully in the Melody Maker as a rock and roll oboeist, he decided to take a break from the London music scene of the late 60's and went to live in Rome, Italy, for a year. Returning to England, determined to become a rock and roll musician, Andy ended up teaching music at Holland Park Comprehensive while co-founding Roxy Music with Bryan Ferry, to whom he had been introduced by a university friend. Bryan had aspired to pop stardom since school and while studying Fine Art at Newcastle University, had sung in the now legendary Gas Board. His eclectic record collection from the Inkspots to King Crimson fascinated Andy. With Newcastle friends, Graham Simpson on bass and occasionally John Porter on guitar, they began rehearsing and developing a small group of songs which Bryan was writing.
Re-meeting Brian Eno on a tube train in London, Andy introduced him to the embryonic Roxy Music. Eno took over the VCS3 synthesiser which Andy had bought shortly before to try and realise his dream of combining electronic avant-garde music with rock. (The VCS3 was made in Putney, London by Electronic Music Studios and was also called the Putney, with a separate keyboard called the Cricklewood).
Roxy, as it was then known, started gigging in mid 1971 while Andy kept his day job. By early l972, they had appeared on BBC DJ John Peel's legendary Sounds of the 70's. (They were checked out by Peel at club gig double bill with Genesis).
Armed with a recording of the BBC session and a demo they had made in Eno's flat, Bryan did the rounds of record companies and was rejected by all except EG Management in London's Kings Road (who had managed ELP and King Crimson). Now known as "Roxy Music" to avoid problems with a now-forgotten American 'Roxy', the personnel became fixed into the core unit that sustained the Roxy sound for the next few years. Paul Thompson, whose dynamic and muscular drumming was such a distinctive feature of the next six albums was a young Geordie from Jarrow who answered the band's Melody Maker ad for a 'wonder drummer'. Phil Manzanera replaced Davy O'List, the former guitarist with The Nice, whose brilliant but eccentric playing no longer fitted the band's increasing coherence and confidence. Manzanera whose awesome 'West Coast' beard, hair and glasses disguised a thoughtful and deeply innovative guitarist who turned down a place at university to join Roxy. Among his many influences were Hendrix, The Beatles and late 60's English psychedelia.
EG secured them a deal with independent record label Island Records. Command Studios in Piccadilly was booked to record the first album, produced by King Crimson lyricist, Pete Sinfield. The album was recorded in a weeks and Island boss Chris Blackwell's initial cynicism for EG's new band (Island was mainly known for Reggae and English acoustic rock) turned almost to enthusiasm when 'ROXY MUSIC' was greeted by rave reviews ("the best first album ever" - Richard Williams, Melody Maker) and went quickly into the charts.
Andy had left the blackboard jungle at half term, battered, but with some sense of achievement, and gone straight into the studio. He now turned his attention to the business of being a pop star. Early 70's London was full of brilliant fashion and style innovators; as well as Bryan's friend and long-time collaborator, Anthony Price, Royal College of Art graduates, Jim O'Connor and Pamla Motown, whose 'pop art' clothes for Mr Freedom were all the rage, designed stage clothes for Andy and Phil. St Martins graduate, Carol McNichol created the most outrageous of the early Roxy outfits for Andy and Eno, including the famous 'green bobbles' and Eno's feathered shoulders. During the summer of 1972, Andy was the first to have his quiff bleached and the tips dyed blue by fashionable hairdresser Keith at Smile who wanted to experiment with bright hair colours. Mackay stopped the Knightsbridge traffic as he left the salon to head home.
The band's following grew with astonishing speed, following their official debut at the Great Western Festival at Lincoln in May 1972. The British tour which followed turned the faintly astonished Roxy into teen idols. Their first single, "Virginia Plain" was also recorded at Command. With typical finesse, the band refused to release an album track as a single, but looking to an earlier pop tradition, recorded a new song. The B side was Andy's instrumental homage to rock and roll sax heroes, "The Numberer". Phil and Andy returned from a short holiday in the Costa Brava to find that Virginia Plain was in the top 10 and the first of many appearances on Top of the Pops followed.
A highly successful UK tour in the Autumn was followed by an ill-conceived American tour. The US audience was not ready for Roxy's eclectic sound. Although deeply influenced by American pop music, the European cultural filter through which it was delivered was too fine. Also Roxy were only just developing the stage craft to play huge venues and, on their debut in New York, at Madison Square Garden, they were denied even a basic sound check by mean spirited headliners, Jethro Tull and struggled like drowning men in a sea of indifference. Nevertheless, a hard core of devoted fans was established in such anglophile enclaves as Cleveland, Akron and San Francisco. Among the most loyal of the fans were members of the gay community, whose appreciation of flamboyant taste and style have always been avant-garde.
FOR YOUR PLEASURE, the second album, was recorded in early l973 at (George Martin's) Air Studios, the first of four albums recorded at what was then arguably the greatest 'hit factory' in England. (Among many bands who worked at Air were Mott the Hoople and Paul McCartney, for both of whom Andy did sax sessions.)
FOR YOUR PLEASURE was adventurous while remaining commercially accessable. Tracks such as "The Bogus Man" were the evolutionary result of the experimental approach to recording which the band had developed in which the individual performance style of each member transformed a basic song into an unmistakable Roxy track. However, it was around this time that the tensions inherent in any group with such strong musical personalities began to show.
"Pyjamarama", the second single, was overall something of a disappointment both in chart and critical terms, in spite of the success of the album. Some felt that by taking the entire burden of songwriting upon himself, Bryan, and EG who, it is said, had earlier tried to persuade him to abandon the group, were missing vital opportunities in the desperate yet subtle world of hit records. Bryan's solo album of covers, THESE FOOLISH THINGS although a logical extension of his love of 20th century popular music, may have diverted interest from the development of Roxy as potentially one of the major bands of the era.
A degree of paranoia increased when the band discovered at the start of the FOR YOUR PLEASURE tour that the stunning gatefold cover for the album, featuring Amanda Lear also featured a photo of the lead singer.
After the tour, Eno left the band. He was replaced by 18 year old violinist and keyboard player, Eddie Jobson. All future albums were in part co-written.
STRANDED, the third album, was produced by Chris Thomas (the first of three albums with one of the most sucessful producers of the last thirty years) in September l973 and, on its release in November, became the band's first No. 1 album. After promoting the STRANDED album with an extravagant 'jungle' staging, the band took a short break to pursue other projects.
Andy had already worked on Eno's first album HERE COME THE WARM JETS in 1973. In l974, he recorded his own solo instrumental album at Basing Street Studios (Island Records' in-house studio). IN SEARCH OF EDDIE RIFF was a kind of musical autobiography, a non too intense exploration of musical roots from Classical as in Schubert's "An Die Musik" to instrumental hits of the 60's acknowledged in "Walking the Whippet". The whippet belonged to Jane, who Andy had married in March of that year.
Having spent their 'holiday' recording solo albums, the band's relentless round of studio recording and touring continued. COUNTRY LIFE was created in the summer and released in November 1974.
In the Spring of l975, the inspired guess of a mutual friend put Andy in touch with New York playwrite Howard Schuman who was based in London. Verity Lambert, who had recently been made Head of Drama at Thames Television had commissioned Howard to write an ambitious six part drama with music about three girls in a rock group. Andy had been suggested as composer because he was a real working rock musician and he and Howard had an instant rapport. ROCK FOLLIES was to be, in effect, a full-scale television musical which, with a second series, extended over 12 hours.
Auditions were taking place to find three girls who were to be members of the fictional group, The Little Ladies. Julie Covington, Rula Lenska and Charlotte Cornwell were chosen. Twenty years before "girl power", the Little Ladies' combination of gutsy and intelligent feminism with vulnerability and talent influenced a whole generation.
The girls' acting abilities combined with powerful and witty drama and, inspired contributions from the whole cast and production team, won the BAFTA award for Best Television Drama of l976. In spite of not having a huge budget, Andrew Brown, the Producer, Howard and Verity Lambert were persuasive enough to get a cast list which included many who went on to become major film, television and stage stars - including Tim Curry, Dennis Lawson, Bob Hoskins, Little Nell, Beth Porter, Ian Charleson, Derek Thompson, Stephen Moore and many others.
The cast also did their own singing, sometimes live during filming. Andy put together a permanent "real" band which performed all the music and appeared on screen when the band were in shot. Ray Russell - guitarist and composer also did the string and brass arrangements. Peter Van Hooke, drummer; keyboard player Brian Chatton and basist Tony Stevens made up the rest of the group with Andy guesting on sax.
The music for the TV broadcast was recorded for each episode in mono at Thames TV's in-house six track studio. Andy was keen to record the music to LP standard but Thames understandably in l975-6 could not see the potential for a hit record. Andy booked Basing Street Studios with his own guarantee, convinced that the project deserved a better hearing (although the on-screen performances were amazingly good) and proceeded to make an LP of 14 of the tracks. EG, who had shown little enthusiasm for the project, perhaps because they were so committed to Bryan's career, which was in full flight at this period, came in after recording had started and arranged a release through Island Records. A wise decision as it turned out as the record went straight to No. 1 in the album charts, a feat apparently not achieved since The Beatles.
Although the BAFTA award was seen by most television professionals as a just reward for a stunningly original and well produced programme, the music world was divided at the success of the record. Rock Follies had created its own musical world - part showbiz backstage musical, part pop nightmare, part rock and roll. Were the Little Ladies a 'real' group or were Covington, Lenska and Cornwell successful pop performers in their own right? Julie Covington could certainly soon claim to be, having a number one single with Lloyd Webber and Rice's "Don't Cry for me Argentina". Were Schuman and Mackay cynical pop svengalis or serious writers using a genre to expand other cultural and social viewpoints? It is interesting that Rock Follies was one of the first prime-time dramas to explore the empowerment of women in the 70's from a non-strident viewpoint; one of the first to have an open gay love affair as a sub-plot and to examine the dissolution of the consumer/lifestyle optimism of the previous few years. The latter summed up the song Biba Nova, a wistful elegy.
It is no exaggeration to say that in spite of a refusal to believe at the time that a group of girls could be auditioned, chosen and have hit records without playing instruments, there is a direct line from the fictional Little Ladies through Bananarama, who started having hits almost as Rock Follies ended, to The Spice Girls.
A second series was commissioned chronicling the break-up of the band, a situation with eerie echoes of Andy's own pop career, featuring new girl Sue Jones-Davies. A second album, FOLLIES OF 77, followed and a single from the series, "OK" was a Top Ten single.
Andy composed some of the songs for Rock Follies while Roxy were once again on tour, promoting SIREN Roxy Music's fifth album, setting up a portable keyboard in his hotel room and singing the results to London down the telephone.
During the 12 episodes, Howard and Andy wrote over 70 songs, only 28 of which have been commercially available on disc. Astonishingly, not only are the original Island records deleted (now owned by Virgin Records since the break up of EG), but the series has never been re-shown.
SIREN had been recorded in the summer of l975. Its most noticeable features were an extravagant cover shot on location of Jerry Hall, the apotheosis of the Roxy cover style and, more notably, "Love is the Drug", which was was their best selling to date and probably Roxy's finest and most enduring commercial pop song. With clever snappy lyrics and tight rhythm, it was also a fitting coda to the production brilliance of Chris Thomas on his last Roxy sessions. The Siren Tour was an ambitious affair with Anthony Price clad backing singers, a stage rig hired from Pink Floyd and an itinerary which took the band around the world. As international success became a real prospect, the strains which were inherent in such a creative and ambitious unit finally became too much and the band broke up for an indefinite period.
Andy was now able to concentrate on his role as writer and musical director of Rock Follies for the next 18 months.
A short break followed, interspersed with writing some television theme tunes including "Armchair Thriller" and "Hazell". For the latter, Andy collaborated with blues singer Maggie Bell and a moderately successful single was released. He also continued song writing and did some sessions for friends, including playing the saxophone on the first pop promo made by Godley and Creme, "Wide Boy".
Early in l978, Andy and his wife Jane, travelled to China which had just become more accessible. While there, he started writing and planning a second instrumental solo album influenced not so much by traditional Chinese folk music as by the curious bombastic pseudo-classical music which accompanied much of every day life in China through tinny speakers. Once again, the album, RESOLVING CONTRADICTIONS, like EDDIE RIFF, had an autobiographical element and was recorded a few miles from his birthplace at Sawmills Studios, Golant in Cornwall.
The contradiction to be resolved is between the universal desire, need and exploitation of music and the contrast of different musical styles. Guesting on the record were Roxy's Paul Thompson and Phil Manzanera as well as Rock Follies associate Ray Russell and classical flautist Tim Wheater. The album cover was a fantasy portrait of the Mackays in Tienanmen Square commissioned from artist Eric Scott who subsequently painted album covers for The Eurythmics and Paul McCartney.
The album was released through Bronze Records. Andy's early hopes of a relationship with managers/publishers/record company which was based on the idea of partnership and mutual trust had in fact become merely a conventional relationship of exploitation and mistrust, and he had left EG, Roxy's long-time managers, feeling that their handling of the contrasting but complementary careers of the Roxy "stable" had not, in the end, produced the successes dreamed of in l972.
Towards the end of 1978, Roxy did in fact get back together and started writing and rehearsing a new album at Ridge Farm in Surrey. The album, which became MANIFESTO was completed in Atlantic Studios, New York early the following year. MANIFESTO was partly an attempt to crack the American market. After sessions in London, the band moved to the city for nearly two months, used American session musicians such as Richard Tee, Steve Ferrone, Luther Vandross, the Brecker brothers and the imput of Atlantic supremo Ahmet Ertegun. The sessions were not entirely happy, particularly for Paul Thompson, who found that working to click tracks with upto 48 tracks of overdubs did not suit his more 'live' approach to music making. Andy was happy working with the mixture of refined detachment and full blooded soloing and also fulfilled one melancholy dream by playing in the studio where his sax hero, King Curtis had played his last session, shortly before his tragic death by stabbing.
Although not a smash hit in the US, the album was commercially very successful worldwide and produced two fine singles, "Dance Away" and a 'disco' remix of "Angel Eyes".
The next four years saw a consolidation of Roxy Music's position as a major international band with the recording of two more albums, FLESH AND BLOOD in l980 and AVALON in l981-2 and a succession of highly successful tours. From the Manifesto tour onward, the band was in effect the three core members, Ferry, Mackay and Manzanera with varying combinations of other musicians including bass player Gary Tibbs, keyboard players Paul Carrack and Dave Skinner, and drummers Rick Marrota and Steve Ferrone.
The period from MANIFESTO to the end of the AVALON tour in 1983, which turned out to be their last, was the busiest for the three remaining band members since 1972-3 and a heavy schedule of world touring and recording which precluded solo work. The live recording and video film of the band's concert in the open air arena at Frejus, in the South of France, in August l982, released as HEART STILL BEATING, shows how tight and creative a musical unit the touring band was. Andy Newmark was drumming with Jimmy Maelen on percussion. Alan Spenner was on bass and his old Kokomo colleague, Neil Hubbard on rhythm guitar with Guy Fletcher on keyboards. American backing singers, Fonzi Thornton, Tawatha Agee and Michelle Cobbs (the two girls once again clad in Anthony Price outfits) provided the glamorous back-line for Bryan, Andy and Phil.
Rhett Davies engineered and co-produced the last three albums with the band and FLESH AND BLOOD and AVALON were mixed by Bob Clearmountain in New York. With Davies and Clearmountain and the cream of the world's session players, the band had perfected the distinctive, sophisticated aural world which characterised the late albums, particularly AVALON. Tight silken bass lines pulsate against shimmering guitars interspersed with percussion sounds like bright stars in an indigo sky. The sax and oboe alternately growl or caress and above all, Bryan's voice, swoops and insinuates with moody intensity.
John Lennon was shot dead in New York while Roxy were rehearsing for a UK and European tour. A version of "Jealous Guy" was routined at Bryan's suggestion as a one-off tribute. Released after some persuasion from the record company, the band fearing that it would be seen as 'cashing in', it became their first UK no. 1 and their biggest selling single ever.
Amid the busy tour schedule Andy found time to research and write a book which had been commisioned by Phaidon Press entitled ELECTRONIC MUSIC, which was published in 1981. About a subject for long of special interest to him, the book became a standard work, and an offshoot was investigation into the musical side of the Italian Futurists delivered as a talk on BBC Radio 3.
After the last date of the US tour in the spring of l983, Andy said a quick goodbye to his fellow musicians and took the next Concorde home. The years and months of recording and touring had been physically demanding and emotionally wearing. Although the professionalism of Roxy Music as performers left audiences in no doubt that they had seen one of the most intriguing and entertaining bands of the era giving their all, there was a feeling of ennui in the dressing rooms which left the three main protagonists in need of a break from each other. Also all three members now had young families; Andy's daughter was born in 1979 and first son in 1982 and he was desperate to spend time with them.
Commercial wisdom dictated that Roxy should consolidate their strong market placing with another album and tour, however, it was not to be.
In the Autumn of 1983, Andy, his family and Christian Wainwright, Roxy's long-time Trinidadian majordomo moved to Kenmare, in the West of Ireland. Here Andy began an interest in Irish traditional music. Fresh air, fishing and Kerry polkas were not quite enough to keep Andy off stage and out of the studio for long, and, with Phil Manzanera, he decided to start a new project which became "The Explorers".
Recording at Phil's Gallery Studios and with a mobile on the lakes of Killarney, and at Eddie Grant's studio on Barbados with singer/songwriter James Wraith, an album was completed during 1984. There was considerable commercial interest in the project, managed by Pink Floyd manager Steve O'Rourke who secured a deal with Virgin Records. A single, "Lorelei" was released, which bottommed the charts. In spite of excellent songs, production and the drumming of Steve Gadd, THE EXPLORERS (released finally in 1985) ultimately suffered the fate of many 'solo' projects of members from major bands - fans' disappointment that it was not 'their band', perhaps like seeing at a distance an old love, only to find on introduction that it is someone else. Chart success has always been a gamble and on this occasion The Explorers lost their stake.
An album using some of THE EXPLORERS and material from a projected second album was released on Phil Manzanera's Expression Records in 1988 as MANZANERA AND MACKAY.
The mid eighties were mainly a time of rest and reflection for Andy although various contemporary artistes called on his services as a sax sessioneer, including Duran Duran members as Arcadia, and the Pet shop Boys, Japanese musicians Masami Tsuchiya and Yukihiro Takahashi (he later also played on two albums for Japanese superstar Hotei) and Italian singer Enrico Ruggieri. He also wrote and directed the music for a Howard Schuman play for the BBC, Video Stars, and wrote and performed a piece for the annual arts event in Kenmare, the Cibeal in 1987 based around the theme of Seamus Heaney's translation of the Irish poem Sweeney Astray. Another project was an album of christmas music played on acoustic instruments released as CHRISTMAS by The Players.
In 1987, Andy virtually gave up rock and roll music making and became a full time theology student at King's College London on the three year bachelor of divinity course. Graduating in 1991 he resumed composing full time with an extensive interest in a broad range of spiritual and poetic themes.
In the winter of 1988-89 he guested on two London dates on Bryan Ferry's solo tour. A little later Bryan Ferry's manager ex-EG partner David Enthoven approached Andy with proposals for some new Roxy activity. The time was not right for all three members, however, and the project was put on hold.
Early in 1992, following the sudden death of his wife, Andy suspended most musical activity to bring up his children. He resumed composing in a computer/ digital suite at home in early 1993.
During that year Verity Lambert asked Andy to write the incidental and theme music for the series Class Act which was being made for Carlton. He completed music for two series over the next three years, reviving an interest in composing for the screen. He is currently in discussion on various film and television projects in pre-production.
Andy's major musical preocupation over the last six years has been a setting of FOUR PSALMS for a mixture of sampled sounds and electronic, midi and audio instruments.
At the end of 1998 Andy moved with his family out of London. He married Lucinda in 1995 and they live with their baby son and older children in the Quantock Hills, in Somerset by woods and streams familiar to his hero Coleridge; where work continues on the Psalms, and a new electronic-acoustic performance group is planned.