Welcome Back: Phil Manzanera

“Perhaps our job is done,” Roxy Music’s guitarist Phil Manzanera mused last year. The band with which he had huge singles and albums success during the 1970s and 80s may now be finished, but as a producer Manzanera has recently helped guide both David Gilmour’s revived solo career and Pink Floyd’s swansong album The Endless River.

His latest album, The Sound Of Blue, continues his own prolific solo career. Its mostly instrumental tracks reflect his nomadic early life in Latin America, and there’s also a nod to Roxy’s glory days.

The Sound Of Blue is very nostalgic and autobiographical. What turned your thoughts in that direction for it?

Well, I didn’t start out thinking: “I’m going to do an instrumental memoir.” I always just improvise and then see what’s there. I thought I’d do a film with each track, using images I had lying around from iPhones or old silent Super-8 films, and then one thing fed off the other. They’ve become like soundtracks to different parts of my life. Magdalena started with me playing a bit of guitar that my mum, Magdalena, taught me in Cuba. In 1960 Caracas the footage of me arriving in Caracas that year has a Mad Men quality, with crazy guitar over a disco beat. It’s very me; it’s putting together strange combinations of what appear to be disparate elements.

The title track is reminscent of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’s iconic Kind Of Blue album.

Totally. Miles was one of my favourite artists growing up. His sonority and way of tuning really spoke to me. Some people say to me: “You’ve spent a whole career playing out of tune!” But that’s my Miles influence. The instrument I play on_ The Sound Of Blue,_ a Columbian tiple [similar to a guitar], is something I was given when I was a child by my uncle, in a little village in Columbia. So it’s been part of me, like the guitar licks that I play on Magdalena, since 1957. It’s nice to do a personal statement. There’s probably not a big audience waiting for this, but it’s what I do.

So is the importance of your solo albums that you can plug directly into who you are?

Yeah, exactly. Around 1978, when I started to build my own studio, I wanted to own the means of production, so I didn’t have to ask somebody’s permission to make an album. I decided this is what I want to do for my life. I do it for my own sanity or therapy. It’s very helpful music for me.

Are there memories of early Roxy Music in the track A_ Conversation With Andy Mackay_?

Yes. And the video is like the history of Roxy Music. It’s got footage I took on tour in 1975, ending with a photo-shoot that we did in Jayne Mansfield’s house in LA. I have actually got to get it approved from Bryan Ferry [laughs], so I’m not sure whether anyone will get to see it.

Was it a big disappointment to you that the last Roxy reunion didn’t result in a finished new album?

Well, it’s not difficult to do something. But we all listened to it and thought: “We can’t do this, it’s not going to be any good. Let’s just bin it.” And so it’s just sitting there on our personal computers. Maybe one day it’ll get finished. But there’s no point in putting it out if it’s not great.

The Sound Of Blue is out now on Expression Records.

Nick Hasted

Nick Hasted writes about film, music, books and comics for Classic Rock, The Independent, Uncut, Jazzwise and The Arts Desk. He has published three books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), and Jack White: How He Built An Empire From The Blues (2016).