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Roxy Music guitarist, solo artist and collaborator extraordinaire Phil Manzanera tell us the five things that have kept him inspired throughout his career...
1. Red Gibson Firebird
When I was starting music, what everybody wanted was a flash red guitar. The first guitar that Hank Marvin got, a red Strat, was one that Cliff [Richard] sent money off to America to buy. He supposedly wanted a sound like some of Elvis' stuff. It was actually a Tele on those records but here came this red Stratocaster from America. When he realised his mistake he just gave it to Hank. So when the Shadows first played, there he was with this amazing Ferrari red guitar. When I came back from South America for my ninth birthday I got five quid with which I was able to buy, on hire purchase, a red Hofner Galaxy guitar, which I still have. When you’re nine you don’t realise 'hired' means you have to keep on paying so the following month I got a solicitors letter saying "We’re going to sue the pants off you." I went back to South America with the guitar and this letter and got off the plane in tears. After a bit of fuss my dad paid for the rest of the guitar, fifty-five pounds, and tried to plug it into the wall like a cooker. When he found out he'd have to buy an amplifier as well he was not a happy man.
A year after Roxy started I was looking through Melody Maker and in the back, just like there were bands to join (which is how I joined Roxy), there were instruments for sale; "Firebird Guitar". So I went to this big flash house in Regents Park to get this red guitar. I haven’t seen any other red ones, there aren’t any other red Firebird V11s. That became my signature guitar really from the second Roxy Music album onwards and the reason I love it so much is that it reminds me of '50s cars. It was actually designed by Raymond Dietrich who was a car designer in Chicago. All those Chevys and Thunderbirds... if you turn the guitar sideways it has those same fins. If you’re a musician and you're not still in love with your guitars, you're in trouble...
2. Sweet Peas
I chose Sweet Peas for two reasons. One is because Claire, my wife, is very good at growing them and I adore them. It's part of my other life, the English country idyll. However the smell of sweet peas reminds me of Hawaii. I lived in there after Cuba and the leis that they make have a similar smell and in Thailand they have similar flowery necklaces, so it's a very nostalgic smell for me - my favourite flower. It's a touchy-smelly-feely-sensory thing, a lovely beautiful thing, like my wife. You look at these plants and flowers in your life and you just see how much art is made up of looking at these things.
3. BOAC Memorabilia
B.O.A.C. stands for British Overseas Airways Corporation, now known as British Airways. My father worked for B.O.A.C. after the Second World War. The logo for Imperial Airways, which predated B.O.A.C, is called the Speedbird. Upstairs in my studio I have a cupboard full of memorabilia. I have the stamp collections that commemorated the inaugural flight to Honolulu. I have an exact replica of the plane that I went on in 1956 from Heathrow to Shannon Airport to the Bahamas and then on to Havana, Cuba. It’s called a Stratocruiser, like the guitar. It’s all linked you see. This plane had, in first class, a spiral staircase, a bar, beds, beautifully dressed airhostesses serving cocktails. A different world. Now I go on eBay and buy all the B.O.A.C. stuff I can find. Everybody’s allowed a little hobby. I sometimes go to my cupboard and it’s all there, everything you could imagine. Lighters, letter openers, dictionaries, cufflinks, ties. It’s so specialised though, not many other people are interested in it. Every now and again I look at it all and it takes me back to my childhood. So I think "Ah I must get some more of that."
4. Black Beans and Rice
My father was British but my mother was Columbian so. I was brought up eating what's called congris, basically black beans and rice. It’s pure nostalgia. I love food but when I eat this, maybe with some fried plantains on the side, I adopt a different personality. Like when I start speaking Spanish I adopt the mannerisms of the language, gestures and tone, the Latin side of you. My mum was always very Latin; passion and music and dancing; "Wiggle your bottom, what are you doing, come on", you know. That groove factor really came from my mother, for which I’m very thankful. The rhythmic thing, wanting things to move with a super groove. With black beans and rice I’m right back there.
5. Playing music with other people
I've been a professional musician for 35 years. Once of the reasons I've done this compilation album is that I wanted to draw a line in the sand and look back and work out why I did all these different types of projects with all these people. So I started analysing it and I realised that the whole philosophy of why I got into music is there. I see that a lot of people that I met in my teens, I’m still working with; Robert Wyatt, Charles Hayward, Bill McCormick, the Roxy people. I was brought up almost like an only child, travelling around South America, so I was desperate to be part of a bigger family. When I got to Dulwich College I was very happy to be in teams. Consequently I wanted to form a band, to be part of a gang as such. I've always wanted to be part of sharing this experience with other people. When I was sixteen I decided I wanted to do music for the whole of my life and spread it out over the whole of my life. I wanted to learn and enjoy the whole process. Because of this I've ended up doing lots of different types of music with lots of different people because I actually enjoy working with people. Some people are egomaniacs, they do it because they want to be a rock stars. I just want to share and have musical conversations with people around the world. If you start with that it doesn't matter if you’re successful or not because you’ll enjoy it no matter what. Job satisfaction guaranteed.
Firebird V11 by Phil Manzanera is out now.
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