5 June, 1982
With their eighth album Avalon, Roxy Music were at number one on the LP charts once more. Habitués attuned to the group’s imaginative world of glamour and luxuriousness could tell something was different. Where was the traditional femme fatale that had graced their album sleeves since 1972’s self-titled debut?
Instead, Avalon’s sleeve featured an armoured figure seen from behind, gazing out over an expanse of water, seemingly at twilight. This was the Avalon of Arthurian legend - the island where the mythical King’s sword Excalibur was forged, and where he was taken after his final battle, one day to return.
“(Avalon) is the Isle of Enchantment,” Roxy mainman Bryan Ferry told the LA Weekly’s Don Waller in November ’82. “A fantasy place, a very romantic place… I thought this was the most romantic, dream-like album I’d ever done. I started working on the songs for Avalon on the west coast of Ireland, on the very lake that’s used in the photograph on the album cover.”
Ferry had been coming to that area of County Galway with his partner Lucy Helmore since 1980, staying at her family’s waterside home Crumlin Lodge near Inverin. Duly inspired, Ferry art-directed the cover image of fashion model Lucy looking out onto Lough Ugga Beg, in a horned helmet with a hooded merlin bird of prey on her wrist. Photographed at dawn by Neil Kirk, it suggested a mature analogue to 1975’s Siren, which featured Ferry’s then-muse Jerry Hall posed with winged feet on volcanic rocks off the coast of Anglesey.
Work on the album had begun in mid-1981 with producer Rhett Davies, at guitarist Phil Manzanera’s studio in Surrey. They continued at Compass Point in the Bahamas and finished the vocals and drum parts at New York’s Power Station with engineer Bob Clearmountain in early 1982. Ferry’s lyrics were completed just prior to his singing them, while the album’s title track was completely re-recorded as mixing drew to a close. That Sunday Ferry and Davies heard Haitian singer Yanick Etienne demo’ing in the studio next door. “Bryan and I just looked at each other and went ‘What a fantastic voice!’” Davis told Sound On Sound in 2003. “(She) sang all the high stuff on Avalon. She didn’t speak a word of English. Her boyfriend… came in and translated.”
Sophisticated, wreathed in mist and strangely faultless, the album was built for mass appeal. Lead single More Than This had already reached number six in April, and on June 7 Avalon’s perfect title song, with its telling lines “Now the party’s over, I’m so tired” was released. With a grandiose video filmed at Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire – the hooded merlin from the LP sleeve made an appearance – the band played the song live on June 17’s Top Of The Pops with a masked Martha Ladly of ex-Roxy support band Martha and The Muffins on backing vocals and former Cure/ Associates man Michael Dempsey on bass. It peaked at number 13 the following week.
“Making music, all kinds of angst seems to appear.”
“Making Avalon was interesting in that, for a change, I wasn’t going through much,” Ferry told Neil Spencer in the NME’s June 9 edition. “But I’ve found that although you might think that your day-to-day life is fine and there’s no great trauma going on, as soon as you start making music, all kinds of angst seems to appear out of thin air… asking what’s the meaning of life: why am I doing this?”
He had other important matters to attend to. On June 26, Ferry and Helmore, who was pregnant with their son Otis, were married in West Sussex. As well as matrimony and fatherhood, Ferry admitted to other concerns. “Avalon was a real sweat to make,” he told Jon Savage in Mojo in 1994. “I was getting impatient with the rest of the band, getting impatient about what they could or could not play.”
Roxy Music Were On Borrowed Time
Ferry’s solo career was calling, and Roxy were on borrowed time. The group began rehearsals in July for a UK tour, whose programme declared them “that strange hybrid: the truly cosmopolitan rock-pop-art group.” They followed with farewell visits to Japan and the US, where Avalon peaked at 53 (it eventually stealth-sold a million). On May 28, 1983, at Philadelphia’s Tower Theatre, the group played their last date before disbanding.
When Roxy rose again 18 years later, Avalon was prominent in their set lists. An always memorable moment was Andy Mackay’s beauteous soprano sax piece Tara, which originally featured sea-sounds straight from Avalon’s haunting cover image. Speaking to Radio 2 in 2011, Mackay wondered if the band “could have gone that bit further. Avalon, we didn’t think it was our last album, at least I didn’t, but, you know… ‘and now the party’s over’ is a good way of putting it.”