This month we bring you Diamond Head, Phil Manzanera's first album outside of Roxy Music. Released in 1975, it featured most of the former and current members of the band, except Bryan Ferry.
Wearing a distinctive pair of shades that resembled the composite eyes of a fly (which were apparently just found on the floor of designer Anthony Price and donned on a whim) Phil Manzanera had fitted in well with the ‘Retro Futurist’ image of Roxy Music at the time.
But the departure of Brian Eno from the band in July 1973 served to highlight an issue between leader Bryan Ferry and the other principal members – saxophonist Andy Mackay and Manzanera – who felt their contributions were not being acknowledged, particularly as far as compositional credits were concerned. The potential schism resulted in a little air being let into the rarefied Roxy recorded atmosphere, with both Mackay and Manzanera receiving co-writing credits on a couple of tracks on Roxy’s third album, Stranded. Furthermore, to make sure that the centre of the band could hold, a rapprochement was agreed insofar as the individual members of Roxy could pursue solo projects in downtime, with the band having the first call on their services.
Ferry had made his solo bow with the album These Foolish Things in 1973 (on which Mackay and Manzanera both played), with Mackay striking out with his In Search of Eddie Riff outing in 1974. The same year, Manzanera had expanded his musical CV by playing on albums by John Cale (Fear), and also on The End, a solo album by Cale’s ex-Velvet Underground colleague Nico. Later that year, Manzanera had two co-writes on the fourth Roxy Music album, Country Life. This sense of the ‘onwards and upwards’ no doubt made for a very positive background for the recording of not one, but two projects.
The recording of Diamond Head actually ran concurrently with that of the album Mainstream, by Manzanera’s pre-Roxy Music combo, Quiet Sun, running over Christmas 1974 and into the early weeks of 1975. Thumbing through his address book, he called on such diverse musical talents as Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt, Ian MacDonald and John Wetton (King Crimson), as well as Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson from Roxy Music.
Listeners would have been impressed and intrigued by what Manzanera had conjured up on Diamond Head. Of the original nine tracks on the album, four were instrumentals, and the vocal tracks featured the idiosyncratic voices of Eno ('Miss Shapiro' and 'Big Day'), and Robert Wyatt (‘Frontera’).
Manzanera was clearly pleased with the results: "Yes. I think it's worked surprisingly well. The things I wanted to do are there; the little cameos like the dance number; the three minute type guitar instrumental; the classical number. Certain of the songs were written with suitable people in mind, and eventually it all came off”.
Manzanera clearly enjoyed the recording and composing process that Diamond Head afforded: "I've benefited a great deal from this solo project, principally because I wanted to produce it and have total control for the first time. I learnt so much about myself and about self-discipline. There are so many aspects involved which I've only just realised".
What Diamond Head delivers is pleasing musical diversity, superb musicianship and an engaging playfulness that synthesised and celebrated Manzanera’s contrasting influential strands. Although not a massive commercial success, it radiates charm and wit, and amongst the Roxy fan base, it is viewed very positively, a sound mix of the experimental with a strong melodic appeal.
With thanks to Alan Robinson