Phil Manzanera Details His Musical Adventures And Family Roots In ‘Revolución To Roxy’

Arts & Celebrities

In his five-decades-plus career, guitarist Phil Manzanera is forever synonymous with the legendary and influential British rock band Roxy Music since their groundbreaking 1972 debut album. During the periods when the group was either active or on hiatus, Manzanera made a name for himself as both a solo artist and a producer/collaborator with the likes of Brian Eno, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Split Enz and most recently Rod Stewart.

But what has not been often talked about is Manzanera’s fascinating family heritage as the son of a British man and Colombian woman and how his Latin American roots influenced his music. That came into focus several years ago when Manzanera (born Phillip Targett-Adams) was interviewed at a literary festival in Cartagena, Colombia.

“I speak Spanish and I’m half Colombian,” he says. “And some journalists from England, Misha Glenny and Kirsty Lang, who worked for the BBC, did some interviews with me, and they said, ‘Oh, you should write a book,’ because these are stories that I often tell in the interviews. And then people started saying, ‘You should write a book and put it all down.’ I said, ‘Okay.’”

After seven years, Manzanera, 73, could now add ‘author’ to his resume with the recent publication of Revolución to Roxy, which details his life from his upbringing in Latin America and England through his tenure in Roxy Music and the behind-the-scenes stories about his solo works and collaborations. Sprinkled in between are anecdotes about how Kanye West and Jay-Z sampled a piece of his music from the 1978 K-Scope album for the 2011 track “No Church in the Wild;” his involvement in the Rock en Espanol movement; and the startling discoveries about his family lineage. “I think a lot of people have been surprised,” Manzanera says. “I mean, the guys in Roxy probably are surprised. So they’re probably thinking, ‘Whoa, we didn’t know that.’”

Manzanera’s father, Duncan Targett-Adams, worked for the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), which took him and his family to different parts of the world, including Cuba where Manzanera’s family lived until 1959’s Cuban Revolution . The guitarist’s recollection of his family’s harrowing exit from the country amid the chaos is told vividly in Revolución to Roxy. “In our house, in the garden, there’s a bloody gun battle going on,” he says. “Bullets flying everywhere. My mother’s screaming, pushing our faces on the floor. I was seven years old, and you have no context of how dangerous that is. It provoked so many questions and my sister saying, ‘Well, do you remember that? Where was Dad?’”

Manazaner’s mother, Magdalena, was crucial in her young son’s musical development when she brought him a guitar from Havana. “In my garden room where I work, [the guitar is] there,” he says. “I see it every morning. I go, ‘Hi.’ I give it a little strum, and I’m back in Havana. I’m learning those Cuban songs, those Latin American songs that are so nostalgic for me. And thinking about it now and making sense of it, music has been the thing that’s kept me balanced ever since then.”

During his teenage years in the U.K., Manzanera, who aspired to be a rock star, met another guitarist named David Gilmour, who would later join Pink Floyd. “My brother [Eugen] said, ‘Look, I know this guy. He’s just joined a band last week. I know him from up in Cambridge. Let’s go and talk to him and ask him what you have to do to become a professional musician.’ So we went and had lunch with him. [David] now says that he can’t remember what he said, but it must have been great because five years later, I got into Roxy.”

It was through a friend, Bill McCormick, that Manzanbera answered an ad in a British music publication posted a band called Roxy that was looking for a guitarist. “I walk into this room,” Manzanera recalls. “It’s a small working men’s cottage. There’s Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay. They’re like four or five years older than me. They’ve been to university. They have bank accounts. They have a car. They borrowed money to buy a little P.A. These are very grown-up people. Plus, they’re kind of different and interesting. And I knew straight away they were special.”

Manzanera’s initial audition with Roxy Music didn’t work out and he was passed over for another guitar player. “I thought, ‘Oh, no.’ I know these guys are going to be successful. They’re so cool. Luckily, it didn’t work out with the person that they chose and they called me back for an audition. Eventually, I joined four days after my 21st birthday. Three months later, having played about four pub gigs, I was in the studio recording the first album [Roxy Music]. Three months later, it came out on exactly the same day as David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. And suddenly, our records were in the charts, and it was all happening. It was Christmas every day.”

As Roxy Music rose to fame and success during the first half of the 1970s before their first breakup, Manzanera was forging a solo career with his excellent 1975 debut record, the avant-garde-sounding Diamond Head. Its title is a reference to when he and his family found themselves in Hawaii after they left Cuba in the wake of the revolution.

“Looking back on it now,” he says, “I realized that Roxy was never going to be like a band like the Beatles or what we thought the Beatles were, which was, ‘Hey, there’s this band of four musketeers, they all live in the same house, and they have such fun.’ All of [the Roxy members] were doing solo albums. I thought it was just an excuse to get all my mates–Robert Wyatt and John Wetton and all the Roxy guys. So I had a great opportunity to do that, but you had to fit it in between tours. I can’t believe that in between finishing a tour in December and leaving to go to Canada for a North American tour, I managed to fit in doing Diamond Head.”

Manzanera has never stopped working in music, whether it’s for his solo albums or collaborations with other musicians. To date, his solo discography spans nearly 20 albums. “I’m trying to make sense of it myself,” he says about his prolific output. “Two years ago, I did like seven of the 12 tracks of a Rod Stewart/Jools Holland big band swing album [Swing Fever]. It came out last week and it was number one in England. ‘How did that happen? What’s going on?’ The thing about musicians is you think you’ll never work again.”

Later in life as an adult, Manzanbera discovered revelations about his family heritage, as he documented in Revolución to Roxy. For instance, his aunt told him that his real grandfather was an Italian opera singer from the early 20th century. Even more suprising, Manzanera learned he is a descendant of the 17th-century Jewish pirate Moses Cohen Enriques.

“So I’m reading this stuff,” Manzanera says of Enriques. “This guy attacked a Spanish galleon. He goes off to Brazil, buys an island, and is hanging out there. And then the Portuguese decide to invade and take Brazil. So he has to get the hell out of there. And he ends up in Jamaica as the right-hand man of the most famous British pirate, Captain Morgan. It was very exciting to discover this.”

Manzanera also wrote poignantly about Roxy Music’s farewell tour in 2022, which he enjoyed with satisfaction. “I think we were able to fulfill our mission statement that we said at the beginning,” he says, “which was to do interesting, weird and wonderful music and present it in an attractive fashion. So we had amazing iconography behind us – all the Roxy 50 years of imagery and stuff like that [on stage]. And to play the music in that context was wonderful. It was very emotional and lovely.”

Even though Roxy is on hiatus, Manaznera is still performing and writing new music–most recently he and former Split Enz singer Tim Finn recorded two albums, 2021’s Caught by the Heart and 2022’s The Ghost of Santiago. And last month, Manzanera and former Roxy members Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson performed avant-garde music together for some shows in the U.K.

“It’s something that shouldn’t work on paper, but for some bizarre reason, it did work,” Manzanera says of the unofficial Roxy mini-reunion. “And so it was an experiment that could have gone incredibly wrong – again, fulfilling one of the things I always said: ‘Don’t be afraid to fail.’ Otherwise, you can’t come up with something new unless you change your method of working. So we did that. And we were saying to each other, ‘Can’t believe that we’re doing this age 70-plus.’

“You just have to take a few chances,” he continues. “We’re not like trying to live on the past, [we’re] just betting on why we’re fundamentally doing this, because we love music and communicating together.”


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