Viva Roxy Music – John O’Brien’s Roxy Music Virtual Museum
Whether it is The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Nirvana or Ed Sheeran there are certain bands and artists that are synonymous with the sound of a generation. These era-defining musicians create songs that are combined with the music that we select as individuals to provide the soundtrack to our lives, with these songs instantly taking us back to a time or a place in our life.
This is one of the reasons why so many people around the world are passionate about the music that they listen to and feel connected both with music itself as well as the artists that create it. As music fans we display this engagement in different ways; whether it is by religiously buying the music that our favourite band releases, regularly going to the gigs that they perform or talking with other fans of the band about their work.
Few music fans are able to say that they have done all three so extensively for such significant amount of time as John O’Brien has for Roxy Music and the works of Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay. John bought his Roxy Music record in 1979 and has “for what appeared to be for no sensible reason, gathered together one of the largest collections of Roxy Music & solo records, CDs, cuttings & memorabilia” anywhere in the world.
Earlier this week I had the good fortune to talk with John more about how this collection developed, as well as some of the stories behind VivaRoxyMusic.com – a virtual museum that John runs to share his collection with Roxy Music fans across the world.
The collection started from a simple origin – John’s interest in listening to Roxy Music songs that he had previously not heard. This progressed onwards to John becoming interested in acquiring multiple variations of releases, researching and collecting the different record sleeves Roxy Music had released internationally.
Prior to the internet, this collection was essentially a personal collection – influenced and shaped by John’s interactions with other Roxy Music fans but primarily driven by his own enthusiasm. As the collection grew John became interested in sharing this resource more widely with Roxy Music fans, first exploring the idea of a fanzine to showcase particular record sleeves before deciding on launching a website in October 2000 on the advice of a work colleague (though not without reservations that the “web won’t catch on”!).
With the band’s last gig taking place in May 1983 there was relatively little online at that time about Roxy Music, certainly no “official” band website. Instead, a small collection of fanzine websites had formed, alongside a relatively inactive BryanFerry.com, with RoxyMusic.com itself being owned by an Amercian music store. With this in mind, John wanted to “go big or nothing” with his website, answering many of the common questions he had seen on other fan forums.
By June 2001 John had completed the upload of the initial information to his website – vivaroxymusic.com – a name inspired by the Viva! Roxy Music live album, as well as fans regularly signing off forum comments with “Viva Roxy!”.
He had set himself the task of having a page for every name that was credited on every record – no small feat considering often there was no supporting information about that individual. This lead to extensive research, cross-referencing a name that appeared in a Roxy Music record credit with other albums at the time to identify musicians that might have made appearances on the records.
Yet, John was careful to ensure that the website would strike a balance between catering for “passing fans” and offering something more to “die-hard fans”. He achieved this because John primarily is a fan, then a collector and finally an archiver of the material – this outlook enabled him to select and present information that he knew other fans would find interesting, whether they were “passing through” or wanted to discover the more refined details of the band’s history.
John also had a stroke of good luck – coinciding with the launch of his website came Roxy Music’s first tour in 18 years. With the heightened buzz of fan activity, as well as the relatively little official online web content, John was able to position his website as a reliable source of information about the upcoming tour dates, news and most excitingly the first reviews of performances. Of course, in the early 2000s, this in itself was a challenge as John found out having transported his desktop from his home in Scotland to Dublin, Ireland (you read that correctly, his desktop computer…not laptop!) only to find that the dial-up connections in Dublin weren’t the same as they were back home.
Nonetheless, after several hours hard graft getting the dial-up connection working John was able to get the review of Roxy Music’s first performance in nearly two decades online. The website was alive with hits from all around the world, totally 11,000 overnight.
The band themselves also had heard about John’s review, with Phil Manzanera contacting John to suggest a meeting – the start of a working relationship that would see John himself become part of the history of Roxy Music. John’s wealth of knowledge about the history of Roxy Music, acquired over the many years of collecting much of the memorabilia produced by the band, combined with his professional approach to the material facilitated this working relationship – with John acting as “archive consultant/historian”. In this capacity, he assisted the band on the history of Roxy Music, highlighting material (for example photographs) that had previously been unreleased.
As John explained, “this included being involved with the inner booklet of the 3CD set ‘The Platinum Collection’ where I received a credit on the sleeve”. A significant and symbolic moment, as John became forever part of the history of Roxy Music having worked to help shape the creative output of the band in regard to this CD release. A moment that he reflected on as his “cup final”, with the credit highlighting his “small contribution to what had been a huge part of my life”.
It also had an impact on friends and family, as John’s passion for collecting Roxy Music memorabilia went from simply being a fan to “something more serious”. Highlighted by John’s thoughts on his own creative input to the release, carefully selecting material that he knew would appeal to fans – as he explained “I had in some cases 8 different sleeves for some singles…I eliminated any that had already been used in The Thrill Of It All box set [and] spent hours digitally cleaning up the images”. John even contributed to the track annotations, including details from the vivaroxymusic.com website itself to form the sleeve notes for the CD booklet.
Since ‘The Platinum Collection’ release in 2004 John has contributed to DVDs, CDs as well as being consulted about live performance set-lists. Alongside his first credit in the 2004 release, John explained that the “Roxy Music Deluxe Edition” 2018 release, which included a “132-page book with many unseen and rare photographs” in the 4 disk version that he had helped to curate, was again of huge personal pride. His involvement in this release, where he is credited as an “Archive Consultant”, included digitally documenting many thousands of photographs taken during the band’s career, then selecting photos, as well as “many other items from the Roxy Music archive” to include within the release. He focused on highlighting items that he knew would be of interest to fans across the world. Perhaps if John’s first credit on the 2004 release was his “cup final”, I would say that his input into the “Roxy Music Deluxe Edition” represents him “scoring the winner”!
This dedication to his collection has enabled him to meet and speak with many fans from around the world, visiting over 20 countries to watch over 120 live performances. I had a real sense that being part of this wider community of Roxy Music fans was something that continued to drive John’s virtual museum forward – knowing that fans from across the world continue to use vivaroxymusic.com for news and updates on one of the most influential bands of their time.
I believe John’s work will resonate with many music fans passionate about their favourite band or artist. John has demonstrated how a fan’s collection, through the medium of the internet, can reach so many individuals across the world, including the band themselves. Take confidence from this, dear reader, that your passion with enough commitment and dedication, can itself grow into something far bigger than you ever imagined! So if you have been collecting all of Ed Sheeran’s CDs, noting down Arctic Monkeys’ set-lists or tracking down Jay-Z’s back-catalogue, you might just be taking those first steps to creating a music collection of your own!
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