Under The Covers - - Xpress Magazine - Sun 15th Feb

Under The Covers - - Xpress Magazine
15 February 2004

Bryan Ferry Interviewed by By POLLY COUFOS. for Xpress Magazine

Under The Covers

Rock music has rarely been more stylish than when in the hands of Bryan Ferry. And too often the fact he knows how to wear a suit tends to overshadow the mass public perception of his art.

For more than 30 years Ferry has shown this to be a serious miscalculation. For every Don’t Stop The Dance there was a brooding In Every Dream Home A Heartache, for every smooth Avalon there was a dark and edgy Amazona. One of Ferry’s other great achievements has been the manner in which he legitimised reinterpretation as an art form. Through Ferry younger generations would discover the great songs of yesterday, and that could mean from last year to last century. In Ferry’s sure hands all are given a twist to make sure they are never quite the same again. From his first solo album, 1973’s These Foolish Things, he notified it was valid to update both It’s My Party and also A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. Then and now it is the song that matters.

Both with Roxy Music and as a solo artist Ferry has had dozens of everlasting hits including Let’s Stick Together, Tokyo Joe, Love Is The Drug, All I Want Is You, Jealous Guy, This Is Tomorrow, Slave To Love, Do The Strand, Streetlife, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, The In Crowd, Avalon, Dance Away, More Than This and Over You. You should be able to see and hear a good number of them being played at the Moonlight festival at Clarement Showgrounds next Saturday, February 14.

This week’s interview was conducted by phone from New Zealand where Ferry and his band (including Roxy drummer Paul Thompson and veteran UK guitarists Chris Spedding and Mick Green) began their Australasian tour. The affable singer was very happy to be leaving a particularly cold northern winter behind.

Your line up for this tour is huge, including Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson and guitarist Chris Spedding who you worked with way back when. Could it be read that you aren’t a burning bridges kind of guy?
It’s great to work with new people and it’s also great to come across people you have worked with before. You have a real kind of unspoken rapport with people you know, which I do with both of those people. And every night it’s great to work with them.

There are nearly a dozen people in the band. Is it important for you that you have a range of players on hand?
Yeah. People say, “why do you have a big band, it must cost you a fortune,” and I say, “Yeah but it means that we can play everything from all the Roxy material and from the different solo albums.” It’s quite a wide stylistic range from one album to the next. So it means you can do Smoke Gets In Your Eyes but you can also do Virginia Plain and whatever else you want from the repertoire.

So it’s quite a lot of songs to pick from especially if we do things from the Roxy albums as well. It’s good because we have a lot of variety in the shows so it means you can tour without kind of getting bored you know.

Is it a big job combining your solo stuff with your Roxy Music material?
It’s important to me to do some of my own songs and most of my own songs were written for the band records so I threw those in as well.

Do you get the sense that over the course of time that the line between Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music is blurred?
Yeah, it is blurred much more than it was in the beginning. There’s a big difference between the material because the Roxy albums were the original songs and covers were done on the solo albums. Then there was a kind of mingling and mushing together and we did Jealous Guy as a Roxy cover. Then I started doing my own songs in my solo career as well. It was good doing the Roxy tour two years ago because that was 100 per cent Roxy stuff rather than mixing up solo things.

It’s good doing solo tour in a way because you can do a few more light-hearted things like Let’s Stick Together and so on which don’t feature on the Roxy tour.

What’s the status of Roxy given how well the reunion tour went?
The tour went great and it was good working with Andy and Phil again. We even did half a dozen shows last year in July in America and they went well as well. So I really enjoyed it and it’ll be good to repeat it again. We’ll see you know. Who knows, maybe next year I’m not sure. If anyone wants us to play we might do it. They were very keen, they enjoyed the tour.

Did you enjoy sharing the spotlight?
It was quite a relief actually. It means that you can leave the stage whenever you want and they can sort of just do long solos or whatever. But no I don’t mind it at all. It was good. It was so long since we’d been out together, it felt like a very nice change, you know it was 18 years.

No other major artist has been so consistent in searching for other people’s songs to be brought in to their oeuvre. How important is interpretation to your work?
It started off as a one-off album, doing it for fun you know just as a kind of a diversion. That was the These Foolish Things album in ’73. And just to get a holiday away from my own writing, but then I realised I really enjoyed doing that and also I liked extending myself, at least extending the repertoire in different directions. Maybe, say, songs from the 1930s, maybe doing a Dylan cover or whatever it might be you know. It just seems to widen the repertoire in a good way so it means that stylistically you cover more ground. It’s a challenge to take up a song where you’ve got to have a feeling for it and think “you know I think I can sing this,” or whatever.

Or bring something slightly new to the arrangement side of things. So it’s kind of interesting to do for me. As your career goes on you tend to write less and less and generally most people maybe write less. I mean there are maybe one or two exceptions, I don’t know. Dylan still writes as prolifically as he used to. I kind of put quite a bit into covers. I don’t really do them in an off hand way. Although sometimes it’s nice to do it spontaneously, you kind of think well and hard before you do them.

Was it a conscious thing about not writing as much as you used to?
It’s just one of those things that happened. I mean uh … I don’t know. I think while I’m on the road, I don’t tend to write. And I have been touring for the last four years quite consistently and it was a great change for me to get out of the studio and get back on the road. I have quite lengthy periods without doing any live work. And when I did the ’30s tour three or four years ago, it just felt really refreshing to be out on the road again and playing to the audience. Maybe the fact that I hadn’t toured for a long time and people seemed to be extra especially appreciative. And that was a good thing, it felt as if it was the right thing to do to be playing live for the audience and to people who like my music.

Did you miss it?
I think I had unconsciously, you know, without knowing, realising I’d missed it. I sort of stayed away … one of the reasons I stayed away from the road is because I’d been having a family really from ’82 onwards and so I was lost, I was kind of reluctant to go touring and now there’s nothing to stop me. It’s been really enjoyable actually.

How is it different now as opposed to when you would’ve toured regularly before you had a family?
It’s better in virtually every way now because I guess as you get older the audience thinks, “Oh I might not see him again.” They tend to really appreciate the fact that you’ve made the effort to get a band together and come and play for them. And I don’t know, there’s so much material to choose from now that it makes it interesting. There are lots of good things about it. I think the theatres tend to be better now and the acoustics tend to be better, the equipment is certainly better and the lighting is more sophisticated.

Do you get the sense that it’s some way of people saying thanks and it is something more than just songs from their past?
Sometimes you can feel it, it’s almost a tangible thing from the audience. Sometimes — well obviously you have your own emotions that you bring to the song — but you feel the emotions of the people in the audience and what they bring to it as well when they first heard the song or whatever it might be. It can be a quite overwhelming experience on occasions, it’s really good. And that’s what live music is all about, I mean that interaction between the audience and performer.

I understand that there’s a book written about you and Roxy Music, The Thrill of it All, that’s due out shortly …
Well, it’s nothing to do with me. People write those books and you sort of cross your fingers and hope they haven’t written anything bad. I think there are a couple of books that are actually being done. One is by Michael Bracewell, he’s an art critic and I think that’s more about the music than the life story as such.

What do you make of somebody looking back at your life and finding there’s a story to tell about you over 300 or 400 pages?
Very worrying. I mean … One day I have to try and force myself to sit and write. I mean there might be a book there, that came from me maybe. But I find it hard to imagine how … because I’ve led such a - well on the whole - fairly private life. I’m quite guarded really about my life and I’m surprised that anybody could kind of research enough to write a book.

With someone writing a book about you, you’re sort of forced into a corner to really tell the story yourself. These books coming out almost insist that at some point you retell the story and correct any inaccuracies or tell your side of it …
You’re absolutely right. I think they do force you into the corner where you have to sort of reveal the truth.

Would you like to think people know you from the lyrical content of your songs?
Yeah. I mean they certainly should know a bit about me from that. I guess they’re all … well I wouldn’t say they were all autobiographical but they’ve got something of me in them certainly. Sometimes for inspiration you draw from outside your own experience and as much as your own experiences, things that you’ve read or seen in movies. But I think it’s a reflection of your taste what you write. That’s true and also the sort of bits of artwork related to the musical career that I’ve done as well. I think that gives an indication of bits and pieces of what I like I suppose and snippets of answers picked up in interviews.

The public persona that has been the way for 30 years is sort of cool and aloof but in many interviews published there’s a sense of humour that doesn’t seem to have translated over to the public image.
It’s funny isn’t it? I’m so not sure where that’s from. I think that maybe the fact that a lot of people write things without meeting you or talking to you and then they get the wrong end of the stick. But there’s more to me than that you know.

Have you felt that the public image of you has gotten in the way of different people embracing your music?
Oh, I think so, yeah, definitely. Sometimes it’s an impediment. And they’re just sort of put off by say a sort of coldness or something that might be perceived. I’d like to think that I’ve got a good sense of humour.

I guess it should’ve been there when you look at These Foolish Things just as a starting point?
You’ve got to have a sense of humour to do It’s My Party in the same year that you do In Every Dream Home.

Just to stick to It’s My Party for a moment. Was there any discussion to change the gender in the lyric?
I thought it would be amusing to do it dead straight. I suppose it was the fact that I had quite a lot of gay friends. You would have in the art world. It is a bit of an anthem for gay people.

Do you have songs of your own where there’s a particular continued relevance for you as a songwriter? Are there songs or bits of songs that you love and think, “oh well I really nailed something there.”
Oh like one or two. It’s hard to name them.

What about the killer verse from Dance Away – “It’s funny how I could never cry, until the night you passed with another guy, dressed to kill, and guess who’s dying?”
Sometimes you get one or two lyrics that you’re pleased with, but it’s hard work. When you’re choosing songs to sing live, you normally go for the ones that have lyrics that you feel ring true.

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