Herald Scotland - Bryan Ferry Edinburgh Castle - Fri 26th Aug

Thumbnail - Click for a larger version

Just a zealous guy

Bryan Ferry looks very comfortable sitting on the balcony of Edinburgh Castle.

You might even suggest he looks like he owns the place. Which, given the former Roxy Music singer and style icon’s aristocratic social connections, his place in the Sunday Times rich list and his recently acquired CBE status, is a perfectly reasonable observation.

In a rare burst of August sun, Ferry, dressed in various immaculate shades of blue, looks over the balcony where what might well be his subjects mingle below. Ferry is on a recce to the city prior to his concert here a week on Saturday, and, as befits his art school background, is already making festival plans.

“I’d love to see the Richard Strauss,” he says, referring to the Mariinsky Opera’s German-language production of Die frau ohne Schatten. “I’d love to see the Robert Rauchenberg exhibition as well.”

Cultural references are never far from Ferry’s lips. It’s like when the dapper 65-year-old is getting his photograph taken for The Herald and, striking a pose, mutters how “Whenever Anton Corbjin takes my picture he always gets me to put my leg up”.

Such casual name-dropping is only fitting for someone whose career was founded on the twin obsessions of pop and art, from the early psych-glam of Eno-era Roxy that was all Antony Price styling, songs such as Editions of You delivered by Ferry in a plummily otherworldly mix of a snarl and a croon, and impossibly beautiful women on album covers that were effectively one work of art wrapped around another.

This continued with Ferry’s thirteenth and most recent solo album, Olympia, which features a picture of Kate Moss on a cover which gives a knowing nod to Manet’s 1863 painting of the same name.

Released in October 2010, Olympia features a trademark mix of Ferry originals, including hip-to-the-moment collaborations with Scissor Sisters and Groove Armada, alongside singular interpretations of Traffic’s No Face, No Name, No Number and Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren. For connoisseurs, a collector’s edition features a CD of remixes and a book housing an essay by art writer Michael Bracewell, who penned Remake/Remodel, an exhaustive study of the visual art influences on the creation of Roxy Music, and which ended as the band’s first, eponymously named album was released. Olympia, then, is the ultimate coffee-table accessory.

“I like tactile things,” says Ferry, “and the deluxe version is very much an artefact.”

This current tour, similarly, is something of a multi-media affair, with commissioned filmed segments and images accompanying each song on screens at the back of the stage.

“That sense of visuality is very important to me,” Ferry says, “so the show is like a collage of all these beautiful images.”

That CBE, though, seems seriously at odds with the Ferry aesthetic.

“I was actually quite touched,” Ferry says of receiving the honour. “I always think rock and roll should be more underground, so it’s a bit odd getting this rather grand, official recognition, but any recognition for an artist is always welcome, let me tell you. I guess both my parents would have been very proud of it, because they loved tradition and history.

“My own children seem to think it’s really cool as well, which I was surprised but pleased about. I’m also very pleased in terms of it being for music, because I’ve devoted my life to it, and I’d like to think it adds a certain level of gravitas to a musical career that’s been hard to understand because I’ve done so many different things.

“One part of me wanted to be Philip Glass, while the other part wanted to be Frank Sinatra or Elvis. I tried to be everything, so it’s been a wide-ranging career stylistically, even though most people will know me for Jealous Guy rather than other stuff that is maybe more undercover but which is more musically exciting to me. It’s always great to write a hit, but it’s always great to write something you love, like Mother of Pearl, which we hardly ever do because it’s so complex.”

This goes some way to illustrating the great contradictions in Ferry’s work. As a serious auteur, he and Roxy Music pretty much invented art-rock with a knowingly flamboyant, near alien visual and aural edge.

Yet at the same time Ferry the old-time lounge-bar entertainer was just dying to get out there.

“The way I look at it, and I’m not trying to sound grand here, is that artists like Picasso made very serious, very dark art, but could also do things light and free, like his ceramics and all those odd sculptures he did, which came from the more playful side of the man. I always thought that I should try to expand myself to see if I could do this or that, play with a string quartet or an orchestra. I’ve done all those things, and it’s made me a better person and made me feel more like I’ve accomplished something.

Even doing the covers albums, which were vilified by a lot of people to begin with, has turned out to be something that’s okay.”

Ferry has long been an interpretor of classic songs, from his 1973 solo debut, These Foolish Things, released while still fronting Roxy, up to 2007’s Bob Dylan compendium, Dylanesque, and beyond.

“It was because I didn’t feel like I could write like a machine,” Ferry says of the origins of These Foolish Things, “and I think a lot of artists have overwritten, because after a while ideas become less potent. So after the first two Roxy Music albums I’d written, I was desperate to make a new record, almost as a cathartic thing, and to try something different and have fun with these 1930s standards. All these songs had been done by lots of different people, so there was a great precedent for what I was doing, but at the time it seemed quite novel.

“But that started a more main-stream career, which I didn’t think was such a bad thing, because maybe more mainstream audiences could go to my more difficult work with Roxy. That was the plan, anyway.”

Ferry’s musical roots date back to the first time he heard blues singer Leadbelly on the radio while a 10-year old-growing up in working-class Washington, Tyne and Wear. Already obsessed with music, Ferry would devour the music press he delivered on his paper round. It was growing up in a house without telephone, car or fridge that fuelled Ferry’s desire for continual reinvention.

“I’m never happy being still,” he admits. “I like creating things, which is a joy and a curse, because you always want to be adding something to what you are. I guess it’s because of an innate dissatisfaction with who I am, and I want to make myself a bit more than that. As soon as I read Shakespeare and Dickens I felt there was a better world out there that was all about literature and art and music.”

Even today, Ferry is restless for fresh challenges.

“I just like doing lots of different things,” he says. “I wish I could do Richard Strauss’s last songs, but they’re really written for a woman soprano. They’re very soulful and melancholic, which is a mood I like.

“I don’t write that much happy music, which is probably because I mainly write it at night. That’s when the darker shades kick in. But there’s beauty there as well, and I like doing beautiful things.”


Previous Article | Next Article