Royal Albert Hall - Wed 11th Mar

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Bryan Ferry has fun with his past at the Royal Albert Hall

The singer was in relaxed mood, crooning and barnstorming his way through Roxy Music classics and covers

Bryan Ferry’s latest release is a live album of a 1974 show at the Royal Albert Hall. It captures him at the peak of his powers, a debonair figure at the centre of an intense burst of activity, having released two solo covers albums and two Roxy Music albums in just over a year.

Back then, the ink-stained hacks of the music press bowed down before the new king, although not without subaltern muttering. The suavely appointed singer was nicknamed “Byron Ferrari” and mocked for an LP cover showing him wearing a white tuxedo and cummerbund in front of a blue swimming pool, like an arriviste in a Hockney painting. “Anyway,” an unabashed Ferry murmured in an interview at the time, “peacock feathers and sequins are last year’s thing.”

Acolytes in white tuxes thronged the Royal Albert Hall in 1974. But in 2020, there were none. Even Ferry had dialled down the sartorial formality a notch. The singer, 74, took to the stage in a suit and impeccable leather shoes — dapper, but not the jet-set clobber of a Byron Ferrari.

After a cheery wave, he sidled into the first song, Roxy Music’s “The Thrill of It All”. It was originally released the month before the 1974 album was recorded. “The time has come/It’s getting late/It’s now or never,” Ferry sang, accompanied by an eight-piece band and three backing vocalists. Where once his voice quavered and trembled with the brassy mannerisms of an art-school Roy Orbison, over time he has grown hoarser and less forthright, a stylish shadow of his former self.

“The Thrill of It All” was followed by a cluster of other Roxy Music songs from the same era, played smoothly rather than with 1970s exuberance. Drummer Luke Bullen, encased by Plexiglas, provided a sinuous but restrained backdrop. Veteran session player Chris Spedding was one of two guitarists, picking out solos like elements of a collage. Jorja Chalmers on saxophone and clarinet gave songs the jazzy blare of a busy but sophisticated city at night.

A trio of covers marked a shift in tempo. Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” blew fitfully between calmer and more forceful passages. Two acoustic guitar-led Bob Dylan numbers — “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Make You Feel My Love” — were better, each crooned tenderly by Ferry without a hint of irony. Then came a barnstorming sequence of back-catalogue favourites (“Avalon”, “Love Is the Drug”, “Virginia Plain”).

Two songs from Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1974 were reprised. One was a cover of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, reimagined as a Roxy Music-style stomp. When Ferry released his version on a 1973 solo covers album, there were grumbles that it lacked sincerity. Here, however, it sounded warm and relaxed. Rock’s arch-stylist, a product of the most meticulous self-tailoring, cuts an engaging figure these days. He is having fun with his past. ★★★★☆

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