Daddy Cool - This is Brighton and Hove Celebrity Interview - Wed 21st Jun

Daddy Cool: This is Brighton and Hove Celebrity Interview
21 June 2000

By Sally Hall.

Bryan Ferry blames dance music for ruining the love song but thinks Norman Cook is a genius.

In the Seventies and Eighties he was known as the epitome of cool. Supermodels draped from his designer suits, the original suave, sophisticated lounge lizard whose band Roxy Music set musical trends for years to come. On the eve of his Petworth Park appearance, Sally Hall talks to Bryan Ferry, the man who went from miner’s son, to playboy to country gent.

It would be impossible to write about Bryan Ferry without mentioning the “L-words”, so let’s get them out of the way right now.

There’s no denying Bryan Ferry his title as the crown prince lounge lizard of pop. The ex-Roxy Music frontman has long been known for his sartorial sure-footedness and his Campari-sipping, insouciant chic.

Back in the Seventies, girls in flares with chicken-plucked eyebrows lusted after his urbane smirk. Boys sick to death of leaden prog-rock yearned for a piece of his all-white tux. Even the punks thought he was cool.

It wasn’t just his clothes. Ferry also designed the Roxy Music album covers – and they reeked of debonair, wasted debauchery.

From the insolent “so what” gaze of the headlight-pinned, knicker-clad aristos on Country Life to the predatory snarl of Jerry Hall’s serpent-like seducer on Siren, they were made to be displayed at the front of a record collection.

The lounge-lizard image was consciously created in defiance of the times. In the style wastelands of the mid-Seventies, a tux was a radical statement.

Ferry said in an interview with Uncut last year: “It was just an easy persona to adopt. It was partly a reaction to all the sequins and stuff we wore as Roxy, getting away from the glittery feathers and leopardskin."

But it was an image that dove-tailed neatly into Ferry’s own aspirations. The tongue-in-cheek irony of his persona was swiftly eroded until it was impossible to see the join between the character of the urbane smoothie and the man who created it. The NME took to calling him Bryan Ferrari.

Interviewers always describe his clothes as if it were a way of capturing the essence of the man himself. Whether it’s a cravat and leather trousers or cords and Savile Row tweeds, he is always defined as glamorous because he is always seen through what he wears.

But I speak to him on the telephone on the eve of his much anticipated Petworh Park gig. A telephone interview strips this preoccupation with style down to its bare essentials. I can’t see what he’s wearing and I’m far away from the roguish, sexy twinkle in his eye.

And, over the phone, Bryan Ferry comes across mainly as a mild-mannered, genial, middle-aged man. His opinions on music and movies would accord very much with my Dad’s – well meaning but a bit fuddy-duddyish. Is this sacrilege against the most stylish man in pop? Maybe – but he is 56. The cutting edge is not a comfortable place to perch when you’re in your fifties.

He tells me the art of the love song is dying and blames dance music for the disappearance of finely-crafted tunes. He says: “You get one or two ballads a year that come out, usually with huge movies like Titanic, but they’re not my cup of tea really.

“You don’t hear that many good songs of the genre these days, whereas, say, in the Thirties there were really beautiful, personal songs with great tunes and not silly lyrics.”

Ferry’s last album, As Time Goes By, was a compilation of Thirties’ songs including classics from Cole Porter and Billie Holiday and a masterful reworking of Marlene Dietrich’s Falling in Love Again.

It is an era he is drawn to, for the glamorous sheen of its movies and the natty cut of its clothes. But it is a postmodern longing for a time that never really existed.

Ferry doesn’t hate dance music –in fact he has a soft spot for Norman Cook: “Oh, I think he’s really good. That was a really catchy record he did, where they’re all dancing round the ghettoblaster in the video.”

He would even relish the prospect of a Fatboy Slim remix of some of his most famous tunes.

But, Ferry says: “Quite a lot of hip hop or dance music is not particularly good. You don’t catch me dancing around much nowadays.”

Bryan Ferry has been called the King of Cool – but he reminds me more of Prince Charles. He stumbles on his words with an apparent high- bred shyness. He is self-effacing and very polite, far from the arrogant playboy I expected.

He asks me all about myself – where am I from, why did I move to Brighton, what do I think of the state of the West Pier . . ? And I think: “How charming. This man is unbelievably nice.”

But when I listen closely to what he’s actually said, I realise he has been skilfully, adeptly and inexorably steering the conversation away from himself.

The Prince Charles comparison is not so outlandish. This is a man with a large country house, an aristocratic wife and four children who were sent to boarding school. He supports hunting, admits to having right-wing values and makes no secret of his “country gent” tastes.

But Bryan Ferry’s roots are staunchly working class. He comes from Washington, near Durham, where his father was forced to give up life as a farmer and go to work at the local pit.

Ferry said in an interview with The Guardian this year that his childhood wasn’t hard. The family put up with an outside toilet and an old tin bath, but, he added: “It depends how spoilt you are now. We didn’t have a car or a telephone or a fridge. We always felt poor, I guess, but I was never deprived of anything. I just had to go out and work for the extra things.”

The young Ferry would spend his hard-earned cash going up to Newcastle to gawk at the Teddy boys and the mods. He already appreciated the fine cut of a suit – from the age of five he was obsessed with music and style, the twin gods of his life.

But when the Press found out he had sent his sons to Eton, Ferry was barraged with criticism for betraying his poverty-ridden upbringing.

The negative image of the arriviste, the faux aristo, is easy to understand. But has he really come so far from his working-class roots? He’s happy to talk about his early life and seems almost proud of the instilled sound values in him as a dad. Ferry, who still speaks with a Geordie lilt, is proud that his eldest son, Otis, has acquired a Yorkshire accent since he has been living in the North. He sent Otis to Eton – but he’s not expecting him to be a banker. The singer is delighted that, like his granddad, the 17-year-old has a way with horses.

Ferry has also been known to tell stories like the Monty Python “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch. His children laugh at his frugality: “Whenever I tell them to switch the light off when they go out of a room, they fall about laughing.”

He often speaks of his children in interviews, although he skirts delicately around the subject of his long marriage to Lucy Helmore.

He has found combining fatherhood and stardom to be a challenge: “I’ve tried to keep the two fairly separate. Then they see Roxy Music stuff on TV they fall about laughing – they can be the harshest critics in the world. It is quite tricky to get the balance right – but I’ve stumbled through.”

Right now there is a poignancy to Ferry’s thoughts on the perils of being a rockstar dad. I talk to him the week Jerry Hall praised Mick Jagger to the skies after he offered to take care of the kids while she struts the boards naked as Mrs Robinson. Column inches have been lavished on this ironic picture – the ravaged rocker left holding the baby – but Ferry has been doing it for years. He hates to be defined by that infamous break up, so I shy away from asking him about Jerry Hall’s recent graduation to the stage. He has said the break-up was just one year out of his whole life, and he finds the pre-occupation with it disrespectful. But it was a sensational story.

Jerry Hall left Ferry for Mick Jagger, turning down Warren Beatty on the same night. Ferry found out through the Press – and the glamorous Texan model accepted she behaved unforgivably.

Slave To Love – and for a guy whose most famous moment came when he was dumped, this phrase has a particular resonance.

It is perhaps a lazy album – but a great one – with reworkings of classics like Will You Love Me Tomorrow and Falling In Love Again nestling in with Ferry’s own greatest love songs, from Jealous Guy to Slave To Love. There is even an arrangement of Sonnet 18, Shakespeare’s celebrated “Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?” love poem.

Brian Eno plays on one of the tracks. Eno has collaborated with his former Roxy Music partner on several original tracks too, due to be released as a Bryan Ferry album next spring. Ferry says it’s been great working with Eno again: “Oh, it’s been fantastic.”

He doesn’t resent being asked about Roxy Music: “Roxy was where I’ve written most of my tunes and obviously I’ve got a soft spot for my own compositions. I don’t resent the association at all – it was kind of my baby really.”

In fact, this tour is a return to the old material. What started out as agroup of musicians hand-picked to play Thirties’ tunes has proved ideal as a way into the early Roxy Music hits. The band, which includes a string quartet and a set of jazz musicians, has been belting out some of the old classics with a new fervour: “We’ve been able to do some songs that I’ve never done before. We started off doing the delicate stuff, the violin things we did in the middle period of Roxy. Later, we’ve been adding some of the hits like Virginia Plain.”

I can’t wait to see him up on stage, oozing style and crooning the classics. Perhaps then he’ll seem less like my Dad, or Prince Charles, and more like someone whose poster I would have kissed in my early teens.

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