Ferry Nice : ivenus Irish Tatler - Thu 28th Oct

Ferry Nice : ivenus Irish Tatler
28 October 1999

He may not have had too many high profile hit singles lately, but at 54 he's still considered by many to be sex on a stick

The best piece of advice ever given to 54-year-old Bryan Ferry came from his father, a Durham farmhand turned miner: "Don't go down the pits, lad." It was paternal advice that Ferry took very seriously, studiously avoiding the inevitable outcome of hard labour in unforgiving circumstances. Instead, he undertook a career curve very much at odds with such a distinct working class background. Much to the initial surprise of his parents (but to their eventual pride), he began to take a deep interest in art, steeping himself in its meanings, codes and ethics. For his pains, Ferry, along with David Bowie, became the most influential pop star of his generation. He captured pop and art in a time bubble and called the unit Roxy Music. Then he burst the bubble by going solo.

Otherworldly, current and relevant
The need to succeed artistically, as opposed to selling millions of records, is the fundamental rationale behind Ferry's work. His academic background as an artist (he studied Fine Art at Newcastle University) enabled him to bring a strident visual sensibility to pop music. After a short tenure as a schoolteacher, he formed Roxy Music in 1971. The basic tenets of Pop Art - the appropriation and manipulation of popular culture images - were foremost in his unfeasibly comely head. Coupling these with a love of Fifties rock'n' roll, Velvet Underground and Electronica, Roxy Music was the first British rock group who looked as much to the future as to the past. Even today, their early material sounds otherworldly, current and relevant.

The ultimate post-modern crooner
Although Roxy Music finally split in 1982 (following a temporary hiatus in the late Seventies), Ferry had been nurturing a solo career as far back as 1973. His debut album of that year, These Foolish Things, was a huge success for him, and effectively started the by-now widespread trend of cover version projects by rock stars. The stylish album cover also launched Ferry as rock music's Mr Handsome Bastard - a lounge lizard figure with a voice made in heaven, looking resplendent in white dinner jacket and cummerbund. He came across like a time-warped iconic rock version of Humphrey Bogart and Bing Crosby - the ultimate crooner. It was, and remains, a defining image albeit one that has dogged the singer ever since.

Pacing himself
In reality, it's been all change for quite some time. Ferry's marriage to society heiress Lucy Helmore in 1982 and his fatherly responsibilities (he has four sons, all down for Eton, naturally) might not have allowed him the necessary time to devote his energies to writing more bleak and bitterly romantic songs, but it has chipped away at the perceived image of him as one of rock music's more eligible bachelors. Back in the Seventies, Ferry's rarefied tastes in beautiful models (one of whom was Jerry Hall) and all aspects of the good life were rarely out of the gossip columns. It was, he admits, a flamboyant mixture of the high and low life, a period when he met the most unlikely people and had the most brilliant of times. These days, Ferry is more content and stable, relating marriage and domesticity as possibly unconscious desires to pace himself.

Of pipes and comfort
"Your world changes," he once said. "You've got to feel more self-confident and assured. You have to otherwise you'll blow away. I like having the anchor of my family, but not necessarily the responsibilities. As you grow older, you find much more of your parents in yourself. I laugh at the antics of my children - exactly like my dad. Except I don't have a pipe." Bryan Ferry with a pipe? Perish the thought.

Bryan Ferry plays Dublin's Olympia theatre as part of the Heineken Green Energy Festival on Saturday 29 April.

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