In Every Dreamhome a Heartache - Fri 1st Jan

In Every Dreamhome a Heartache
01 January 1988

From Q Magazine:

Los Angeles. Paris. Nassau. Los Angeles again. Then London. And Paris again. And back to London. Recording is a nerve-wracking schedule - shredding pastime for the itinerant Bryan Ferry. Chris Salewicz was with him every step of the 12 month package tour that eventually produced his new album Bete Noire.

Oh, the gloom and doom and horror of it all How do you tell when someone's having a nervous breakdown? Everything seems to be coming in on top of me, like an immense weight. It's going to take at least another week to finish this ballad. I need some time off before I can finish it."
Bryan Ferry is working on another album. In the course of the next 12 months it will take him from a studio in the South of France, to Nassau's Compass Point, to Los Angeles for a lengthy spell of song-writing, and finally to a series of Parisian recording sessions.
He leans over the top, open half of the split kitchen door, gazing blankly through the dark of the southern Californian evening towards the swimming pool with its broken-down water heater. Ferry points with a chuckle down to the infinite grid-pattern of lights, stretching away to the Pacific. "Perhaps they're there to indicate some hope at the end of the tunnel," he says with an ironic smile.
He turns and paces the tiled kitchen, circling round and round the monolith-like central unit.
"I've got eight songs in various forms of completion. What," he muses, as his nervous energy motors him, "I think I really need to do is to turn them into a musical. That's what I need: a musical, playing to full houses in 12 different cities. I could have the songs sung by eight survivors of an airline crash, in a life-raft on the sea. They'd each tell their own story. Perhaps they could be in the stomach of a whale. That's what audiences go for-surrealism."
Six months later in Paris, in a large but understated corner apartment that Bryan Ferry has rented in the salubrious 16-eme district, he is contemplating the two books that sit on the large coffee table in front of him: The Autobiography Of Surrealism, and The History Of Surrealist Painting (with several pages marked). These books had also been present in LosAngeles. The new LP, Bete Noire, is finally finished; that, and no doubt the week's holiday he has just spent in Morocco, have created an infinitely calmer, more relaxed man than the person residing and working in Los Angeles.
"I kind of like mad things," he smiles about the tomes on the table. "I do like silliness. I like things that are out of the ordinary. I like things that get away from convention a bit. That might seem surprising, but I've always had a kind of rather Dada sensibility," he laughs. "I like reality as well. But I think if you're creating something it's good to do something that has been plucked out of the air.
The four-month sojourn of Bryan Ferry, his wife Lucy and sons Otis and Isaac, in Los Angeles is an attempt to write songs for the new record, some of which already has been recorded at Nassau's Compass Point studio. Ferry is working with, among others, Pat Leonard, Madonna's producer and co-writer, and the former Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr, who co-wrote the first single, The Right Stuff, with Ferry. "Someone at Warners thought it would be a good idea for me to work with Johnny, and sent me a cassette of some of his music. I liked it very much. And when I met him we got on very well. It just went from there. He's very lively. He seems very genuine as well. There's a kind of Northern honesty about the cut of his jib which I like."
The house in which the Ferrys are staying in the Hollywood hills is sizable though discreetly unostentatious. It's a short but steep stroll to its electronically operated gates from Sunset Boulevard, just above the junction with La Cnega.
And the general proceedings could certainly be said to be a little surreal, perhaps typical of Los Angeles (a city that it's become fashionable to laugh at, though Ferry prefers to laugh with it). Although the heater in the swimming pool doesn't work, the payments still have toe found for the man who comes daily to clean for the Mexican who twice weekly vacuums the lawn and waters it even when it is raining; and he cash needs to be uncovered for the two names, one for each son (Bryan and his wife, Lucy, a rather concerned when Otis, the eldest, com, home from the Beverly Hills Montessori school and greets them with the phrase, "Hi .you guys").
In fact, for someone of Bryan Ferry's estimable stature (and record sales), the household does not always seem to be flush with funds. Even though he claims to be not particularly rich, there is the impression that this rather niggling example of life's occasional little difficulties is not a million miles removed from Ferry's split with his manager of 15 years' standing, Mark Fenwick, only the previous week, and subsequent signing with Ed Bicknell, who manages Dire Straits. On the other hand Ferry also has a new contract with Virgin Records for what Bicknell considers a "phenomenally good" deal.
The house is owned by a friend of Ferrie's, an Argentinian yoga teacher. She is also a friend of Eric Idle's, who also stays here when he in Los Angeles there are many phone calls for him to be fielded - and one day a member of the Ferry household finds Idle fast asleep on a sofa This Argentinian woman is presently out of the United States, but Ferry and family are obliged to endure the twice weekly arrival of various organically honed individuals who occupy a large, parquet floor downstairs room and take up meditative and, frankly, rather painful-looking postures. Ferry' solution to these sessions has been to partake of the meditative exercise himself.
As matter of fact, he has probably had little choice but to take up yoga: the room in which the various participants gather is adjacent to that that he uses for songwriting. On the table in the songriting room, as an aid to lyric writing, are couple of the complete works of T. S. Eliot and Marvell. Ferry has read the Peter Ackroyd biography of Eliot. "He's a good writer," he says, and recommends the Ackroyd novel, Hawksmoor.
One evening we watch a video of Bunuel's Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeosie. This (surreal of course) film is one Ferry is rather fond of. "I don't know if it's the confidence of age," he say~ one point, "or simply that one gets used to putting films on fast forward these days, but I often walkout of films now."
then a scene seizes his attention. "My uncle used to have a pony-and-trap just like that."
Bryan Ferry, of course, was brought up in County Durham, in the pit town of Washington. A gifted child, he went to Newcastle University in 1964 to read Fine Art This being the time that it was, and Bryan Ferry being the person that he is it was inevitable that he was a mod. 'No hard-line," he tells me, as the Bunuel film continues on the TV screen. "A cross between that and Ivy League: a sort of William Burroughs look with a tab-collared shirt and a tie. I suppose I was a sort of intellectual mod.
I used to go to this great clothes shop in Newcastle called Marcus Pryce. I knew Marcus, the owner; he was one of the founders of the whole Mod movement. It was always untrue this thing that Mod was just in London. There was another great shop as well called City Style really cheap, a bit more tacky. Marcus Pryce had rcally good schmutter.
"At that time I was living in Newcastle. I mod into a flat there when I became a student- I was there until '68. I used to go to the Club A-Gogo. When people talk about great clubs I always think of that place."
Ferry, in fact, also used to perform at the Club A-Gogo, as singer in his first group, The Gas Board. A certain Gordon Sumner remembers going to see them play on several occasions:
"They were very good. Ferry was just the same as he is now, really." When I tell Bryan Ferry that Sting used to go and watch him he seems surprised at first, then quietly pleased. Then he makes a joke of it: "Yeah, he probably thought, Oh, I can do better than that! But those were heady days, piling impossibly heavy amplifiers into vans. It seems to be a part that's missing now, because people start off in music with technology that is so good that they don't have to go through that."
It's certain that Ferry stood out at university. Though on a student grant he managed to transport himself about the city in a Studebaker. "It only cost sixty quid. It was really just an old banger that you had to push-start. American cars were considered very eccentric then - people were simply not interested in them.
"But I was fascinated by things that were American, particularly by American painters. There was a big American influence at the art school and university - though it was a very select thing, very insular in this seat of learning.
"But we thought we were very cool, and all the others were very square - they were the corduroys and Gauloise-smoking brigade; we were into button-down shirts, The Beach Boys, Jackson Pollock - this much more happening, American thing. And we listened to pop music." (When I meet up with Ferry later in Paris, incidentally, he is wearing a blue three-button suit, a polka-dot tie and a shirt with a frayed collar and unfolded double cuffs hanging loosely out of the sleeves. Mercifully, someone informed me this was deliberate just as I was about to remind him he'd forgotten to put his cufflinks in.)
"Art was just a whole way of life. To interested in every thing around you. Art went through your whole way of life, how you react to a lampshade or. . .1 mean, you didn't actually consciously express this, it was simply the way you measured everything you did: whether you or said did the right thing. This sounds like . . . superficial rubbish," he chuckles, "but that does matter, because for a number of years that was how you lived. When you came across interesting people who you liked you understood what they read and what they said and what they wore, a you sought a similar perfection."
At this time one of Bryan Ferry's most successful paintings was called "Virginia Plain", later title of the first single by Roxy Music. "I think was very lucky to have two chances. I had the opportunity to do something in painting, which I could've done. But I had the nagging feeling that it wasn't quite me, that there was something else that I could do better, and which was more in tune with today. I'm not putting down painting as contemporary form of expression - I just felt was a bit too elitist.
"And it seemed to me that the thing of trying do something which I thought was Art - with small or a big 'A', depending on where you' from - in a popular medium was a real talent. just loved the idea of …", he laughs, almost embarrassed,". . . Art For The People. The idea of doing something that could appear next week on a jukebox seemed much more happening me than working away on a painting that people might see or appreciate.
"Also," he adds, with another light chuckle,' wasn't sure how good I was, and it would ha~ taken me 20 years to find out. Whereas I did feel had some sort of musical force within me although that force wasn't trained, so it was very difficult for it to come out at first. And then it all came out in a rush when it started.
"I remember feeling that For Your Pleasure was a good piece of work. And also, I think, Avalon. Both of them I still quite like. I'm not saying they are better than the others. But there's a certain completeness about them."
Far from being the dilettante dabbler that some still consider him, Bryan Ferry is a consummate, complete artist. As is almost legendary, there is much angst involved in the creation of his work -psychosomatic illnesses, good excuses for avoiding unpalatable chores, can be summoned up within seconds: photo sessions, interviews, signing of contracts - such matters so frequently are put off by one form or another of procrastination, as has been the case since his musical career began, with Roxy Music in 1972.
But there is also much elation. In Paris I see him in a studio working on the new LP, almost visibly glowing with joy as he is totally involved in his work, playing a mixing desk in the most inspired, dedicated manner.
Yet the fact that music is the most abstract art form is behind much of the pain it causes him. "That's why it drives me crazy. It's pretty ephemeral. It's just floating around, and it's very hard to sculpt sound when you can't see it," he laughs. "But when you get it right, it means you can sometimes come up with something rather unusual.
"That's the great thing about modern music -that it's written on tape. So you can hear it again and again, and change things and get the structure right without losing the feeling, because the feeling is the most important thing about music. Also, it's about time, and it's moving all the time, so," his blue eyes glint as he mimes grabbing around him, "you just have to try and catch something out of the air.
"Now this is very different to scoring, which I tend to think is a little old-fashioned. I think if any of your proper composers like," he imitates a luvvable cheeky cockney sparrer, "would be working today, your Mozarts or whoever, I'm sure they'd use modern technology, rather than bits of paper."
Bryan Ferry's supposed fondness for the arcane world of High Society doesn't appear to stem from a desire to be a social climber. Rather he is genuinely attracted, as he says, to things and situations that are out of the ordinary, to which the surrealist within him is drawn. Lucy Helmore, his 26-year-old wife, comes from such a background - a descendant from Irish aristocracy; indeed it is frequently whispered in cafe society conversation that she is the personification of Ferry's supposedly corrupt social aspirations. Needless to say, nothing could be further from the truth: the most striking feature about her is how normal and well-balanced she is. In fact both df them are gracious, considerate and extremely amusing people.
After we have watched Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeosie, Bryan learns that Ry Cooder will shortly begin his second set at a club off Hollywood Boulevard. He is searching for an accordion player to work on the title tune of Bete Noire (the vast majority of modern musicians, it should be noted, would leave the choice up to their producer or manager or, just as likely these days,
steal the desired sounds through sly sampling). As part of the same quest, earlier in the evening he and Lucy have been to see Tango Argentina, a performance by an Argentinian musical troupe. Ry Cooder seems to Ferry to be the sort of person who'd have an accordion in his group, so it's decided to drive down to the club, in the blue Mustang with wire wheels that he's rented.
Tickets for the show are rather expensive. We decide instead to sit in the car, with its top down, in the balmy, carbon monoxide air of the car park, where Cooder's band can be clearly heard. "I can't hear an accordion player," says Bryan, troubled. A new tune begins, clearly featuring an accordion. We jump out of the car and rush inside. On the way in a wino asks Ferry for a dollar for a "cup of coffee". Ferry reaches inside a trouser pocket. He hands the wino a coin. "I won't give you a dollar," he says, "but I'll give you a quarter-that'll help you on your way."
Compared with the performers in Tango Argentina, Ry Cooder's accordion player is disappointing. "I saw Tango Argentina in New York three years ago. I thought then how great it would be to film them. Now it looks as though I'm going to end up recording them." (He d6es.)
After this spell in Los Angeles, Ferry moves to Paris, to continue recording Bete Noire, dropping off in London on the way. As he steps out of the customs area into the main airport concourse he is greeted with a writ that is thrust into his hands. It comes courtesy of the lawyer of his former manager, Mark Fenwick, who is somewhat concerned about being considered Bryan Ferry's former manager. Though such an action is by no means unexpected by Ferry, he finds the arch style of the announcement of the lawsuit to be rather unnecessary. To deal with this, various visits to London are required. Eventually Ferry and Fenwick meet, each accompanied by their lawyers: during the course of the five hour meeting, during which a settlement is arrived at, they speak to each other only through their legal representatives. Ferry, who voices genuine affection for Fenwick, finds this distressing.
A little later, in Paris, the album is finally completed, months behind its original scheduled release date of late May (It is, Ferry's longtime sidekick and former PR Simon Puxley believes, good for Virgin that their first experience of working with Ferry should be "a baptism by fire; they ought to begin as things will continue"). While I was in LA, some concern was being voiced by the senior Virgin hierarchy because Bryan had not managed to quite get round to signing his contract with the label.
The LP includes, as well as Johnny Marr, such musicians as Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour, drummer Andy Newmark (Stones, Roxy Music, ABC), and bassist Guy Pratt. Bete Noire is co-produced by Ferry and Chester Kamen (Nick Kamen's brother, who's worked with Terence Trent D'Arby and Bob Geldof). Also on the record, on tunes like The Right Stuff and New Town, a song Ferry originally began nine years ago, is the voice of the superlative soul singer Paul Johnson. "I was working in some studio," Ferry remembers how he first encountered Johnson, "and bumped into him in the street. I didn't know he was a singer at all. He'd just bought a bag of crisps and was eating them. And we were walking down the street together, and I found he was going into the same set of studios as myself. So I had a listen to what he was doing and thought, This guy's amazing it's comparable with someone like Aretha."
y, I ask him, has this record taken so long? It has equalled the length of time taken to make its superb predecessor, Boys And Girls.
"I also thought it was going to be a very quick record to do," Ferry laughs, "but what seems to be my natural work process now is
to keep re-writing things. I don't really spend a lot of time in preparation, though I remember doing that for the first record I ever did with Roxy Music. Now it seems I spend most of the time in the studio, creating songs from source. I go in with less of a comprehensive idea than I used to. And apart from the fact that it takes a long time, that has its advantages: it means that interesting things can happen, because you never see the song as a fixed thing- it's always changing.
"I always work on all the songs at the same time. I don't finish one, then start another. So I'm constantly moving from song to song: I might be working on 10 songs at the same time."
Does he not feel that by constantly reworking a song, as he has done on both this record and on Boys And Girls, something must vanish from it?
"Well, that's where you win or lose, where your skill or taste or whatever comes into play it's a question of whether you can work on it for a long time without losing that stuff. And if you lose it then you've failed slightly. So I try not to do that."
So consistency of purpose is all.
"Yes. And consistency of mood, because each piece of music is a different mood. You don't quite know what it is, but you know it's something that's there, and you've got to lock into that mood, and try not to lose it. Or if you don't like the mood then you try to alter it and make a better mood. It's all very vague. It's interesting to try and talk about it." he smiles, "but you can't really get anywhere."
Presumably a certain obsessiveness is required.
"Yeah. Which is really a drag, because I'm more of a sprinter, rather than a long-distance runner. So sometimes it's best to go at a song for a short time and retreat, and then go back at it again to always get your best energy out of it. But to get it to fulfil all the expectations you have for it you have to go at it for a long time. Although some things still do happen quickly. The title track of this album, for instance. Not a great deal of time spent on it, which is good because there's a lot of live performance there, which suits that particular song. So it's a little pearl amidst this other stuff which was more laboured in its development, but often more structurally interesting.
"The trouble is, the longer you've been doing it, the more there is to sift through. And you find there are more things to try as well. That's hard thing about longevity of career - you always trying to do something a little bit differ to what you've done already, and that takes timeYou're not just getting an idea for a song recording it straightaway - Wow! That's it! L party! - It's not quite like that.
"And you not only have your own high expectations of yourself, but other people's you too. So there's a pressure both from within yourself and from outside - that kinda pushes you. It's not the same at all as doing a first record where you can do anything because you're a new voice or a new presence on the scene. So you getaway with murder really."
When working with other musicians, he sees himself in a role similar to that of a film director.
"It's really exciting to get someone you think a great player to play something sympathetic to what you've got down on tape. And that's how I generally like to work, just with one person at a time. And he responds to the music that's there. And then somebody else followed by somebody else comes in until you're worrying, Have I too much? Sometimes when that happens it's quite good, because it just becomes this seething mass of writhing, horrible tentacles," he laughs.
"But," he continues, "at other times you have to be on the spot doing it yourself, and that's of the difficult part: trying to evaluate your own performance. That's when you really need other people around who you know and who you trust to say if something is good or terrible Sometimes you're not really sure. Other times you're completely sure and it's great when you know that. But since there are no rules, each day is different, and," says Bryan Ferry with marked understatement, "you have good and bad days".
t here is a working lunch to attend a nearby restaurant, with several executives from Virgin Records who have flown in especially for the meeting.
· The meal is, by all accounts, a continuation of the company's baptism fire in respect to Ferry. He tells them, among otherthings,that, as he is so into the spirit recording now, he would like to go straight hi to the studio and begin work on the second album for Virgin. So, he suggests, there may not be I much time available to promote this one. The Virgin party begin to look a little nervous.
But if there's one thing that Bryan Ferry detests with even more vigour than promotion, it's touring. No shows were performed to back up Boys And Girls, although you could perhaps count Live Aid at which he performed a somewhat lacklustre set backed by a formidable array "name" musicians. All the same, at this lunch one of the enthusiastic Virgin employees makes the foolish error of inquiring as to when intends to go on the road to help sell the record.
Bryan Ferry's response is to act as though the question has not even been asked. He simply turns to the person next to him at the restaurant table, and talks about something else entirely.

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