Bryan Ferry 'I quite like being a foreigner...' - Fri 25th Dec

Bryan Ferry "I quite like being a foreigner…”
25 December 1987

Bryan Ferry's new album
'Bete Noire' was supposed to take three or four months. In the end it took him two years and most of the way round the world ...

Bryan Ferry is a concerned man. His country property in Sussex has been ravaged by the recent hurricane and he's not yet had the time to visit and assess the damage to his beloved 200 year old trees. Nor will he: the nomad's lifestyle reckons again with a two-week European promo trip starting tomorrow.
Ferrv has lived in several countries over the 18 months that it's taken to create Bete Noire', his latest album, and the psyche of the displaced person suifaces occasionally on the record.
Oddly enough, in our interview Ferry rarely refers to himself in the first person, preferring to put some distance between Bryan Ferry the recording artist, and Bryan Ferry the person.
The man many have called a style leader is slightly dishevelled when we speak, being

forced to sit and concentrate, rather than rushing around packing up which is what he was doing when we were introduced.

You appear to have led a nomadic existence over the past two years while making the 'Bete Noire' album. Why was that?
"I wanted to try working in some different places, and it's always good to put yourself in a foreign situation, especially if you know the studios in London as well as I do. So I
worked in Paris a lot, which is interesting.
'~But it's got to the stage now in recording where a lot of the equipment is so universal, so standardised, that you could be anywhere once you get inside that room. You could be in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, London, anywhere.
'I did a lot of pre-production and writing in LA with Patrick Leonard who works with Madonna a lot. I wanted to try and (10 some co-writing with other people, to get some fresh moods in there just slight changes of chord structures and things like that that you get from working with somebody else. The previous album Boys And Girls' had been a very intense, personal one, and I wanted this one to be a little more open. A bit more dynamic.
"So I did those things with Pat, and
Johnny Marr, who was with The Smiths at ~

A L L S T A R C H R S T M A S S S L t 23

I' that time. Someone sent me a tape of the things he had done and I got very excited about one of them and did a version of it. And he came down and played on it and we got on really well. Hopefully we'll do more things together next year.
"He's very different from Pat. Pat is a whizz keyboard player and programmer with ten synthesisers linked up, a hi-tech studio type artist, and Johnny is just a turu-on~hisguitar-and-go type of player, which is great. He's a very good 'feel' player, as are all the people I like to work with.
"And I wrote another song with Chester Kamen and Guy Pratt. Chester is a guitarist I did Live Aid with. He played a lot on 'Boys And Girls' - he's got a brother called Nick Kamen who's a singer. Guy Pratt is a young bass player from London who's out on tour with Pink Floyd at the moment, going round the big stadiums in America and doing very well apparently.
"So it was an interesting nucleus of young English players and also some American musicians involved. A wide range of people.
"On the title track 'Bete Noire' I ended up working with some players from Buenos Aires, from a tango troupe called Tango Argentina. I'd seen them three years ago in New York just by accident. I was looking through the New York Times for some movie to go to or something, and there was this little ad saying 'Tango Argentina tonight - fresh from their triumph in Paris'. And I thought, this looks like the sort of silly thing that I should go and see. I went and it was really great. Two years later I saw them in LA and asked them to come and play on that song.
"It was a great musical experience. They were off on tour somewhere else the next day, so we had to finish it that night: it was after midnight when we got started, and I guess we finished about two in the morning. Usually I work with musicians one by one but this was done live in the studio.
"None of these guys speaks English -they're all about sixty years old and really intuitive players."
Is the track 'New Town' based on a particular town?
"No, not really. Part of it I started eight years ago when we were doing 'Manifesto', so the chorus has a strange chord sequence, the sort of thing I used to write more often I think. It's something I had on cassette which I kept pulling out every year and saying, I must try and finish this.
"I'm pleased to say I got it to work on this album, and it's turned out to be one of the best things I think. It has a great guitar solo by Neil Hubbard. He's played with me for about ten years now - he's one of the least known people I work with, and one of the most important.
"Paul Johnson sings on that song. He's a new singer who I met by accident in the street in London. I was chatting away to him and didn't realise he was a singer. I was
~'l like a good laugh, but I'm not sure it comes out in the music. You try not be too serious all the time..."

going into this studio and he was going in there as well. So I said I'd come and listen to what he was doing, walked into this room and there was this wonderful . . . like Aretha Franklin in there, this wonderful range he's got. He also sings on 'Right Stuff'."
Do you reach a point sometimes where you've worked on an album so long, you think, God when is it going to be put out? Or is there someone who makes the decision for you and says that's enough?
"No. It helps if there's somebody there to put the pressure on, especially when you should finish. When I first started the thing I was hoping to do it in three or four months, but as you get into it you become more obsessed with how good you can make it and you just try and push each song as far as it will go.
"With this album I reached a point where I had a final deadline where if I missed it hy one day even it would have delayed the album until next year, which I couldn't face. So I had to sing the title track on the Saturday, mix it on the Sunday and master it, cut it and put it onto disc on the Monday." When you were doing all this travelling for the album were your family travellingwith you?
"Yes, most of the time. We were based in Paris - we're still based there at the moment. Before that we were in LA for six months. It just seemed it was the last time I could travel around like that, with a family, because it's getting to school age, believe it or not, and I guess we'll have to start putting some roots down somewhere.

"You hope you are famous for the right things, for your music rather than image...
"It could be in England, I don't know yet. I'm open to offers (laughs). I quite like being a foreigner. There's a kind of freedom or detachment that you get if you're living in a place you're not from. You can be a part of it some of the time and then stand back and be an observer.
"It gets easier to travel around in one's life and live in a fairly international way. That's one thing you can do in music I suppose.
The way people perceive Bryan Ferry has changed quite a lot over the years. How important is the image side of things to you now?
"I think much less important than it ever was. It's comforting in a way: you hope that you are famous for the right things, for your music rather than anything else. You're not in a position where you can tell anybody what to wear any more (laughs).
"In the early days in Roxy obviously we were on tour a fair bit so there was more visual emphasis there because we were performing a lot. Now it's not something you think about so much. You try and make sure that your tie's on straight and that's about it."
Has your sense of humour changed much?
"I hope not."
It's still fairly ironic?
"I'm not sure. I guess it's like a Northern English sense of humour. It's sometimes a bit dry. I think irony plays a fair part in it. I like to have a good laugh (laughs).
"I'm not sure it comes out in the music as much as it did. You try not to be too serious all the time."
You seem to be fairly contented at the moment. Or is that a mistaken assumption?
"I think I'm a bit tired (laughs). It's quite a nervous time now, when you've just finished a record and you're waiting to see how it's going to he received by people.
What makes you angry?
"I think pollution, ecological things tend to make me mad a bit. Perhaps that's because for the past ten years I've been based in the country and you become a bit more conservation minded. Sometimes on a fairly small scale - destruction of the English countryside, hedgerows, factory farming and these sort of things.
"I've never written songs about this - my lyric content tends to be more personal things. You always try to match the mood of the music, and a lot of the time the music I do is emotional.
"That's why I always like to play with musicians who are intuitive 'feel' players
- and then at the same time you try and structure it and bring your intelligence to bear on it as well. So you always try and find the right line between the rawness and how you order it, without over-refining it.
"What makes me mad is when the phones don't work." E

Previous Article | Next Article