Ferry Tale - Thu 19th Feb

Ferry Tale
19 February 2004

Ferry Tale
By Alfie Lee

for The Strait Times

Despite being in the music business for 32 years, Bryan Ferry still has many reasons to be on a high note. He performs at Suntec City tomorrow

BRYAN FERRY, music's perennial slave to love, is feeling upbeat.

On the phone from Brisbane, Australia, where he is enjoying 'perfect holiday weather', the 59-year-old singer sounds nothing like the image he has cultivated through 32 years in the music business.

For someone who has been dubbed by the press as the Coolest Living Englishman, he sounds positively cheery.

The former frontman and chief songwriter of legendary band Roxy Music will be performing at Suntec City tomorrow. And he seems genuinely excited at the prospect.

'It's great, I'm really looking forward to it,' he gushes.

Ferry is famous for his distinctive brand of sensual white soul, his coolly dramatic delivery and immaculate sense of style.

Darkly brooding, he is Lord Byron, by way of Bogart, with his lock of hair hanging over elegant features, a wisp of cigarette smoke rising through recurring themes of loss, heartache and longing in songs like Roxy Music's Avalon and his 1985 solo hit Slave To Love.

He readily admits to being inclined towards the melancholic.

'I've always been drawn to sad music, right from when I was 10 years old when I first heard the blues on the radio,' he says.

'That's what brought me into music. Even now, it's always the sad, haunting melodies that touch me most.'

So, it comes as a surprise to find the interview punctuated with proclamations of 'Things are great!', 'It's going well!', 'It's good!', and regularly broken by easy laughter.


FOR 30 years now, Ferry has been considered the epitome of male cool. He has been variously known as the Godfather of Style and, infamously, The Sultan of Suave.

Perhaps all this has to do with the fact that he had worked at a tailor shop when he was a boy, and later studied art at Newcastle University under British Pop Art pioneer Richard Hamilton.

With his well-cut suits and lounge-lizard slink, more at home in Casablanca than Woodstock, he was tailor-made to raise the ante on the image side of the music business in the 1970s.

This was when, as he recalls, 'there was no MTV, and not much visual awareness'.

'I was playing around with different images and I liked the irony of wearing a dinner jacket while playing rock 'n' roll,' he says.

His appeal and longevity in the fickle music industry though are more than just skin deep.

He is a highly-respected songwriter and major musical influence for acts such as Duran Duran in the 1980s and Blur and Suede in the 1990s.

While lyrically he has never wandered far from his favoured theme of heartache, musically, it is a different story.

With Roxy Music, and as a solo artist, he has spanned the range from progressive art rock to disco, to 1930s swing jazz to the lush, atmospheric elegies to love that he is most famous for.

But despite three decades of songwriting under his belt, he still hopes to accomplish one more feat - an instrumental album.

'I realise that I spend most of my time in the studio creating the instrumental backdrops, rather than singing. I would like to try to do an instrumental album one day.'

But he's quick to add: 'I'm keeping that for the day I lose my voice. Because I love singing.'


BY HIS own account, the father of four sons has plenty of reasons to be happy these days.

He even seems to have put aside the problems he faced during his acrimonious divorce in March last year from wife and former model Lucy Helmore, 43, because of her alleged adultery.

Musically, though, he is on a high.

In 2001, he enjoyed a successful sell-out reunion tour with Roxy Music, going on the road with his old cronies, guitarist Phil Manzanera, saxophonist Andy Mackay and drummer Paul Thompson.

'From the beginning of the rehearsals, it felt very exciting. The chemistry was very good,' he remembers.

The buzz among Roxy Music fans, of course, is that the tour is just one small step to a studio release.

To this, he dangles the carrot: 'There is a chance for us to get back in the studio, I would like to do some writing with Phil and Andy again.'

On top of the success of the reunion tour, he is still riding high on the release of his 11th solo studio album, the critically acclaimed Frantic in 2002.

It sees his return to form.

On it, he explores territories he knows well: the bitter and the sweet of love and love lost, the emotional throes of ennui and the emptiness after the thrill of it all.

Of note is Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's contribution to the haunting Hiroshima.

'I think Radiohead is really good. Jonny's a very good player and quite a humble guy, and quite shy. He is a real find.'

He also admits to liking the work of Beck, The White Stripes and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And this may come as a shock to fans.

He says: 'I also like listening to some of the hip-hop music, like Dr Dre. Some of the rhythmic things the hip-hop artists do are really good.'


HE IS now travelling with a 10-piece band that includes Roxy Music drummer Thompson.

It is a world tour that will take him through New Zealand before arriving in Singapore.

He promises a dynamic concert which will include a wide selection from both his solo work and the Roxy Music oeuvre, including crowd pleasers Casanova and George Harrison's Let's Stick Together.

This is his second visit to Singapore since the Mamouna tour in 1996, where he played at the Harbour Pavilion.

'I'm really looking forward to it. Musically, everything's been going really well the last few years.'

Here, he pauses, as if uneasy with the feeling, before going on: 'I've been enjoying touring and I think it's good for me to get out, to see the people who like my music. I'm very excited about coming to Singapore.'

Over the phone, you can almost hear the Englishman drop his cool and smile.

Alfie Lee is a freelance photographer and publisher of quarterly fashion magazine monster construction.

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