When I told a mate during the week I was going to see Bryan Ferry he responded with a simple: “Jesus lad,” and an emoji somewhere between sad and bewilderment. He followed it up with: “You wearing a tuxedo?”
The tuxedo in question has been hanging over Ferry since 1974 and his first solo album Another Time, Another Place, with its cover of Ferry in a white tux at an outdoor pool, looking impossibly suave even though he’s holding a cigarette that’s been smoked down to the butt. But this carefully-crafted smooth persona — and the odd Marks and Spencer ad — glosses over the fact that Ferry’s back catalogue is littered with art-rock subversion.
Most of Ferry’s wild experimentalism is behind him, but his legacy was sealed instantly as leader and chief songwriter of Roxy Music — one of the most influential bands in rock history. From 1972-82, Roxy Music emerged as a more elegant and refined version of glam. The sleeves of their first two albums, Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure, may have displayed preening feathers and leopard print, but they transcended glam rock’s pub rock riffs and clumsy dress-up. Ferry, along with Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay, Paul Thompson and Brian Eno on synths and effects, brought a sophistication and archness to the charts, rivalling David Bowie for experimentation on early tracks like Virginia Plain, Ladytron, Do the Strand and the dark curtain-twitching masterpiece In Every Dream Home a Heartache.
Fabled ‘creative differences’ meant Eno left in 1973, leaving Ferry to steer the good ship Roxy into smoother waters. He gradually chipped away the avant-garde edges on albums like Stranded and Country Life, before 1980’s Flesh + Blood and their swansong Avalon that sounds like velvet fluttering through the speakers.
The sumptuous production on Avalon has carried through Ferry’s later albums, and his 2014 album Avonmore is a smouldering late career highlight, and it could be his last for quite a while. In a 2015 Uncut interview, he said “I don’t write often… if there’s something happening I like the sound of, I’ll record it, then I might listen to it a month later or a year or two later.”
The old lounge lizard is thankfully more at home on stage these days, and he was even at the Olympia in April. Expect a run through every era, including the oddball Roxy Music cuts and a few piano numbers for a bit of a breather. And at 72, he can still Do The Strand as good as a slinky siren half his age.