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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Irish Times AUGUST 28, 2010 - by Kevin Courtney
READY TO ROXY
Bryan Ferry's latest album has all the hallmarks of a Roxy Music record, and as he prepares to reunite his old band at Electric Picnic, he tells Kevin Courtney about how he's still loving the rock and roll life.
When Paul McCartney sang When I'm Sixty-Four, he probably didn't have someone like Bryan Ferry in mind. He certainly didn't envisage the life being enjoyed by the Roxy Music singer, which routinely involves him attending fabulous parties and holidaying in exotic locations, girlfriend half his age by his side. That's why we like Bryan Ferry - he's living the life we've often guiltily dreamed of living, and he does it with such panache and elan, we forgive him for flaunting it.
There was a time, however, when Ferry was bound for the life of the settled country squire, kids grown up and flown the nest, and nothing left to do but tend to the drainage in the lower field. But the end of his twenty-one-year marriage to socialite Lucy Helmore meant that Ferry has deferred his dotage for a while longer. Since the couple split, Ferry has been snapped out and about with a string of young and beautiful girlfriends - it's like he's reliving his old life in Roxy Music, when he serial-dated the cover models on the band's album sleeves (including Playboy playmate Marilyn Cole and models Amanda Lear and Jerry Hall). Earlier this month, the paparazzi snapped him relaxing on the beach at Pampelonne near St Tropez with his current girlfriend, twenty-eight-year-old Amanda Sheppard, who he has been dating since 2008. Tut, tut, scolded the tabloids - you're old enough, etc and so on. Attaboy, muttered a million envious blokes - you're only as young, etc and so on.
Ferry shrugs it all away with a dismissive laugh. "You can't go anywhere these days. Can't even sneak off for a three-day holiday."
Ferry's an old hand at deflecting questions about his playboy lifestyle and turning the conversation around to his day job, which involves making records and singing with a certain legendary band who, in their day, revolutionised pop by introducing elements of art, the avant-garde and good old-fashioned showbiz. He's pleasant, eager to chat, but it's clear he's at the helm of the conversation, and he'll steer it in whatever direction he wants it to go. Perhaps it's because he doesn't want to be led into a trap, as he felt he was in 2007 when a journalist in Germany got him to comment on the merits of Nazi art and architecture. He described the resulting worldwide controversy as "Kafkaesque". He needn't worry, though: I'm not about to ask this Conservative voter and Countryside Alliance supporter to spout Republican slogans. Still, it can't be all that bad being Bryan Ferry - like being James Bond, except with paparazzi taking shots at you.
"Some of it's very nice, I do admit, but I do also like to work. I like to create things. And in the evening I like to go out, cos it's nice to go out and relax in the evening. But every time I go out, I always get photographed. It's not so bad in New York, but in London it's very closely monitored what you do. But I don't mind that now. I've sort of got used to it, but I do like to work, and a lot of work has gone into this album, not just from me, but from all the other people that are on it."
When he's not beavering away on his new album Olympia (which has been in the making for the past eight years) or lounging on the Med with his young lady friend, he's touring the world with his old muckers in Roxy Music, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay. When the band headlines Electric Picnic on Friday night, there'll be more than one generation of fans clamouring for such early avant-glam tunes as Re-Make/Re-Model, Ladytron and Editions Of You, and later cocktail-smoothie hits as Oh Yeah, Over You and Avalon.
At one stage, Ferry's new album was slated to become the first new Roxy Music record since Avalon. In 2005, fan sites were abuzz with rumours; when Ferry went into the studio with long-departed member Brian Eno, the buzz became a swarm of speculation. But although Olympia does feature nearly every original member of Roxy Music, it's firmly a Bryan Ferry album.
"At a certain point I thought, maybe I'll turn this into a Roxy album, and then I thought twice about it and didn't do that. Although Andy and Phil and even Brian Eno guested on it. It's always good to work with [Eno], and of course he's no stranger to Ireland because he always goes over there to work with U2, doesn't he?"
Happily, the other guys in Roxy weren't too disappointed at not getting equal billing. "I think they're very pleased that I've gone on tour with them this year. I promised last year that I would do some festivals with them this year, although it's been tricky getting some of the different things to work together; for instance, while they were doing the first rehearsals for this summer's concerts, I was still mixing the album. So I jumped in at the last minute and did the first concert, which was very good. And the one we did in Belgium the other day was just as good. I'm hoping it's going to be equally good for the Picnic."
While Roxy Music fans may just have to wait another eternity for that much-vaunted reunion album to materialise, there's no doubt that Olympia carries on in the vein of Avalon and such Ferry solo albums as Bête Noire. Besides the members of Roxy Music, the album's guests include Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You Can Dance, Alphaville, Heartache By Numbers (co-written with Scissor Sisters) and Tender Is The Night are not just radio-friendly - they're radio-seducing. The album features two covers, Traffic's No Face, No Name, No Number and Tim Buckley's Song To The Siren. As with many of Ferry's cover versions, the choices lean a little bit to the left of expectations. "I enjoy doing other people's songs. I always try and do my version of it, that reflects me and the way I feel about the song. The song's got to speak to you. I always like to choose songs that have some sort of haunting quality that reaches out to me."
When Ferry heads out clubbing in St Tropez with his young lady partner, he'll probably be moving to his own song, You Can Dance. The DJ might also spin Shameless, a song he co-wrote with Groove Armada. "That whole dance scene, it's kind of different from what I do, but there are some similarities. Some of the early Roxy Music things I did had the same kind of hypnotic quality about them, things like The Bogus Man, which I think people from that world would like."
Ferry seems comfortable dealing with both sides of the generation gap. His son Isaac sorts out his twelve-inch remixes, and doesn't seem to mind that dad's dating his friend Amanda Sheppard. Another son, Tara, plays drums on the album, and Tara's friend, twenty-three-year-old guitarist Olly Thompson (no relation to original Roxy drummer Paul Thompson) is a full-time touring member of Roxy Music. And, given Ferry's past reputation for bedding his album cover models, the presence of one Kate Moss on the cover of Olympia has set a few tongues wagging.
"I normally use unknown women - it's nice to discover girls for that kind of thing. But this time I thought it would be a good idea to ask Kate, cos she's a great femme fatale of our era. And it turns out she was delighted to do it, she was a big fan of the music, and it worked out fantastic. One of the inspirations for it is the painting that's called Olympia, painted by Manet in the nineteenth century, and it's a picture I've always been very fond of. It was kind of an early pin-up, really, of this beautiful woman lying on a bed; it's an early prototype for the Roxy covers, if you like.
"I do have great hopes for the album, the only snag is there aren't any record shops left. So I might be selling them in the street from a barrow when I get over to Dublin."
Olympia is out on October 22. Roxy Music play the main stage at Electric Picnic on Friday, September 3.