"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Sunday Times JUNE 18, 2006 - by Jasper Gerard
ME AND MY MOTORS: BRYAN FERRY
Bryan Ferry, sixty, who once described himself as an orchid born on a coal tip, grew up on a council estate in Washington, Tyne and Wear. He worked as a pottery teacher in London before forming Roxy Music, one of the most influential bands of the 1970s. In 1975 he began an affair with Jerry Hall who left him for Mick Jagger two years later. He has four sons - including the hunting activist Otis - from his twenty-year marriage to Lucy Helmore with whom he broke up in 2003. He lives in Sussex.
It is thirty-four years since Roxy Music swaggered and swooned to stardom with Virginia Plain. Where my Studebaker takes me, declared the quavering voice of Bryan Ferry. That's where I'll make my stand... And Ferry, who has reformed the great Roxy Music for an album and a concert at next month's British International Motor Show, is very much still standing. Which is probably more than can be said for the Studebaker that inspired the hit: It cost sixty-five pounds, my entire student grant. I spent more time pushing than driving it. For Ferry even then style was more important than engines - who needs horsepower if you have pulling power? The girls were very impressed, he laughs. It was no looking back.
But musically Ferry has been looking back. The big news is that Brian Eno has been tempted back into the band, providing two songs and keyboard playing for their forthcoming album, their first since 1982. Even by the history of rock with its notorious musical differences, Ferry and Eno long made Cain and Abel look like bosom buddies. In 1973 Ferry stormed off stage vowing never to appear with Eno again after the virtuoso drowned Ferry's vocals in an electronic sea of sound.
Now Ferry puts the dispute down to youthful egos. He contributed to a couple of my solo projects recently and we got on really well. It felt right to ask him, though he will not tour with us as he does not enjoy playing live. So now Roxy have re-formed, will it be a case of Let's Stick Together? Oh, I doubt it, Ferry laughs. I expect we will fall out again and not speak for another twenty years. No, he corrects himself, we got on fine.
It is fitting Roxy should play at the motor show: the car, taking Ferry to impossibly glamorous parties or on lovelorn drives, has long been a Roxy theme. But in real life this most languid of rock gods turns out to be a bit of a boy racer.
The reason I got to London in double quick time (from his house in Sussex) is I drove far too fast for the speed to appear in a newspaper, he smiles. Still, he is more careful than in his youth. I remember coming out of the Speakeasy in Mayfair, a club for rock'n'roll sorts, late one morning. Hendrix used to go there and it was pretty wild. I climbed into a borrowed Triumph Spitfire and immediately had an accident. I spun round so many times I remember thinking 'I'm dead', but to my surprise I found myself still alive and pointing the right way, so I thought I may as well carry on.
Ferry collects everything from Bloomsbury art to international musicians, so it is no surprise he has plenty of motors. Today he is in an Audi A8 W12, provided courtesy of the manufacturer. The best car I have ever driven. I also have a Bentley Continental GT but I prefer the Audi for its performance, while it also shares a similar look to the Bentley. I'm far more interested in aesthetics than engines. In London I drive one of the new Minis: it has become impossible driving a big car in town. But probably my favourite, which I love driving in the country at weekends, is an old Land Rover.
One can imagine him re-creating the Country Life look in tweeds. Oh no, not at all, he says, jeans and rolled-up sleeves. And to prove that he can't be pigeonholed, he says he also has a Corvette: I like to go against expectations.
Indeed. Apart from a Bentley in velvet green, he suggests the car of which he was most fond was a Morris Traveller. I had several Morrises, including a convertible. The wooden Traveller was beautiful. I loved just pottering around the country in it.
While many bands in the early 1970s toured in Bedford vans, the art school boys of Roxy insisted on Daimler limousines. Sadly you never see them now, but they were great, he says. We used to get up to all sorts of pranks in them.
A few years back Ferry, sixty, was written off as a performer, but after two acclaimed solo albums and his decision to revive Roxy Music, he is back with a bang. I just love working. Now I do gigs even if I don't have an album to sell.
Will the new album be a throwback to the avant-garde heyday beloved of the cognoscenti, or to their later molto-mellow Avalon period? Roxy has always been so varied it doesn't really have a style, says Ferry. There will be a bit of everything. Some songs will hark back to the early stuff. It's a celebration of everything myself, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera and Paul Thompson have done. Even Eno! So how long will he continue to Do The Strand? He laughs: Hopefully, like Duke Ellington, for ever. But for a showman Ferry has always been diffident. Only lately, he says, has he felt relaxed on stage. I'm much more comfortable now. I was never a natural.
As he signs off, he says: Hope to see you at the motor show. When I explain my wife has organised a ghastly social event that evening and my absence could result in divorce, he laughs. Oh well, says the man who made a career singing about love and leaving, and who had to pay ten million pounds in a divorce settlement, I could give you all sorts of advice on that, too. No longer a Slave To Love.
On His CD Changer
Gnarls Barkley make a beautiful sound and Crazy is a great song. And if you like Roxy Music you will like Arcade Fire, a Canadian art school band who have this terrific adrenaline rush.
Roxy Music will perform at the British International Motor Show in London on Saturday July 22.