The Daily Mail NOVEMBER 27, 2009 - by Adrian Thrills


He has been dubbed the Coolest Living Englishman and, when fronting Roxy Music in the '70s, he changed the way that rock groups presented themselves for good.

Thankfully, an immaculately groomed Bryan Ferry doesn't disappoint when he strolls into his London headquarters, with a scarf slung jauntily around his stylish black jacket.

The singer grew up in the mining town of Washington, near Newcastle, but today he looks every inch the lord of his adopted manor, a plush studio and office complex in West London.

This is sixty-four-year-old Ferry's "factory".

It is his pied-a-terre, and it was his decision to adorn the walls with iconic photos of Marilyn Monroe and jazz greats Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, bringing to mind the words of the interior designer Nicky Haslam, who once commented that Ferry, unlike most rock stars, was more likely to redecorate a hotel room than trash it.

And, as he looks up at a black-and-white picture of Marilyn behind his grand piano, the former art student muses that his love of glamour can be traced back to his working-class roots.

"I was very impressionable as a child," he tells me. "I loved the cinema and I spent a lot of time watching stars like Monroe, Grace Kelly and Rita Hayworth.

"The coalfields of Durham have a certain beauty, and I love returning there, but my upbringing was quite unglamorous.

"Those Hollywood icons seemed to promise a different world, and I felt as if I was being beckoned to go somewhere else.

"I think Roxy Music did the same for our fans. We were always very popular in the big, Northern industrial heartlands, in cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow.

"We had a blue- collar audience who wanted to be taken out of themselves, to dress up and feel a part of something special.'

Raising a quizzical eyebrow, the singer - wry but surprisingly shy - adds a note of caution: "People think I wake up in the morning and put on a tuxedo, but I can assure you I don't. If you ask what I wear around the house, though, I'd point out that I am around the house now. I have a flat upstairs - these are my working clothes."

The singer has invited me over to talk about a career-spanning album and DVD, The Best Of Bryan Ferry. Out this week, it charts his rollercoaster solo ride from the hits of the '70s and '80s through to 2007's Dylanesque, an album of Bob Dylan covers.

Ferry's earliest solo forays, he tells me, were made simply to give him a break from Roxy, who had already released two ground-breaking albums (their self-titled debut and For Your Pleasure) by the time he took his solo bow with These Foolish Things, a lively, occasionally kitsch take on songs made famous by Dylan, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones among others.

"It was never my intention to start a different career," he says, his accent still bearing traces of his North-Eastern roots. "At first, I just wanted to have fun.

"As a writer, I'd made a statement with Roxy Music, and I wanted to do something different to For Your Pleasure. That album was quite dark.

"I wanted to make a record that wasn't so melancholic. Music doesn't always have to be serious. Without being crass, it's nice to inject a little English humour."

Ferry tried to draw a line between his solo career and Roxy Music, a rock group whose music and clothes were futuristic at a time when most other bands were still strumming acoustic guitars and wearing jeans and T-shirts.

But his two careers usually ran in tandem, leading to the kind of workload that would make most of today's singers blanche.

"For years, we didn't do anything apart from tour and record. In 1973, I made three albums and toured twice. I marvel when I look back and see how busy we were. Now, I have more of a life.

"I love working, but I try to set aside a part of the day for work and leave the rest free for other things."

Ferry's solo career really took off after Roxy went into hibernation following 1982's Avalon. His 1985 album Boys And Girls topped the charts and also spawned one of his biggest hits in Slave To Love.

The following decade brought greater change.

The singer, who had previously dated model Jerry Hall, married Lucy Helmore in 1982 (they divorced in 2003) and settled into a more domesticated life, helping to raise the couple's four sons, political activist Otis, Isaac (now Bryan's manager), Tara (now his drummer) and Merlin.

On an artistic level, things weren't so healthy - 1994's Mamouna took five years and a huge budget to complete; at the last count, it featured a total of a hundred-and-twelve musicians.

"It was a confused period, partly because I wasn't doing any live work," says Ferry. "Sometimes you go through low periods creatively, and that was a time of soul-searching."

Two pivotal incidents snapped the singer out of his torpor.

Already shocked by the unexpected death of one of his closest friends, former Roxy Music press officer Simon Puxley, Ferry then found himself embroiled in mid-air drama when he and his family were caught up in the attempted hijack of a British Airways jumbo flying from Gatwick to Nairobi.

Although the hijacker, a Kenyan student, was eventually overpowered, the BA plane plunged ten-thousand feet before control was regained.

"A lot of things happened around the same time, and they made me more aware of my own mortality," says Bryan. "It made me want to get on with things.

"I was very close to Simon and his death was shattering. I don't think the incident on the flight had as much of an impact, but it must have made me realise I still had a lot of work to do."

Whatever the spur, Ferry has rediscovered much of his old drive. He reformed Roxy Music for a triumphant UK tour in 2001 and has played festivals with the band.

With his greatest hits album now in the shops, a new solo record - featuring contributions from his former Roxy colleague Brian Eno - will be out in 2010.

As for Roxy Music, Ferry is keen to keep the flame flickering, although any further reunions seem destined to be onstage.

"I don't think we'll record as Roxy again," he says. "We went into the studio after the 2001 reunion. We fiddled around a bit, but then I went off to make another solo record.

"But it would be great to do some more Roxy Music concerts, although I don't think Eno will be involved. He hasn't been part of the band since 1973, but he and I work together in other capacities.

"As you get older, life becomes busier, but there are still so many possibilities. I'm trying to be as productive as I can. It's been great to get some of my focus back."