Sydney Morning Herald FEBRUARY 25, 2011 - by Michael Dwyer


Bryan Ferry traded paint for music long ago but each album and tour is a new canvas.

Kate Moss doesn't get out of bed for peanuts. For Bryan Ferry, though, the alabaster supermodel couldn't wait to get into one. "Give me red lips, I want to be a Roxy girl!" she screamed, according to the photographer who shot her on linen sheets for the cover of Ferry's latest album Olympia.

Purists will, of course, note the distinction between Ferry's solo forays and the rare Roxy Music reunions, such as the one that brings him to Melbourne next week.

But in whatever company, the singer's trademark pop-art glamour aesthetic has been a constant since he switched from paintbrushes to rock'n'roll forty years ago.

"First I thought I was going to be a visual artist," he says from a winery in Margaret River, where Roxy kicked off their Australian tour last weekend.

"It was only when I started writing those first few songs I thought... 'Hang on, if I could put my artistry into this music, I could do something really interesting.'"

"Suddenly, all of these collage-type songs started emerging."

The chocolate-box beauty queen who bared her teeth from the first Roxy Music LP cover of '72 did indeed harbour a strange, scatter-shot vision of what rock'n'roll could be.

Ferry's "collage" approach, inspired by his studies with British pop artist Richard Hamilton in the '60s, applied to all aspects of his band. Lyrics were torn from cigarette ads and movies, costumes mashed high fashion with science-fiction, and musical genres mutated mid-song.

And nowhere was the collision principle more evident than in the human resources department.

"I was very fussy with who I had in the band," Ferry says. "Obviously, with Andy [Mackay] and Phil [Manzanera] and [Brian ] Eno and Paul Thompson, it was a very good team of very different people - very interesting people - so there was a freshness to it."

Fast-forward a few decades and all but the celebrated Eno are back on deck for the current tour, along with a large array of back-up singers, dancers and musicians, including Ferry's percussionist son Tara.

He's effusive, in his laconic British way, about the high calibre of musical performance and a set list that trawls some dark corners of the band's '70s catalogue - "as well as the obvious hits".

"I've been very involved in the visuals and I'm really pleased with how it's looking," he says.

"We've got a big screen that we project [with] pictures for each song, pieces of movies and stuff, so it's just like a night at the pictures, really, which is what I always thought Roxy should be."

The songs may be thirty to forty years old but you get the feeling the artist's collage sensibility is still finding new forms of expression as technology, fashion and media evolve. (Not surprisingly, his favourite new artist is Lady Gaga.)

Olympia is another example. The album involved Ferry's usual massive cast and six years to cut and paste together. He's especially proud of the coffee-table book edition featuring more Moss and an essay by art critic Michael Bracewell, titled Bryan Ferry, Edouard Manet And The Modern Muse.

And yet, within weeks of its release last October, he'd put it aside to splice his old Roxy friends back into frame.

"I thought that was quite amusing and perverse, which I like to be," he says, spluttering into his Margaret River wine.

He says he will be touring Olympia with his solo band in April - in Russia.

Small wonder that an inquiry about his prospects of being invited to join the stuffy old Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame should be greeted with another delighted chuckle.

"I think I'm too much of a maverick for those boys," he says.

"But I don't mind. I think it's rather embarrassing, that sort of thing. You sort of think, 'If I'm going to be in it, why wasn't I in it twenty years ago?'"