Originally published in Uncut’s May 2015 issue (Take 215)
Much as you’d imagine, Bryan Ferry’s West London studio/office complex is a stylish and sophisticated place. Once through the main doors, a visitor must pass a row of sofas neatly strewn with For Your Pleasure cushions, then walls bearing pictures of models and a neon ‘Roxy Music’ sign, before descending a flight of stairs to Ferry’s studio itself. There, the man offers insight into some of the more intriguing synths and keyboards on display. “What’s the oldest one here? Hmm, either this Farfisa or the VCS3…” says Ferry, motioning nonchalantly to the EMS synth used by Eno on Roxy’s first two albums. Today, though, we’re here at Ferry’s HQ to discuss his often spectacular solo career, from These Foolish Things right up to last year’s Avonmore. “I don’t write often,” explains Ferry, as he relaxes in his office space upstairs. “So when I do, it feels special. 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. So hopefully there’s a few great things lying on a cassette that haven’t been listened to yet!”
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These Foolish Things
Ferry branches out after Roxy’s second LP with a singular set of covers – including Dylan’s “A Hard Rain…” and the “square” title track – influencing Bowie’s Pin Ups in the process.
After For Your Pleasure, I just wanted to make another record. So I thought I’d make one like Elvis or Sinatra or Billie Holiday or Bing Crosby would. I loved the albums I had of great singers singing great songs, written by songwriters in teams. I did this really fast, in about two or three weeks, and it was such fun. It was good to just get out of the group, out of the group angst. Phil Manzanera guested on it and Paul Thompson played drums, so there was a bit of Roxy on it. I don’t think Roxy minded me doing a solo album… I don’t think I ever asked them. But, I don’t know, it didn’t do any harm. Bowie actually telephoned me. We must have done the [Finsbury Park] Rainbow show with him before that, and the Greyhound in Croydon, another show where Roxy supported Bowie. David rang me cheerfully one day and said, “Just to let you know, I’ve just done an album like yours.” But it wasn’t really, it was a covers LP, but all from the ’60s, whereas mine was a more comprehensive take on pop, just lots of different people who were interesting to me, writers like Goffin & King, Leiber & Stoller, The Rolling Stones, Smokey Robinson, of course, and Dylan. The most important of all was the title track – that was the most adventurous, being a 1930s song. It was considered really square music at the time. This album opened up my audience to a more mainstream group of people who maybe hadn’t ‘got’ Roxy Music. And singing some of these great songs was a way of getting to them. The downside of it, of course, is that some more snobbish music people don’t like you to do something that’s more mainstream, people like you to be difficult and weird and underground.
Another Time, Another Place
After Stranded, Ferry returns with another covers album, this time taking a more soulful tack and featuring the stunning “The ‘In’ Crowd”.
The first record was a great success for me, and suddenly I had two careers. I went back and made Stranded after the first one, then I made this. With the same team as the first one, pretty much. Except I did one of my own songs on this, the title track. There was no big theory behind it. Once again we did another standard, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. And I had another Dylan song on there. Davy O’List played a great solo on “The ‘In’ Crowd”. I’d seen him when I was a student in Newcastle. We used to have quite good bands playing there, and they had The Nice playing, and he was the guitarist. It stuck in my memory what a great player he was. He did some out-of-this-world feedback sounds on this… he’s a strange cat. “You Are My Sunshine” is my Geordie sentimental side coming out – I don’t know why I did that, it’s not traditional, that’s for sure. Some of the songs here are more off the wall. A couple of country songs, like “Walk A Mile In My Shoes”. So this consolidated the solo career mainly because of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “The ‘In’ Crowd”.