INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
New Musical Express SEPTEMBER 8, 1973 - by Ian MacDonald
PARTY FUN FROM AN OLD POSEUR
At noon precisely, on a colourless day, I pressed the bell-push of Bryan Ferry's chic Earl's Court flat. Fifteen minutes later I was still ringing. There were still no signs of movement from within. Leaving off temporarily, with a sore index finger, I reflected on the possible explanations. Either Ferry was lying in there even now, rigid in a coma after finally O.D.-ing on Shirley Temple albums, or he had joined the Sly Stone generation and was already on a chartered plane heading for New York. And all this after six weeks of ceaseless hassling for an interview. So unlace the dear boy!
Fact is, Bryan Ferry's been avoiding journalists for three or four month now - which is tough on us, since the most pointless conversation with any of the bright sparks from Roxy was always a guaranteed Good Read. 'Wherefore?' was the wounded query on the lips of a nation's scribes. Well, there were three main theories. One was that Ferry didn't want to become publicly involved in the Eno controversy. Another, that by removing himself from the limelight he sought to create a personal scarcityvalue, and thereby a greater demand for the more relevant sort of interviews. And the third was that, as a cultivated enigma, he was worried that breaking radio silence too frequently might result in his completely giving his position away.
In the first few minutes after Bryan had suddenly appeared from behind me out of a motorcar (having already been up and across to visit E. G. Management in King's Road) it became apparent that, while all three theories had their basis in fact, things ran rather deeper with the man whose crazy music has driven more than its fair quota of admirers insane. In short, Ferry is disillusioned.
My mind drifted back to a Holiday Inn in Battersea, which was actually a cramped little house registered under the name of one Andy Mackay, in the first months of 1972. There Bryan Ferry told me that he was going to be A Star; showed me some paintings he'd done; and explained that CPL 593H was the number of a car belonging to a delectable young lady he'd glimpsed at the previous year's Reading Festival but that I was not to breathe a word since the outcome might be embarrassing to him. Not, for the shy and sensitive Ferry, the brazen bravado of an Eno or a Fripp. Nor, thought I at the time, would the callous hurly-burly of the rock business hold much allure for this gentle dreamer. Eighteen months later things have finally caught up with Bryan Ferry. He's pissed off. And, as he winds the master of his newlycompleted solo album, These Foolish Things, onto his Teac, I wonder if this will embody some sort of retreat into an inner, private world for him: the swan-song of Biryiani Ferret, as he is known in certain quarters of the trade.
Forget it. You can't keep an old poseur down. From the opening merry string staccato and Velvet Underground/Virginia Plain 4/4 clog-dance beat of Ferry's good-humoured encampment of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, to the last choruses of a finger-snapping reggae treatment of the title-track, his These Foolish Things is as light-hearted and positive an album as you could expect from anyone in these turbulent times.
A Hard Rain, over five minutes of stomping Ferrybeat, sound-effects, sawing violins, and weird, oily guitar-fills from John Porter, is the star track, and will be the single backed by a new, improved version of 2 H.B.. "It's not meant to be jokey," Bryan insists, anxiously. "It's very serious. I think it's a beautiful song, although I can't be bothered with all that Cuba Crisis stuff. I like the images." A Hard Rain is succeeded by a brief homage to Ketty Lester with River Of Salt, a slow ballad featuring the Ferry harmonica. "That's a dark horse", he explains. "I'm probably the only person in England with a copy of that. It reminds me of when I used to be in Gasboard in Newcastle - in fact, this whole LP does. Did you know I once sang Strangers In The Night in a talent contest in a working men's club? Didn't win the prize though." He smiles. "I vowed, that night..."
Next up is Don't Ever Change, heavier than the original and driven along by a huge drum-sound from Paul Thompson. On the fourth track, Piece Of My Heart, Ferry's voice is involved in a running-battle with those of The Angelettes and the horn section from The Average White Band. Erma Franklin wins. You're So Square, a short echo-filled rocker, gives way to an exuberant revamp of It's My Party and the first side closes with a lengthy, Spectorish treatment of Brian Wilson's Dont Worry Baby in which The Angelettes are particularly good and Porter throttles strangled harmonics out of his guitar.
Side two opens densely and at considerable speed with Sympathy For The Devil. Double-tracked brass and strings give an orchestral scope to a very pointed interpretation, complete with diabolic laughter, Leslie'd violin from Eddie "Sugarbeat" Jobson, and wailing Black vocals from Dr. John's ladies. Tracks Of My Tears is a strong-enough song to survive anything, but here Ferry loosens his collar and gives it a straight sell with a fine vocal performance and some great horn lines in the background. An "engaged" signal leads into a rumbustious You Won't See Me, the guitar here steered round some surprising angular corners by Phil Manzanera. I Love How You Love Me launches an amusing alto solo by Ruan O'Lochlain (Bees Make Honey) from a 6/8 base, delineated by Jobson's tinkling harpsichord. Then a powerhouse Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever drives the album to a climax. The These Foolish Things track itself comes as a prolonged postscript, beginning with nightclub conversation and a flugelhorn chorus from Henry Lowther, before moving into a medium-paced reggae-beat with whistling waiters and an odd, sprightly vocal interpretation of the involved and obsessional lyric. Its a very personal performance, and it's no surprise it's Ferry's favourite track.
Over-all, These Foolish Things is rather a curious production. Bustling, busy, sometimes overcrowded in the mix, rarely giving the listener any breathing space, it's exhausting to listen to and will probably succeed best in the context of a party. "It's a very Catholic selection", acknowledges its creator, unconcernedly. "I've given up trying to please all of the people all of the time. Some will like it for one reason, some for another. And some will presumably dislike it for the wrong reasons though I hope the general point of it will he understood. Its amusement value. I think," he continues a little morosely, "I'm the most misunderstood man in the business. Some of the misinterpretations of me I've seen in the Press have made me almost physically sick."
Bryan, in fact, reckons he's had a raw deal. Many journalists put down the Eno/Ferry breakup to the fact that one egocentric was losing out to another in a sensitive situation, and that Roxy simply wasn't big enough for both of them. Ferry, the argument ran, was being unreasonably paranoid. After all, we all knew he wrote all the songs and did all the singing; Eno was on 'a different trip altogether and presented no real threat. But the extent to which other sections of the Press can misinterpret the same facts is borne out by several examples. In France, Roxy became known as "Eno's band" and, in America, Warner Brothers published a hand-out claiming that Eno wrote and sang several of the numbers on For Your Pleasure. For a man who is as proud of his work as Bryan Ferry, this sort of distortion must have been highly distressing.
And there are other reasons why he's less effervescent now than he used to be: reasons not totally unconnected with statistics published in NME's recent "Poverty Rock" features. Even so, Ferry is not allowing himself to be depressed to the extent that, as with Ian Anderson, further progress becomes impossible. He's already led the new Roxy through the recording period for their third album, and is well into planning the group's forthcoming tours. He's even belied the autocratic slur many journalists have cast on him by including two songs by MacKay and one by Manzanera alongside his own on the LP - and he's enthusiastic about them, too. Behind all the activity, however, Ferry's introverted mood continues. Though he'd never doubt himself, he seems to be deeply dissatisfied with the set-up a person in his profession has to exist in. And, although he's still interested in the way things move and change in and around rock. Underneath he's brooding on the less pleasant realities of the business. It is one in which, to an extent he's trapped.
One little surprise shook him out of this, just after we'd left his flat to go and have a meal. Right outside the restuarant was parked a fawn-coloured Mini Traveller - registration number CPL 593H. We sat by the window, Bryan casting surreptitious glances every time anybody went near the car. Eventually two blokes got in and drove it away. The original owner remained a mystery. "Oh well," said Bryan, "I think I've grown out of that anyway. After all, it was a year and two albums ago, wasn't it?" He poured another glass of wine and finished his meal.