INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Uncut MAY 2015 - by Tom Pinnock
ALBUM BY ALBUM: BRYAN FERRY
The Roxy Music maestro on his best solo work: "People like you to be difficult and weird..."
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!"
• • •
THESE FOOLISH THINGS  - Ferry branches out after Roxy's second LP with a singular set of covers - including Dylan's A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall 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.
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.
LET'S STICK TOGETHER  - A grab-bag rushed out to capitalise on the title track's success, Ferry's third nonetheless features some classic tracks, including covers of early Roxy songs, alongside some equally classic tailoring...
We recorded the single, Let's Stick Together, first - I love the original version by Wilbert Harrison, it's much better than the version I did. I love some of those early R'n'B records, quite rough and ready, warm, beautiful records, and I just fancied doing it. We had [Everly Brothers cover] The Price Of Love, too, and a couple of tracks, and I think everybody around me thought, 'Let's see how the single goes, it's going to be a big record.' And I guess it was. So Polydor said, 'Please, can we have an album?' So we quickly did these tracks and threw it all together. I covered myself for the first time - I did Chance Meeting, 2 H.B., Re-Make/Re-Model and Sea Breezes, all from the first Roxy album, and Casanova from Country Life. I just thought it would be fun to do them in a different style, in a different way. The same way that in my record collection I have several different versions of Charlie Parker playing the same song in different periods of his career, with different lineups. We were based in Air Studios in Oxford Circus, which was a great studio. They've got about four different rooms and all of the engineers there were very well-drilled - not quite wearing lab coats, but the next generation on. Let's Stick Together was the first time I worked with Chris Spedding, who was, and is, a really great guitar player. He played a lovely Flying V guitar. It was all done very quickly, with a great spirit. Jerry Hall did that whooping on Let's Stick Together - she appeared in the video, which was also done very quickly. The clothes and set were designed by Antony Price, and it was directed by a friend of mine, Jonathan Benson, who was the assistant director on some of the Monty Python movies, and a very nice man. Yes, it was a good look I had in that video, with the moustache! It was a look I'd seen in many a movie - Clark Gable type of thing. Movies have always been a big source of inspiration for me, with either songs or just looks. I like the way people looked in old black and white movies - everybody wore a hat and a suit. You'd see people walking down the street and everybody's wearing a hat. It's a terrible shame that people don't anymore.
IN YOUR MIND  - With Roxy Music on hiatus, Ferry creates his first solo album of original songs, with more help from Chris Spedding, Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson and former King Crimson bassist John Wetton.
After Let's Stick Together, I went on my first world tour as a solo artist. I think I'd got fed up with being in a band, and wanted to try making an album of original material as a solo artist. I say as a solo artist, but it was more like being in a different band 'cos it wasn't just me on my own with a guitar, or piano. I think this is the first time I worked with strings. There's a great string arrangement on Love Me Madly Again, which Ann Odell did, which was really beautiful, I think. Once again we did this in Air Studios. I remember the great solo Chris Spedding did on Love Me Madly Again. I sort of tricked him, because it was one of those songs where it goes from one thing into a whole different mood, a different movement, really - and I just let it go on into the next part of the song, with completely different chords and everything, and he did the most incredible kind of recovery with this solo that was very beautiful! I've always tried to get people's initial responses from a piece of music. So I always like to record the first take, and I remember that was one time when it really paid off. You just get people instinctively responding to the music they're hearing for the first time, and that's very important.
THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE  - Ferry hooks up with LA sessioneers in Switzerland for a confessional, bluesy response to his split with Jerry Hall.
This featured a composite band. Neil Hubbard was one of the two guitarists, and I had met this American guitar player, Waddy Wachtel, when I was writing some of the songs for this record in L.A. I met a drummer there, too, Rick Marotta, and I took them over to Switzerland, to this studio near Geneva called Mountain Studios. Ann Odell was the keyboard player as well as me, and Alan Spenner was the crazy bass player. So him and Neil Hubbard were the English guys, and so the friction between them and the two Americans was really exciting. I thought the results were fantastic. I was living out in L.A. with my friend Simon Puxley, who was a very important person in the making of all these records. He was the man in the background, who was my publicist and Roxy's. He had written the sleevenotes for the first Roxy album, and he became my close friend and confidant. He was a wonderful person. He was like the extra member of the band, and he's sorely missed to this day. There were a lot of things fermenting at that time. I had an assistant working for me who was into punk and he'd play me some of the things that were coming out of England; I was out in L.A., absorbing all this American stuff, so I was in a very different headspace, but I did this track Sign Of The Times, which had a kind of punk feeling to it. It was a way of getting Waddy and Rick to play in this aggressive kind of style.
It was a strong album, but it was Number 1 mainly because of the single Slave To Love. It was as simple as that. It just caught the mood, I guess. I had some great people working with me by then. All these great people I'd worked with through all this time, plus new people like Nile Rodgers and Marcus Miller, who also played on Avonmore - it was a very important album for me. There was a lot of New York in this record. We did some of this in Bette Midler's loft, down in Tribeca. She had an apartment which I rented, and I was living there. We made a studio in one of the rooms. It was great, it felt very fresh and different working in a place like that. David Gilmour, of course, is very good. I worked with him again on Olympia. He's a brilliant player, he's got a real sound. Quite distinctive, and he plays with feeling, it's good. It's very important that they play as if they mean it. From this album on, I'd found a way of working... It wasn't easy, but it just felt sort of special because nobody else took the trouble to spend months putting so many different parts from different players together like that. I was very into kind of sculpting all these different sounds to see what happened, see where it could lead you. You'd create solos which weren't just one guy playing, it would go from one to another, and that's very cool. One of the great moments of rock music is that solo in Hotel California, where it goes from Don Felder to Joe Walsh and it just changes its mood, a beautiful moment.
Taxi and Mamouna were done mainly here [at Avonmore], and in Olympic in Barnes, which was another really good studio. I spent ages in Olympic. I went through fortunes, we really set up camp and did a lot of stuff there. It's great to have my own space now, it's perfect for this kind of work. We'll be working on lots of different tracks, especially now you have Pro Tools, you can just dial them up, and see, 'Ah, where are we with this one?' Certain tracks would be left for years to age, in barrels, and you'd go back years later and finish them off. I worked with Brian Eno again on this - that was great. He came here, we worked downstairs, and we actually co-wrote a song. I also went to St Petersburg where he was living. We started that there and I finished it off here. Mamouna was great, it had some good things on it - it wasn't terribly successful, but it has a great mood to it, I think. There are certain people you like working with, and yes, this had loads of people on it - including Carleen Anderson, who's a very good singer. Chester Kamen, Guy Pratt, all these English lads.
My songs go through a lot of stages, if I get fed up with how one sounds I just take it off in a different direction. You Can Dance was rockabilly originally. Sometimes somebody will play something and you go, 'Ah', it shows you another way the song can go. Songs are very important to me, having a good melody. Melody is what I'm best at. Do I rewrite my lyrics? Sometimes I'll change the odd word, but by the time I bring it in to sing, I'll have it more or less what I want it to be. Sometimes it takes forever, and if it doesn't seem like the right lyric is coming, then I'll just wait and go back to it the following year. I got in contact with Jonny Greenwood to see if he wanted to play - I thought he was a very good player, very experimental, lots of different sounds, musically very adept, the real deal. Johnny Marr, obviously, is another great English guitar player. I worked with him first of all at Air Studios, on a couple of things, The Right Stuff on Bête Noire. I met him because John Porter produced The Smiths on their first LP. We wrote a song together on Avonmore, and he's terrific, he's got better and better. Very versatile. He's a great fan of Nile Rodgers, too, so it's funny having them on the same tracks.
The Jazz Age didn't really influence this, other than that I wanted to make a record very different from it. It's nice veering from one direction to the other with records that follow each other. A lot of care goes into the making, especially now, as you're thinking, 'How many more records will I make?' So you don't want to put it out unless you think it achieves something. It's nice to think you're getting better at things. The more uptempo feel here is down to the fact I'd been doing so much live work the past few years, and festivals and stuff, where you're conscious of everyone playing very fast songs. I felt I needed more fast songs in my repertoire, that's for sure. Avonmore was going to be all original, but I had a couple of covers I thought made it a bit more expansive. Send In The Clowns is such a classic showbusiness song, and I like the strings on it that I did with Colin Good. Johnny & Mary had such a different sound to the others, too. I did that with Todd Terje, who's very talented and it added a new dimension to the record. There's still a lot of comping involved. You want to get that person to do what they do best - with Nile, it's beautiful rhythm parts. On the odd occasion he bursts into a solo, we say, 'No!', or let him go for a bit 'til he blows himself out... All these people I work with are clever, they're not show-offs. It's a treat to work with people of that quality or skill.