Interviews / Reviews
10 November 2002
By Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, 11/10/2002
On his new album, Bryan Ferry is more about beauty than bang
''All the best music is sad,'' muses Bryan Ferry, once (and future?) lead singer of Roxy Music and a longtime solo artist.
Up-tempo though it is, ''It's All Over Now, Baby Blue,'' the first song on Ferry's latest solo album ''Frantic,'' is drenched in sadness and loss and tinged with spite. Here Ferry goes back to a favorite source, Bob Dylan. Four songs later, he's there again with ''Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.'' Dylan's ''A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall'' was, in fact, the first cover song Ferry recorded when in the early 1970s he began his solo career, which for years ran concurrent to Roxy Music.
''`Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' I did in a kind of provocative way,'' Ferry says, speaking by telephone from Newcastle, England. ''It was a good way to kick off a solo career, with a bit of a bang. Now [my covers are] chosen for the beauty of the songs. You're looking for fresh material and you think, `Here's a song I've loved for 30 years,' and the Dylan songs, especially the early period, had such wonderful lyrics and a great feeling about them.''
One thing that's changed about Ferry's covers is that he once treated them with a certain irreverence and irony - which is not to say disrespect. He is now more likely to hew closer to the original sound, to toy and tinker less.
''Frantic'' is an album composed half of covers and half originals. Many of the originals are cowritten, with folks such as ex-Eurythmic David A. Stewart and former Roxy synthesist and now famous producer Brian Eno. Ferry and Eno had a falling out years ago, but the fences have long been mended.
''I think sometimes that when people are together for too intense a time, they start bristling, especially if they're controlling types like I am,'' Ferry says. ''I think it's good that he went and did his thing and I went and did my thing.''
They cowrote the album's closing song, ''I Thought,'' and Ferry calls it a ''thrill to work with people you have a history with and feel inspired by. Brian is very intelligent and very amusing. We both laugh at each other all the time, and we complement each other very well.''
Last year, Ferry, 56, reignited Roxy Music - he was joined by saxophonist Andy Mackay and guitarist Phil Manzanera, among others - and took the band on the road, stopping in Boston for two stunning shows at the FleetBoston Pavilion. A DVD of the tour has been released, with a live double CD to come.
Roxy Music's status is, as ever, up in the air. Ferry says Mackay and Manzanera are interested: ''Maybe after this tour ends in March I'll get together with them and see what they have in mind.'' For now, Ferry plans to start work on a solo album afterward.
What Ferry found on the road last year was great love and warmth from the audience. ''I think one of the benefits of getting older is that the audience becomes more and more affectionate,'' he says. Part of that, perhaps, may be because he might have been killed Dec. 29, 2000, when a suicidal man attacked the pilot of a London-to-Nairobi flight Ferry was on and sent the plane into a 10,000-foot dive. Crew members came to the rescue. ''I believe in fate, and I think that meant that my number wasn't up yet,'' Ferry says. ''Hopefully not for a while.''
Ferry will bring much of last year's touring group, 11 musicians strong (sans the Roxy players), with him to the Orpheum Theatre Tuesday. Ferry expects to play five songs from ''Frantic,'' along with Roxy material and songs from other solo albums. Some of the songs will be elegant and graceful, others chaotic and dissonant.
''I embrace variety,'' says Ferry. ''I like the current show because it has a lot of dynamics in it. We do about 20 minutes that's acoustic. One of the girls plays harp and doubles on percussion; the violin player doubles on synthesizer. So it's essentially a kind of rock band, but the skills are there to do very quiet things. And I enjoy singing that kind of music, whereas in the early days I didn't have that kind of confidence.''
When asked to assess the evolution he's gone through over the years, Ferry says, ''I think I'm more comfortable with myself now. It's interesting rediscovering the touring process and the performance part of my life in the last couple of years.
''It's been really exciting because I'd stopped touring for such a long time,'' says Ferry, who became enamored of working in the studio. ''It's been good for my recording too, because I'm a bit less precious than I'd become in the '80s and '90s.''
Another reason Ferry stayed off the road for so long was to help raise his four sons. After dating supermodel Jerry Hall back before she upgraded (if that's the word) to Mick Jagger, Ferry married society beauty Lucy Helmore, to whom he's been married for more than 20 years. Last month, the London tabloids began reporting that Ferry was having a liaison with Katie Turner, 21, one of his backup singers.
''There's not much to say,'' Ferry says, ''except [my wife and I are] separated, and we've been separated for a lot longer than the papers realize.'' (Perhaps another reason to record ''It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.'') What's been written, he adds, ''is not accurate,'' but, he says, ''I don't really talk about it other than to confirm that we are separated.''
Ferry doesn't call the split amicable but says he and his wife are on ''reasonable terms, and it's all up in the air.''
This story ran on page N9 of the Boston Globe on 11/10/2002.