Ipswich: Music legend Bryan Ferry interviewed

Bryan Ferry, at the Ipswich Regent tonight. Photo: A Whitehead

Bryan Ferry, at the Ipswich Regent tonight. Photo: A Whitehead - Credit: Archant

Celebrating 40 years as a singer and songwriter, Bryan Ferry is back on the road for the first time since 2007’s Dylanesque tour. Entertainment writer Wayne Savage found out more.

Bryan Ferry on stage during his last visit to the Regent. Photo: Richard Snasdell

Bryan Ferry on stage during his last visit to the Regent. Photo: Richard Snasdell

“Busy recording normally. If I’m not on tour I’m always in the studio, I guess that’s the main reason,” laughs Ferry when I ask why so long between tours.

Bryan Ferry is celebrating 40 years in the business

Bryan Ferry is celebrating 40 years in the business

He’s been getting “match fit”, he laughs, with some shows here and there throughout Europe during the summer. When we spoke he was preparing to perform in Gibraltar for the first time. It’s been going well, helping him decide which songs are working best; but Ferry’s looking forward to a long run of shows in the UK.

Surprisingly, the former Roxy Music frontman still gets nervous stepping on stage.

“Every show is different, every day you feel a bit different. Obviously the audiences change from night to night and some respond to certain songs more than others, that makes it interesting. It’s fascinating really. I’m looking forward to it being indoors as well; I generally prefer playing indoors where you can get the feeling of a space... a lot of these open air festivals feel a bit impersonal in a way.”

He’s particularly excited to have both his usual band and The Bryan Ferry Orchestra with whom he released the highly acclaimed instrumental The Jazz Age album.

Having all those different soloists available means he can give a different slant to songs than how he’s played them before.

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“It’s been terrific. It’s really a kind of arena show but in smaller theatres. We’ve got a lot of musicians in the band. We start off the show with the jazz stuff we did from The Jazz Age Album, then we have the rock band as well. There are about 14 people, including me and the singers, on stage; lots of different instruments, sound, colours.

“It’s been very interesting to do so far. The set we’re doing now is quite different from ones we did on previous tours so it’s quite good to get lots of different songs into the show.”

The tour has seem him return to many past haunts, including the Ipswich Regent last night.

“It’s good to play places that have character, personality; that’s interesting for the performer. It’s (the Regent) familiar ground, it’s good. You always hope there are going to be new people there as well.

“The audience in the UK is interesting for me because it spans different generations now; you have some fans who have been with you since the early days of Roxy (Music) and I guess a much younger crowd who’s leant about your music over time.”

Ferry puts the secret of his broad appeal partly down to having been around for a while and the fact there’s quite a lot of variety in the music he’s made over the years, what with Roxy and various solo albums and specialising in different genres.

Case in point, The Jazz Age album. Releasing a collection of instrumental versions of his songs was something he’d wanted to do for a long time.

“A lot of the music I listen to at home is instrumental; jazz, classical... I decided to do it in a 1920s jazz style because that was some of the first music I ever was a fan of. In the mid 1950s I started listening to New Orleans jazz and was very heavily into it. That led me into other kinds of jazz. Then rock music took over as a main interest.”

Acting as the producer and co-arranger with his piano player Colin Good, who helped Ferry with As Time Goes By too, he says it was a good shift in emphasis to be behind the scenes as it were in the control room.

“It’s nice to do different projects; it keeps you fresh in your approach to things.”

The Jazz Age led to a phone call for help from The Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrmann. Hearing the album while his movie was still in production, he asked Ferry to record some music for the film, which captured the same 1920s spirit.

“It’s one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors, F Scott Fitzgerald; I was delighted he was interested. Baz felt the music we had recorded on our album worked well with his film, so he commissioned us to both rearrange elements of the score and also record in a period style the contemporary songs he and Jay-Z had selected. We used the same orchestra that features on The Jazz Age.

“Baz came to my studio during the sessions and had a very clear idea of what music he wanted for each scene. We recorded to picture... Baz is a strong creative force and the soundtrack is always going to be important in any movie he makes, especially a film like The Great Gatsby, where the music of the period is key to the film’s identity,” recalls Ferry, described by Luhrmann as the “Jazz Voice” of the movie.

“We did a some special pieces for him including Back to Black, the Amy Winehouse song, which is a great song. It worked out quite well the collaborative process and now there’s a whole soundtrack album of stuff we did for Gatsby; then there was another soundtrack album which had all the hit songs; Beyonce was on it, Jay Z and I have Love Is the Drug on it as well.”

Ferry enjoyed revisiting and playing around with old songs. It’s something he’s done quite a bit, with his versions of songs by other people over the years.

“(It’s something) I’ve always enjoyed doing, it’s been an interesting part of my career, taking songs from elsewhere and trying to do my own particular take on that. To take one of my own songs and reinterpret it was quite fun as well.”

Fun? Not a case of it’s not broke so why fix it?

“There’s always a different way to do a song, different ways to approach it,” he laughs.

Ferry’s had the odd song of his covered over the years, not a lot he says because sometimes they’re a bit idiosyncratic.

“Grace Jones did a great version of Love Is The Drug once and I guess there’s been a few other things.”

He must have been in a lift, airport or shopping centre and heard a “muzak” version? “Not very often but it has happened,” he laughs. “It brings a smile to the old face.”

Back to the tour; with such a great back catalogue to choose from it must be hard settling on a playlist. The secret, says Ferry, is you have to please yourself.

“You have to think ‘well, I really like this song and like playing that... of course you feel obliged sometimes to include songs you have played many times, hits like Jealous Guy, Let’s Stick Together. To tell you the truth, I enjoy playing them and a concert is always a two-way thing.

“You have the band on stage, but you also have the audience which is different every night and brings a lot of emotion to the proceedings. That makes it work being able to do the same songs night after night, although we do introduce new things especially on this tour when we’ve managed to rehearse some of the neglected songs as well.”

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