Face-to-Face with the Great Bryan Ferry

To say that I expected Bryan Ferry to be as cool in person as he is in sound and vision would be kinda like saying that I expected my right foot to follow my left. I mean, the man has both epitomized and personified cool throughout each and every moment of the last four decades. If that doesn’t add up to a given, then I’m giving up.

Ferry, who founded English art-rock group Roxy Music in 1970, is every bit the gentlemen — and then some. Reached through my producer friend (Arthur Baker) of his producer friend (Johnson Somerset) just hours before his Miami rehearsal, the British song stylist had no problem taking time out to chat with yours truly, not to mention sitting for a few photos from ace lensman Jeffrey Delannoy. That the rehearsal was the last there’d be before he and his band embarked on the latest leg of their Olympia Tour only compounded the coolness and kindness of it all.

Perhaps Ferry fondly recalled our conversation from a couple weeks ago, when I reached him by phone in Warsaw and we discussed the likes of Lucien Freud (who he both knew and admired and happened to be reading about) and the early 20th century British moderns that Ferry began collecting back in the ’80s, and which he showed at London’s Olympia last year. Perhaps he dug the piece I’d just written about him for The Miami Herald, where I put him among the great good company of Sinatra, Bowie, and Waits. Or maybe Ferry’s just cool like that.

But I digress. Behind the soundboard at The Fillmore Gleason, where Ferry’s kicking off a seventeen-day stretch that ends at LA’s Greek Theater, he comes off like a cross between an old world maestro and an up-to-the-minute producer. It’s a sound that anyone with ears can immediately recognize; an aural swoon of grace and beauty that’s steeped in the tradition of song yet wholly its own. There’s a certain sweep to that sound (think the harnessing of horizons) and an unequivocal majesty (they don’t call him Sir for nothing). To hear it being assembled in real time by the very man who invented it is akin to watching the Wizard pull the levers that begot Oz.

“We’ve got two new singers with us on this leg of the tour,” said Ferry. “Well, not new exactly; they’ve been with me before. But new to this line-up.”

By line-up he means a thirteen-piece band of brothers and sisters whose cohesion is exceeded only by their devotion to the music that’s propelling them all around the world. Those singers he mentioned are none other than Fonzi Thornton and Tawatha Agee, who’ve backed Sir Bryan before. Original Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson is also back with his lifelong co-conspirator, and he’s as in-the-pocket as he was during the heyday of “Virginia Plaine.” And guitarist Chris Spedding is standing by his main man too, just as he did in 1977 for the In Your Mind Tour, and again in 2002, when they hit the road to promote Frantic, which, as most folks only too well know, was the last time Ferry staged across the States.

Speaking of stages, Ferry told me earlier that he’d seen The Fillmore when he was on holiday in South Beach a few years back and “thought it would be a nice place to play.” Breaking from rehearsal, I got the distinct sense that he was quite happy with his decision (as is Miami). After remarking on the “beauty” of Vienna’s State Opera House (“plenty of ghosts”), where he performed again back in July, and on “how great it was” to finally play cities such as Tel Aviv (“that was fabulous”) and Bucharest (“another highlight”), in addition to the usual amalgam of world capitals, you could say Ferry’s opinion is more than a little informed.

I mentioned that Frantic had brought Ferry to Sunrise Musical Theater, and he immediately remembered “that [the venue] was a long way away” from where we were standing on South Beach. Just as the last time he’d performed in Miami was a long, long time ago.

“The first time we actually played here was a festival at Miami Speedway, in 1972 or 1973,” Ferry told me. “I’m glad we have a chance to come back. It’s really nice here. I’m really enjoying myself.”

A large part of that enjoyment undoubtedly springs from the fact that Ferry stays at no less a swing spot than The Setai when he’s in town, nevermind dining at Prime 112 and Casa Tua, two of South Beach’s most deliciously hopping eateries. That band of brothers and sisters most certainly adds to the equation too, as I’m sure does the company of the very jake Johnson Somerset (who I shall owe in perpetuity) and the keenly-attuned Isaac Ferry, who’s one of four number one sons.

Mostly though it’s Ferry himself who brings great good things to life — and to our lives. His sound, his style, his royal smoothness, has paved more than many less traveled roads with gold, and left legions basking in his wake. Call me a fan boy if you want, but to me Ferry can do no wrong. That I got to get with him face-to-face at The Fillmore, surely must mean I’m doing something right. Slip out when he hits your town and see how readily you agree.

Photo by: Jeffrey Delannoy

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