Interview: Brian Ferry, Musician

AS sincere as you like, rock icon Bryan Ferry gazes down on the Esplanade from the window of a plush room high inside Edinburgh Castle and then turns around and says, “Stunning, isn’t it... but do you think anyone will come?”

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 1st September 2011, 3:20 pm

The legendary crooner looks genuinely relieved when he’s informed that he needn’t worry about attracting a crowd along to Saturday’s gig.

He is, after all, one of the most influential artists in the history of popular music, a man whose cool status has remained unchanged for four decades. People will come, Bryan, of course they will.

“Well, if you’re sure,” he smiles, accepting the fact that, yes, despite being of pensionable age, he probably will put bums on seats when he comes here to play the best bits from his latest studio album, Olympia, alongside greatest hits like Let’s Stick Together, Slave To Love, Love Is The Drug and Avalon.

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“How about a support band?” he enquires next. “Who would be a good choice to open?”

Resisting the temptation to suggest my mate’s band, I throw the names of a few up-coming acts at Ferry, who seems to take a mental note of this before sitting down again to continue our chat.

The first thing to say about the Roxy Music frontman - and surely it’s the same for anyone lucky enough to meet this charming man - is how impossibly well-dressed he is. There’s also something disarming in his demeanour, a certain softness around the eyes, and he speaks in a hushed voice.

Dapper as always, today he’s sporting a midnight blue suit that you can bet didn’t come from the Primark sale, with a large pink and cream scarf draped around his neck.

Smart clobber aside, he’s a picture of health, looking at least a decade younger than his 66 years.

Earlier this year, Ferry was admitted to hospital to undergo a whole day of observations and tests following a health scare, but it doesn’t seem to have slowed down his hectic touring schedule any.

Indeed, since the start of the year, he’s played literally dozens of gigs all over the world.

“We started off in January, but that was a different tour,” says Ferry, who was born in Washington in County Durham. “We did the Roxy arena tour, then we did the same thing in Australia. We’ve played loads of different places and sizes of venues... really interesting some of them.”

Hearing him rattle off the names of the places he’s been to recently, you’d have to think Ferry’s collected a fair few Air Miles. “Barcelona, Switzerland, Dortmund, Italy. Oh, and Provence,” he adds excitedly. “Similar to here, actually - a big open-air gig in an amphitheatre.

“The best show for me was the Vienna Opera House,” he goes on. “It’s just a fantastic building. I like places that are old, you know. I’m not so keen on brand new venues, which is why I’ve chosen Edinburgh Castle, with this backdrop...”

The singer says he loves to play places he has a romantic association with - and one of the most unusual cities he’s visited this year has been Tel Aviv.

“Great audience,” he says. “It’s great to go to places you’ve never been before... Bucharest, Budapest, Warsaw, all new cities for me.

“Obviously these are places you wouldn’t have been able to play in the past. What a shame. It would have made the world a much better place more quickly if we had been able to play out there. Touring is like educating yourself,” he adds.

Though he’s long been a very wealthy man, Ferry reveals that he doesn’t have any plans to retire in the near future. “Oh no, I enjoy it,” he enthuses. “I really enjoy it. But then I’ve got a good band - a kind of interesting band... are you much into the music?”

I tell him I grew up listening to Roxy Music and he looks pleased. “We’ve got some young musicians with us on the tour,” he says. “One of the young guitarists is outstanding... with me since he was seventeen... at school with one of my lads. He’s one of the Youth Squad on the tour, keeps the veterans like me on our toes.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s gig, Ferry promises that his show will be a visual feast as well as a musical one. “We’ve got two dancers on stage,” he says. “So as well as all these great musicians playing, it’s something fun to watch as well. We have a girl sax player with us as well. It’s novel to see a girl sax player, and it looks good, too.

“Also,” he continues, “very important for this tour is that we’ve got a big screen projecting images that we’ve created for each song. My son Isaac’s been very involved in that, and I’ve been helping choose things that I wanted to bring in to each song that I thought would be appropriate.

“So for the first time,” he adds, “we’ve got something that’s really visually entertaining and enhances the mood of each song.”

Ferry has played many times in the Capital, and he has some great memories of his visits here.

“I’ve had incredible audiences in Edinburgh,” he enthuses. “First time I ever wore a kilt was when I played here... I think it was the Playhouse, but I’m not sure. It must have been 1973 or 74, and we had these pipers on stage... wonderful show.

“We once played an outdoor gig here as well... what is it, Prince Gardens or something?” he enquires, though doesn’t wait for an answer before adding, “Scotland’s always been great to us... always has been.”

Ferry may be an old showbiz pro with literally thousands of sell-out shows under his belt, but he says that one particular invitation to play live this year filled him with fear.

“Kate Moss asked me to sing at her wedding, which is something I’ve never done before,” he explains. “She called and said one of her favourite songs is one from my first album, and would I play it. I said I can’t play because we’ve got a festival that day. She said ‘don’t worry, Bryan, we’re going to send helicopters over to get you all’ - and she did. She sent a 16-seater to pick us up - the band were delighted with that.

“It was really cool,” he adds, before letting out a laugh. “I honestly never thought we’d end up playing at weddings.”

Bryan Ferry, Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, Royal Mile, Saturday, 7.30pm, £40–£50, 0131-225 9846