Bryan Ferry - Biography
By Oliver Hall
Bryan Ferry, the stylish pianist and singer with the peculiar croon, was born September 26, 1945 in Washington, a coal mining town in Northern England. “My dad was a farm laborer,” Ferry told Entertainment Weekly in 2007. “He went down the coal mine to look after the horses. One day there was this guy who was mistreating the ponies. My dad knocked him out.” In the same article, Ferry remembered, “I worked at a tailor's shop when I was 16. They had these books of style patterns. One would be called the Berkeley, and it would be a guy with a pencil mustache and a bowler, with a Rolls-Royce going past. Wonderful drawings of a glamorous life.”
As a teenager, Ferry sang for local rock group the Banshees before going to study art at Newcastle University in Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1965, he formed an American-influenced soul group, The Gas Board, with Graham Simpson and John Porter. Simpson would be a member of Ferry’s next group, the incredible Roxy Music, which was founded in 1971 and originally included the young pop genius Brian Eno, former Nice guitarist Davy O’List, and horn and synth player Andy Mackay. O’List, Eno, and Simpson would all be fired from Roxy Music by 1973. During Roxy Music’s early days, Ferry supported himself by working as a ceramics teacher.
Ferry’s first solo album was 1973’s These Foolish Things (1973 Island), a collection of covers kicked off by a shocking party version of Bob Dylan’s doom prophecy, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” The single was accompanied by a promotional film that intercut Ferry performing the song on a stage with footage of war atrocities. Compared to Roxy Music’s arrangements, which were full of surprising left turns and strange new sounds, the groovy, horn-laden arrangements of Ferry’s solo material seem straightforward. However, when compared to the originals, many of the songs covered on Ferry’s first three solo albums sound radically different through the prism of his style. The following year’s Another Time, Another Place (1974 Island) is another collection of covers done in bold colors, with the exception of the title song, written by Ferry. O’List returns on Ferry’s dramatic version of Dobie Gray’s “The ‘In’ Crowd” that opens Another Time. O’List also plays guitar on “Chance Meeting” and “Let’s Stick Together” from 1976’s Let’s Stick Together (1976 Island), a collection of covers and reinterpretations of Roxy Music songs following their breakup. Model Jerry Hall, who had been the cover girl on Roxy Music’s 1975 album Siren (1975 Island), dated Ferry between 1975 and 1978.
In Your Mind (1977 Polydor) was released in 1977 and was the first Bryan Ferry solo album devoted entirely to new material. The Bride Stripped Bare (1978 Polydor) is named after Marcel Duchamp’s work of art, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even and was released in 1978. The Bride Stripped Bare includes the rocking new Ferry original “Sign of the Times,” but is in large part another cover album.
Ferry, Phil Manzanera, and Mackay resurrected Roxy Music in 1979, releasing the popular albums Manifesto (1979 EG), Flesh + Blood (1980 Polydor), and Avalon (1982 EG). In 1980, Ferry appeared as himself in the French miniseries Petit déjeuner compris. Roxy Music’s version of the late John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” released as a single in 1981, reached number one in the UK charts. Ferry made himself scarce for a couple years after the success of Avalon, returning to the pop marketplace in 1985 with his sixth solo album, Boys and Girls (1985 EG). Ferry performed at the Live Aid benefit concert that same year with a band that included Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who also appears on Boys and Girls as well as 1987’s Bête Noire (1987 EG/Virgin). Many of Bête Noire’s songs are co-written with producer Patrick Leonard, though “The Right Stuff” is a collaboration with former Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr.
1993’s Taxi (1993 Virgin) and 1994’s Mamouna (1994 Virgin) were, respectively, a cover album and a collection of new songs by Ferry. Both were co-produced by Ferry and former Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower. Ferry’s old creative partner and rival, Brian Eno, contributes to Mamouna. (Eno is credited on the album with “sonic awareness,” among other things.) Ferry sang the standards of his parents’ generation on As Time Goes By (1999 Virgin) in 1999. In 2002, Ferry released Frantic (2002 Virgin), which features both covers and new originals. Dylanesque (2007 Virgin), a collection of eleven Bob Dylan covers, was released in 2007.
Roxy Music reunited for live performances in 2001 and is scheduled to release a new album before the end of the decade. It will be the first Roxy Music album to feature Brian Eno since the classic 1973 record, For Your Pleasure (1973 Island).