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Resurrecting the Twenties – catch Ferry back in time

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: November 08, 2013

Former Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry is bringing his own brand of Twenties jazz to the Colston Hall in Bristol this week – best known for his rock music, the 68-year-old admits that trad jazz remains he first love

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He is known for his slick suits, unconventional lyrics and unique vocal delivery, and whether recording as a solo artist or with his band Roxy Music, he is renowned for his intellectual take on contemporary pop.

But one thing you may not know about Bryan Ferry is that he's a lifelong fan of 1920s jazz.

For his latest project, Ferry has gathered an ensemble of talented musicians and set about re-working many of his classic tracks with a jazz feel.

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, directed by the man himself, has given the Twenties treatment to hits like Do the Strand, Love is the Drug and Virginia Plain, and is now taking the show around the UK for a series of concerts, calling at Bristol's Colston Hall on November 16.

The Jazz Age, the full-length album released by the group last year, was so admired by film director Baz Luhrmann, that he asked the orchestra to record more music for his blockbuster movie adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. A perfect fit for the film, the orchestra recorded a new version of Ferry's Love is the Drug, along with tracks by Amy Winehouse and Beyoncé.

"I remember reading The Great Gatsby when I was about 15 or 16 and yes, I wanted to be him," he said. "I just loved the glamour of it. I can see the Gatsby in me.

"At the time, when I was doing my paper round on my bike, I never dreamed my life would be anything like it is now. But even then the people I responded to were the Clark Gables, the Cary Grants, the Billie Holidays.

"I was a terribly romantic kid. I was shy and a bit of a loner. I definitely didn't think I was handsome or a ladies' man."

His love of jazz also goes back to his childhood.

"The first ever concert I went to when I was ten years old was very important in this respect and very much sowed the seed for my love of jazz," he says.

"I went to see Chris Barber's Jazz Band in Newcastle, which was part of the British trad-jazz revival. After this initial exposure to jazz I started listening to the American origins of this music, such as Armstrong, Ellington, etc. and became quite obsessed by it, my later favourites being Charlie Parker, Miles Davies and the singer Billie Holiday.

"However, I rather abandoned it for rock and roll at the start of my career, it wasn't until much later that I came back to my love of jazz and instrumental music.

"I really admire Duke Ellington from his time at The Cotton Club in New York, which then was the place to be. This style of jazz was much more sophisticated and urbane, more arranged and controlled. Ellington used his great orchestra as an instrument, and created some very haunting and mysterious moods.

"These were some of the sounds that I wanted to recreate on The Jazz Age," he adds.

And the 68-year-old sees himself doing more jazz-themed music in the future: "Having immersed myself in the period so much for the last few months it would probably feel perfectly natural. They are such wonderful players, and inspiring to work with.

"Just recently the 1920s does seem to have become once more a rather cool and interesting period. I had found myself in the last few years re-listening to early jazz and re-reading Eliot and Scott Fitzgerald, so perhaps there was something in the air.

"As you know, the Twenties was a rather special era, not only with music and dance, art and literature, but also fashion, architecture, communications and basically the birth of everything modern. Very important also to the mystique of the time is the dark undercurrent of crime – prohibition – which added a certain forbidden flavour."

The live show, which the orchestra is taking up and down the country, is every bit as entertaining as it sounds. A combination of instrumental pieces from the orchestra and full band performances with Ferry, helping to reinvigorate some well-loved tracks from the singer's heyday in the Seventies and Eighties.

With age has come reflection for Ferry, and in recent years he has mainly looked backwards, recording cover versions of other artists' work or reassessing his own extensive catalogue. He first worked with members of his current orchestra on the 1999 album As Time Goes By.

The big band suits Ferry's slick stage presence perfectly and though the shift in style is a huge departure, the orchestra's suave sophistication gives his songs a new lease of life. Fans will delight in it.

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