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Three Songs No Flash

Silver Fox: Bryan Ferry Live In Brighton, By Simon Price
Simon Price , October 26th, 2015 13:07

Simon Price admires the attractive artifice of Bryan Ferry, and concludes that it's best to never scratch beneath the surface

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Dim the lights, you can guess the rest.

As a matter of fact, you have no choice. The stage at the Brighton Dome is so gloomily illuminated – gloominated - that for most of the show, nobody has any real clue what Bryan Ferry looks like. And nobody cares. People are here because of the idea of Bryan Ferry. (I'm here because of the ideas of Bryan Ferry, which isn't quite the same thing, but we'll come to that.)

A Bryan Ferry audience looks exactly as you'd expect it to. Elegant messieurs-dames. Women who look like Gloria Hunniford and men who look like Michael Aspel. Oh, and one drunken MLFF (Mom who'd Like to Fuck Ferry) who shouts “Come on, you little sex kitten!” before the 70-year-old saunters on.

At first, here's barely there at all. His movements are those of a movie actor, not a stage performer, built from just the slightest gestures: biting his lower lip, rolling his shoulders, and making slow motion fingerclicks which, if they were miked up, would just go 'pfff'.

Which is more or less what the music does, at first anyway. Bryan Ferry has spent the last three decades perfecting a sound which Taylor Parkes unimprovably described on tQ a year ago as “an expensive gas”. The opening two tracks, taken from 2014's Avonmore, sound as though the next logical step would be for his music to vaporise completely and dissipate into nothingness. Till it isn't there any more, and nor is he.

We're only six songs in when he abandons his own material completely and surrenders his persona to someone else's. Even before he made his debt plain by recording 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' in 1973, Bryan Ferry's vocal style sounded like a Vic Reeves pub singer pisstake of Bob Dylan, and there are two Dylan covers in a row, complete with harmonica: 'Bob Dylan's Dream' and 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright'.

It's an act which goes beyond self-effacement into self-erasure. And the strange thing is, it does him no harm whatsoever. Nobody buys into Bryan Ferry as a personality, because there isn't a personality there to buy into, just an empty cipher, an attractive patina of suaveness and class.

God forbid anyone try to engage with the reality, anyway. Bryan Ferry probably isn't a very nice man. Actually, scratch the 'probably': Bryan Ferry isn't a very nice man. No, I've never met him, but I won't defer to anyone telling me how charming and considerate he is in person. His enthusiasm for fox hunting, which he shares with his idiot son, tells you all you need to know. The Ferrys' enthusiasm for the right to chase to exhaustion, torment and tear apart a sentient creature for kicks demonstrates that Bryan Ferry is not, by definition, 'a nice man'.

It doesn't matter. I'm a fully paid-up member of the Bad People Make Good Art club. Some rock stars have fiddled with kids. Some have murdered people. I still listen to their music, and I bet you do too. Bryan Ferry has played benefits for the Countryside Alliance, come out as a fan of David Cameron, and described himself as “naturally conservative”. In the scheme of things, these are small-time sins. It does mean that during some of the slower sections of the concert, I get an unwelcome mental picture of Ferry in a crimson hunting jacket, shouting “Tally ho!” while Madonna bags up the cadavers and PJ Harvey tells us it's fine because we city folks don't understand the ways of the country. But you've got to put this stuff out of your mind sometimes, or a love of rock & roll becomes untenable. Don't think twice. It's alright.

It's the final night of the Avonmore tour – interrupted due to a health scare late last year - and Ferry deserves to be commended for a thoughtful, inventive set list which is neither a case of death by new album (there are only three tracks from it) nor a predictable greatest hits show (even if that means we miss out on some belters). Instead, he reaches for non-obvious album tracks and deep cuts, both from his solo career, the title track of Bete Noire (the 1987 album he made with David Gilmour and Johnny Marr) being an unexpected gem, and the Roxy Music back catalogue, including 'Stronger Through The Years' (from Manifesto), 'Editions Of You' and 'Beauty Queen' (from For Your Pleasure) and, from their self-titled debut, 'If There Is Something', and a particularly stunning 'Ladytron'.

If one album is over-represented, in fact, it's Avalon, Roxy's super-slick 1982 farewell, from which four tracks are played, including the airbrushed title track and 'More Than This', once used on an in-flight advert on Virgin Atlantic planes for Richard Branson's private holiday resort, Necker Island. It's no surprise that Branson chose that track (and not only because, from 1992 onwards, Virgin owned it). Avalon-era Roxy were straightforwardly, uncomplicatedly aspirational. If Amazon existed in the 80s, it would tell you “People who bought Avalon also bought Diamond Life by Sade and No Parlez by Paul Young”. If Patrick Bateman had a favourite Roxy Music album... well, you get the picture.

That isn't how it began. Roxy Music were the first band of the 70s, in any sense that matters, emerging at the instant that B&W ceded to colour. They were also simultaneously the first modern and the first postmodern band, playfully using referentiality to the golden age of Hollywood and the heyday of rock & roll while making thrillingly futuristic music.

Incidentally, I don't buy the idea that the greatness of early Roxy was all Brian Eno's doing. Ferry was as art school as anyone, and there's an argument that Eno's synths, as radical as they were, functioned as window dressing, certainly no more important than Andy Mackay's use of jazz/classical instruments (saxophones and clarinets) to avant-garde ends.

Almost incredibly, Ferry and his band incubated their aesthetic while living among the same sodium-lit streets of Newcastle where Lindisfarne were meeting on the corner, in a North East that looked how it looks in Get Carter. At that point, their references to the high life - “If you feel blue, look through Who's Who” - were played with a knowing laugh and a wink.

Somewhere along the way, midway through the 70s, the knowing irony was lost, and Ferry/Roxy took the aristocratic trappings literally. Pop culture is, or at least was (before the genuine upper classes got their filthy paws on it), a vital motor for social mobility which, to quote Roxy Music's debut single, “opens up exclusive doors”. What you do when you get through those doors is crucial. Ferry turned out to be a dreadful social climber who, once he found himself rubbing shoulderpads with the elite, went native, and fell for all that Lord Of The Manor nonsense hook, line and sinker, hence his fondness for Basil Brush-bothering.

We're doubtless meant to be thinking sophisticated thoughts, and not (as I am) of gruesome photos on Hunt Sabs leaflets, when Ferry leaves his (superb) ten-piece band to have their their instrumental moment in the dappled spotlight, and wanders off for a Campari. On his return, it's greatest hits time at last, albeit not wholly the hits I crave. We don't get 'Same Old Scene', the sublime 1980 single which, like Bowie's 'Fashion', seemed to tell the New Romantics, “Oi, I was here first." Nor do we get 'Street Life', with its dizzying, almost Situationist sense of possibility (“the good life's never won by degrees”).

But the population of the stalls lumber up and limbo down to the front for 'Love Is The Drug', and for 'Let's Stick Together' Ferry himself livens up with some dad-dancing and affirmative handclaps. 'Virginia Plain' and the absurdist 'Do The Strand' represent the era when Roxy Music were so far ahead of the game that they were doing victory laps, and are both utterly magnificent.

A mirrorball descends for the encores, and Ferry croons Lennon's 'Jealous Guy', the only No.1 Roxy Music ever had. As he purses his lips for the whistling solo in the outro, like a posh postman, I have two thoughts. The first: does Bryan Ferry feel daft? The second: does Bryan Ferry feel anything at all?

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Oct 26, 2015 6:36pm

I saw him last year here in the States and thought the show was merely ok. It was a bit cheeseball, but then again, a lot of popular music from the late 70s and 80s was chock full of cheese. That Mr. Ferry, during the first half of the show, kept leaving the mic for extended periods of time for gawd-awful guitar and/or saxophone solos from his band was, frankly, embarrassing. My girlfriend bought the tickets (which weren't terribly cheap) and we kept looking at each other, rather astonished, saying "we paid to see Bryan Ferry, not a couple of goofball hired hands play ridiculous 5 minute long sax/guitar solos". The 2nd half of the show, with Mr. Ferry out front was much much better.

And really, Mr. Price, did you just compare someone who hunts with "Some rock stars have fiddled with kids. Some have murdered people"? That's holding up about as well as those sax/guitar solos.

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Oct 26, 2015 7:26pm

Careful with that axe Eugene! Interesting comments on Ferrys alleged personality but maybe misguided in discussing a live performance. Glad you mentioned Bete Noire. Ive obsessed over everything Ferrys recorded and its the best Album he ever made by far. Sounds like nothing else. He is more than anything a Producer of music and theres an eeriness on that album not present in his other work.

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Oct 26, 2015 9:33pm

"His enthusiasm for fox hunting, which he shares with his idiot son, tells you all you need to know."

Lucky you, you don't eat meat. Nor does anyone who agrees with you. Never a a tortured burger or suffering sushi. Or sin--not you. You're perfect. You've never purchased a computer made by children. No phone? You use morse code? And you're naked, of course? But not living in England, are you? Not white, are you? Well, maybe, put your clothes back ob honk up the bytes and pay those reparations for slavery. You're easy hate is built on real hate. Lucky you--a hero!

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Oct 27, 2015 7:42am

In reply to RobertH:

It’s not about being perfect. Nobody is. It’s hard, if not impossible, to live in the modern world without in some way unwittingly supporting the exploitation that exists at the heart of it. But you know what? You do the best you can. You try to live and shop ethically where possible. Actively promoting the “right” of humans to torture and brutally kill other animals for the sheer pleasure of it is the polar opposite of that. I love Ferry’s music but he’s gone out of his way to show his support for the disgusting activity of hunting so neither he nor his apologists can moan when he’s pulled up on it.
And no, I don’t eat meat :P

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Oct 27, 2015 9:50am

"I get an unwelcome mental picture of Ferry in a crimson hunting jacket, shouting “Tally ho!” while Madonna bags up the cadavers and PJ Harvey tells us it's fine because we city folks don't understand the ways of the country".
Greatest lines in The Quietus by far.
But I don't agree in the connection Avalon-Sade-Paul Young. Avalon and Sade had great moments, Paul Young was torture.
By the way, Ferry was a always an easy target. He doesn't make me "that" angry.

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Oct 27, 2015 11:25am

The show is about music. What was your review about. The Quietus has wasted my time once but it won't happen againe.

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Johnny Clay
Oct 27, 2015 1:04pm

Given the ageing, upmarket social milieu he and his music envisage, it shouldn't surprise us to find him holding such decrepit values. Perhaps time will claim them as surely as it will claim him. Tender is the Night, from Olympia, is still lovely though.

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Oct 27, 2015 3:07pm

In reply to RobertH:

Is eating foxes a delicacy in deepest Gloucestershire? I think you can be a meat eater ( like myself) and having trouble finding a justification to hunt foxes for pleasure. I understand the argument that the act might have an social role in rural England.. But my expedience is that rural England ( or at least the part I am familiar with) has an obvious conservative, quasi medieval social order were fox hunting is a ritualised reinforcer. But then what do I know I'm a Frenchman in exile ;)

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Oct 27, 2015 5:16pm

is there really not enough news or interest in the musical world to have crap like this on the quietus? it reads more like a cheap shot to gain some attention than an unbiased concert review.

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Oct 27, 2015 6:46pm

In reply to deadly_doris:

Er, Doris--have you read anything else by Simon Price? His bias is righteous! His Manic Street Preachers bio is so up-its-own-arse that it's the only piece of journalism to ever make sense of that band. This is no different--by occupying a place of superficial wankery, he's basically getting comfy with Bryan Ferry's persona, all the better to review the revue. And any of his other articles on tQ are from a similar perspective (especially his truly awesome pieces on Duran Duran), all to utterly fabulous effect. If this is a slow news day then, Dear Lord, please make every day slow!

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Oct 27, 2015 7:30pm

In reply to Biblefondler:

don't mind me, i am just trying to find some intelligent signs of life.

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Boobz McGee
Oct 28, 2015 2:35pm

I love him!

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Boobz McGee
Oct 28, 2015 2:36pm

May I also add, I'm 38 and look nothing like Gloria Hunniford!

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Oct 28, 2015 3:41pm

What a dreadful article. How can you conclude that Bryan Ferry is not a nice man when you have never met him? And what even gives you the right to say so. You clearly know not think about him and sounds like you are just jealous and resentful. I have met Bryan countless times over the years. I can assure you he is very very nice and extremely kind and thoughtful. I could give you examples of his kindness but you'd probably flush them down the toilet to the sewers where you obviously belong!

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steven john
Oct 29, 2015 10:27am

dear sir I do not like Simon Price's satirical comments on a artist who has been making excellent music for over thirty years. Why on earth would someone with a view bent on slandering a true rock artist want to go and see and then criticise him.

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Oct 29, 2015 10:56am

Lovely comments about early Roxy being a portal like the telly. But once he'd walked through the 'exclusive doors', surely Avalon is as much a portal? Rich people are bored, call it ennui and beggar off to Nassau. Nah, that album cuts both ways. More Steve Winwood.

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Oct 29, 2015 11:22am

In reply to StuartGadd:

Ps. Is PJ Harvey a fox-hunting apologist too?damn.

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John Doran
Oct 29, 2015 11:28am

In reply to steven john:

Hmmmm. Why would a music critic go to a music concert to criticise a musician? Now that is a good question.

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Oct 29, 2015 3:03pm

slave(r) to love

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Oct 29, 2015 5:08pm

does this writer still parade hair horns?

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David Craggs
Nov 2, 2015 3:02pm

It is clear that Mr Price would be a lot more comfortable at a 'Bay City Rollers' concert.
I think Mr Ferry has made a phenomenal contribution to modern music in terms of both quality and diversity over a career that has spanned more than four decades.
In my opinion, he is first amongst equals when it comes to introducing different styles of music to modern audiences. His excellent 'As Time Goes By' and 'Jazz Age' albums are solid testimonys to that.
Doubtless Mr Price would not be in agreement with my opinion. That is fine but what is not fine is for him to express himself in such an ill informed, bigoted manner. Fox hunting indeed. Mr.Ferry doesn't even ride but don't let the facts get in the way of a bad attempt at a hatchet job!

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Jack Shatter
Sep 5, 2016 8:24pm

Mr. Ferry's approach to entertainment presupposes that both he and his audience relish the delicacies that big money and position bring, even if his fans have to fantasize about them. So it doesn't surprise me too much that he can get a kick out of fox hunting, which is something that I despise myself. I have always loved his music and artistic taste in presentation, which

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Jack Shatter
Sep 5, 2016 8:30pm

(continued) makes me conclude the art is one thing and the artist is another. You can like one without having to agree about everything with the other.

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