BBC Radio 4, The Today Programme
15th October 2012
Sarah Montague: Its forty years since Bryan Ferry released his debut single Virginia Plain with Roxy Music. To celebrate the start of his fifth decade in the music business he’s re-recorded some of his best known songs, performed by the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, in the style of the 1920s. The album’s due out in November and features instrumental versions of Love is the Drug, Virginia Plain and Avalon. I went to meet him and asked why he’d taken his music back to an earlier era.
BF: I’ve been listening a lot over the last year or two, to a lot of 20s music, that’s probably how its happened. King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, early Duke Ellington, and it’s all quite raw, but very passionate and dynamic music.
SM: And very unusual because what you’ve done is taken some very old, well very familiar old songs of yours, famous ones…
BF: Yes, familiar tunes, because part of what I do is write tunes…
SM: …But you’ve given them the 20s treatment, and I think it sounds… I mean it sounds so different…
BF: Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it? And it always seems to put a smile on people’s faces as well, which is quite a good thing, because of having been known for doing quite a lot of melancholic pieces over the years you know?
SM: That’s interesting, why do you think that is?
BF: I don’t know, people just like the sound of trumpets, saxophones, and especially the bass saxophone we’ve been using instead of the double base, which is very ‘of the period’, and you know it’s quite quaint. Its quite interesting when you recognise Do The Strand, or Don’t Stop The Dance, or Virginia Plain or whatever songs you might, or might not recognise.
SM: But I noticed that it puts a smile on your face talking about working with this group of people again.
BF: Oh yeah, because I’m not in the spotlight! I’m sort of the Diagolo figure behind it in the fur coat and cigar really, and I’m directing it but not playing.
SM: But it is so odd because you are so famous for your voice and as a singer…
BF: So for me it’s refreshing not to be doing that. It’s quite nice to give your songs another life, a life without words.
SM: It really does evoke the 20s The Jazz Age doesn’t it? It’s very much of a particular time.
BF: Yeah yeah, it was a wild time, quite reckless and people were experimenting and trying out new things. It’s a fascinating period and the literature from the period is very interesting for me. I’ve always been a huge fan from school days of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Beautiful and The Damned describes the wild parties of New York, and these are the sorts of people who would go to hear the music we’ve been trying to recreate on this album.
SM: It makes one wonder of course what you think of the current crop of singers.
BF: Oh there are some really good ones. There are a lot of good girl singers that keep appearing in the last few years. I suppose Lady Gaga is the most famous, she brings a – as we tried to do in a small way in the early Roxy Music days – a bit of theatre into music.
SM: I was reading something that you had said. Somebody asked you what was your most embarrassing moment and you said that it was telling a journalist that one of your sons was on the list for Eton, now obviously this was some time ago…
BF: Oh yeah, that’s a long time ago, I can’t remember that, and there are a lot of worse, more embarrassing things than that I’m sure!
SM: But the reason you found it embarrassing at the time was that you said that people saw or said that you were committing the ultimate working class sin, because here you are the son of a miner…
BF: Yeah, betrayal of your roots. Well I’ve never betrayed my roots. No, I think that my parents always wanted me to have a better life than they had and I certainly wasn’t going to be turned against any ideas of sending my children to a good school because of that, that’s crazy.
SM: Although we have a political leader now proudly proclaiming the fact that he was at a comprehensive compared with one who many people say should be embarrassed because he went to Eton.
BF: I don’t think he should be embarrassed. It’s a strange kind of, left wing political correctness thing you get…its mad.
SM: I wonder what you make of the fact that now, I mean when you first came out as Roxy Music and you were making your records, people would pay for them, now obviously…
BF: Those were the days.
SM: Well bands now, I mean obviously some people pay but there’s an awful lot of people who don’t pay.
BF: What is interesting is that it makes people, like myself included, do more interesting things.
SM: Although there would be people possibly saying ‘Look you can afford to do this, what about those who are struggling to make their name’.
BF: Well its tough, I guess they go on the X-Factor. I think if people want to make music they’ve got to be very committed and there are just different ways of doing it.
SM: Bryan Ferry thank you very much for talking to us.