- Judith Owen
There are those who feel that 80s experimental jazz romantics Roxy Music died the day Brian Eno left. While it’s true Roxy’s first two albums are sprinkled with Eno’s unique musical stardust, later Roxy albums and BRYAN FERRY’s solo output showed that Ferry was eminently capable of continuing to conjure bittersweet longing and loss set in a contrastingly seedy/glamorous landscape, to a polished soundtrack. Tonight’s sell-out suggests that his legacy is an enduring one.
Support comes from Welsh songstress JUDITH OWEN, who soon wins the audience over with the sheer quality of her songwriting and her vocal range. Her band isn’t half bad either: drummer Russ Kinkel, bassist Leland Sklar and guitarist Waddy Wachtel are all veterans of the classic troubadour albums of Carole King, James Taylor, et al. Owen introduces the songs, from her recent Ebb And Flow album, as a “love letter to Laurel Canyon”. A version of Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime could have come straight off Joni Mitchell’s Blue and the sunshine sound softens her sometimes barbed lyrics.
Bryan Ferry’s eleven-piece band take to the stage and launch seamlessly into the percussive introduction to Avonmore, the title track from Ferry’s latest album. With a backlit stage, it is Ferry’s unmistakeable silhouette that we see sidling up to the microphone, with almost amorous intent. Ferry caresses the mic and sings as though whispering sweet nothings in your ear.
The new material has the sheen of early 80s Avalon and Boys And Girls and sees Ferry taking a couple of songs to get into his stride before the first classic Roxy offering, Beauty Queen. The opening shimmering chords send a delightful shiver of recognition down the spine and are greeted with a roar. It is, though, eclipsed by a superb Ladytron, the rolling drum and bass of the finale underpinning the shaking power chords and swirling synth.
Never one for between-song chat, Ferry has always cultivated a slightly dispassionate relationship with his audience. His only statement is an apology for the lack of any such dialogue: “we have so much to get through”. The pace is indeed snappy, each song crisp and concise.
Ferry is considered by some to be over-produced but beneath the undeniable polish his music has always had a certain sly, sexy groove and the elegant fragility of his voice has always packed an emotional punch. This is evidenced most obviously on the slower, more sparsely played covers: Bob Dylan’s Dream and Don’t Think Twice, on which Ferry plays some lovely harmonica, Kern’s Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and, of course, Jealous Guy are all delicately and lovingly delivered.
Ferry takes a break mid-set and leaves the stage to guitarist Jacob Quistgaard, brass and woodwind player Jorja Chalmers, keyboard player Paul Beard and violinist Lucy Wilkins, all of whom solo beautifully and to great acclaim on the cinematic instrumental soundscape of Roxy’s Tara.
When the unmistakeable drum intro of Love Is The Drug rings out, a most un-Philharmonic thing happens The crowd rise as one and several hundred people rush towards the stage, arms aloft, dancing. For one delirious moment I think there might be a middle-aged stage invasion, but the acolytes stop short and no M&S thongs are hurled towards the stage. The crowd remain on their feet for the remainder of the concert, as Ferry takes us on a Roxy-inspired finale with blistering versions of classics such as Virginia Plain and Do The Strand, with a sizzling Let’s Stick Together thrown in for good measure. The crowd are dancing and singing along, encouraged by some slick footwork from the backing singers, who are clearly revelling in the insurgency.
The Andy Mackay brass and woodwind passages are beautifully played by Chalmers, Quistgaard’s accomplished, soaring, lead guitar more than evokes Phil Manzanera’s originals and even Eno’s quirky, avant-electro is effectively realised by Beard. If Ferry is recreating his older numbers rather than reinterpreting them, nobody minds: they are superbly recreated and adoringly received.