Roxy Music founder and art rock crooner Bryan Ferry doesn't mind stepping back in time – in fact the 73-year-old finds comfort waltzing to the beat of the past. His forthcoming album Bittersweet sees Ferry reinterpret Roxy Music classics from the self-titled 1972 debut, this time with an orchestra.
His decision to head back to the jazz age is in part owed to writing the film score for the Netflix series Babylon Berlin last year, in which he also appears as a cabaret singer. "I like going back in time, it's a nice place to be," says Bryan Ferry who has sustained a 45-year career across eight albums with Roxy Music and 15 as a solo artist. "I'm not one of those artists who won't go back and listen to what I've done before or re-record it. You can always look back and think you could have done something better or didn't do it well enough. Like most creatives I have my ups and downs, but it's good to remember the positives."
Ferry has enjoyed a steady career over the decades with No. 1 albums including Stranded in 1973, Flesh and Blood in 1980 and Avalon in 1982. There's been 11 top 10 singles in the UK and a No. 1 spot when he covered John Lennon's Jealous Guy in 1980. He wrote Love Is the Drug in the '70s and covered blues man Wilbert Harrison's Let's Stick Together which also became a chart-topping hit, but Ferry became equally adored for his English fashion strut – the way he merged '50s crooner with '70s cocktail hour was his alone.
When Ferry emerged in 1970 with Roxy Music, Marc Bolan and his band T-Rex was taking psych glam and spandex rebellion to stretchy limits while David Bowie was hanging around creating sci-fi looks with vaudeville rock, but nobody did debonair like Ferry. He leaped from the same bright lights of glam but gave it a peacock makeover with tailored suits from Savile Row. London fashion designer Antony Price was responsible for his stage outfits – the famous white tuxedo worn in the video clip for Let's Stick Together featuring his then girlfriend Jerry Hall a highlight. Then there was Ferry poolside in a bow tie – suggestive, never sleazy.
"I have always been fascinated with fashion ever since I was young," says Ferry, who had a part time job working for a Newcastle tailor. It was there he spent every Saturday morning surrounded by fabrics, sketches and tailoring know-how that afforded him new records each week but also a taste for classicism. "I was also fascinated by movie stars and musicals – Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Carey Grant all inspired my style," he adds. "They always wore a beautiful suit and of course hats as well. People took a lot of care in the way they dressed, men's clothing was very tailored and smart and I still cherish that look. It's classic."
He admits he still loves to wear a tie and describes his style conservative and classic. "To this day I dress the same way," he says. Ferry is also an avid art collector, and says he would have become an art teacher if music hadn't come knocking. "I must have been born under a lucky star," he reflects of his charmed life in the spotlight.
Ferry says art is the drug that fuels his fire. "Art is a big part of my life," says Ferry. "I collect art from early 20th century British artists – those from the Bloomsburg Group like post-impressionist painter Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and many others from that time like Wyndham Lewis, Walter Sickert and war artists Paul and John Nash ... I love the 1900s to 1940s and seeing them gives me great pleasure."
One night in August, 1988, after a Roxy Music show in New York, Ferry recalls meeting artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. "I saw Jean Michel the night he died," says Ferry. "We had a party and he came to that to hang out and the next day he was dead, it was very sad. He was way too young."
With the loss of greats such as David Bowie and Tom Petty, Ferry feels blessed with good health and good times. Earlier this year, his former wife Lucy Birley who he was married to for 20 years and had four sons with, died at the age of 58. "I have had a lot of friends die in the last few years and it's all been really quite sad," he says. "I've gone to church more than I care to for memorial services. But I do like ritual and going inside churches, they're peaceful places and sometimes very beautiful too. For me, it's a chance to think if there really is something else out there. I do wonder."