Bryan Ferry is nearly seventy-four years old. For a moment, just reflect on his remarkable success over nearly fifty years but also on his humble beginnings in Tyne & Wear, North-East England. Working class Geordie, paperboy, an “orchid born on a coal tip” (in his own words), think about the time when he must have decided, just like Eric Burdon, that “ I gotta get outta this place”. And ditch the accent along the way to become the King of Cool, the Sultan of Suave, the besuited rock star. And of course, soon to become a Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer, in a few months’ time, as a founding member of Roxy Music.
But before that…….
A stripped down Miltones featuring Milly Tabak supported by Liam Pratt opened the show as a late replacement for Aussie Americana singer Juanita Stein, who had to cancel last week due to the death of her father. (Milly knows what that is like when she played her song for her late father, Carlos.)
I’m a big fan of The Miltones but have had mixed feelings about Milly as a solo act. She has been a little tentative on her own, nervous perhaps, or maybe the reality is that her voice needs the support of a full band. But tonight, the addition of Liam on acoustic adds a depth that allows her voice to resonate and soar, in true Americana, southern twang style, over the cut-back Spark Arena (it always sounds better in theatre mode). Susan Tedeschi comes to mind.
Some old songs, some new ones, including her tribute to Nancy Wake, and closing with 1959 and Little Sister. Milly, you have found the formula if you can’t get your full band along: just bring Liam!!
And then, at 9 o’clock sharp…….
On came eight members of the band and right into an intro for The Main Thing before the man himself shimmies on stage... looking not seventy-four but closer to fifty-four, and in his trademark suit, but no tie (doesn’t matter). Thus began a night of smooth and polished nostalgia rock, exactly what the 5,000 or so fans were waiting for.
All but one of the Roxy Music albums are sampled, along with a smattering of Bryan Ferry's 1980s solo albums, notably 1985’s Boys and Girls. I was surprised to discover that most of these songs were familiar, and in retrospect much more like a funked up 80’s Roxy than I had appreciated in the past ( but it doesn’t matter). Maybe it was the arrangements but the groove remained consistent throughout with the exception of the two tracks from Bête Noire, where the Latin influence subtly crept in as you look around for a tango dancing partner.
But it was the early stuff which animated me the most... from the 1972 debut Roxy Music and sophomore For Your Pleasure, the albums which featured Brian Eno on synthesizer. First up Ladytron, whose intro was eerily reminiscent of King Crimson. Later on, In Every Dream Home a Heartache also sounding like King Crimson on pop. The be-bop intro to If There Is Something; the punk sounding Re-Make/Re-Model, (the first Roxy song most of us got to hear), and the pre-encore Editions Of You, where the band let loose on a rare (for this evening) extended play. Roxy Music was different, they were eclectic, they used brass, they were strange, and yet familiar. What a band!!
Brian Eno left in 1973, and from then on it was a one Bryan band, and gradually the sound turned more accessible and more pop-py, but no less appealing. Stranded came next (what, no Street Life, no Mother of Pearl ?... oh, doesn’t matter), followed by Country Life and then Siren ( with the Jerry Hall cover) before a few years hiatus until 1979’s Manifesto, 1980’s Flesh And Blood and finally Avalon.
One highlight was the Bob Dylan cover of Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, elegantly simple, just keyboard player Richard Cardwell with Ferry playing a mean harmonica. Dylan doesn’t do this song like this anymore (and that does matter…).
Was Oh Yeah played a bit too fast? Did Jorja have a sound problem with her keyboard on Avalon? Did Ferry's voice creak and croak a little on some songs (only to miraculously recover on others)? Did it at times all seem a bit perfunctory and workmanlike?... ah... it does not matter.
Well, no, perfunctory is not the right word, more like a perfect covers band, and it is an impressive band. Chris Spedding, the world’s most famous unknown success on guitar and looking every bit his seventy-four years in a contrasting crumpled suit. Was this deliberate?
Question: Why is Chris Spedding not as famous as Bryan Ferry?
Answer: The style, the style, the style
But Chris Spedding replicated Manzanera’s licks to perfection and then some. And then there was Jorja Chalmers on sax, clarinet and synth, looking dare I say it, ultra Roxy chic, and playing Andy Mackay also to perfection. Another Candy Dulfer and a welcome sign of challenge to the hitherto male-dominated brass section. Sensational.
Luke Bullen was on drums (formerly Mr K.T.Tunstall), Jerry Meehan on bass ( Robbie Williams), Marina Moore on violin, Richard Cardwell on keyboards and two excellent backing singers in Hannah Khemoh and Aleysha Lai.
At 10.20ish, after Editions of You, Ferry started to bid farewell, but without leaving the stage launched into Jealous Guy, the Roxy tribute to John Lennon. Did his whistle need a little whetting?... (doesn’t matter...).
After a brief exit, Ferry was back for Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Stick Together and then it was over, 10.30 sharp. The style, the style, the style...
What, no Virginia Plain?
(it doesn’t matter, you idiot, it just doesn’t matter...)
- The Main Thing (Avalon)
- Slave to Love (Boys and Girls)
- Don’t Stop the Dance (Boys and Girls)
- Ladytron (Roxy Music – first album)
- Out of the Blue (Country Life)
- Oh Yeah (Flesh and Blood)
- Tokyo Joe (In Your Mind)
- Casanova (Country Life)
- A Waste Land (Boys and Girls)
- Windswept (Boys and Girls)
- Bête Noire (Bête Noire)
- Zamba (Bête Noire)
- Stronger Through the Years (Manifesto)
- Don’t Think Twice, Its All Right (Bob Dylan cover)
- My Only Love (Flesh and Blood)
- In Every Dream Home a Heartache (For Your Pleasure)
- If There is Something (Roxy Music- first album)
- More Than This (Avalon)
- Avalon (Avalon)
- Love is the Drug (Siren)
- Re-Make/Re-Model (Roxy Music-first album)
- Editions of You (For Your Pleasure)
- Jealous Guy (John Lennon cover)
- Let’s Stick Together (Wilbert Harrison cover)