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: Ferry by the Mersey; Mr Suave rolls into town tomorrow and and tells Lew Baxter what it's like to be his alter ego, Mr Bryan Ferry.

Byline: Lew Baxter

WITHIN cloistered music media circles Bryan Ferry is considered an awfully diffident chap, difficult to talk to, reticent to the point of shyness and the effort ofpersuading him to engage in conversation akin to drawing water from a dry well.

This is a gross calumny on Ferry's character for he is remarkably affable and occasionally even loquacious. Modulated, yes, but he's fair game for a natter all the same about his latest UK tour.

You wouldn't guess from even close up but Ferry is sliding towards 60 and yet belies it with that smooth, youthful sheen - all perfectly natural he stresses - that ensures he will retain for a while the epithet ``the godfather of contemporary style'', coined by an overawed national newspaper columnist.

The Los Angeles Times gushed that he's the ``Sultan of Suave'' which, considering a couple of his pals are from Dire Straits and hail from his neck of the woods in the North East, is a real hoot as he reckons they weren't aware of the allusion and probably wouldn't have twigged anyway.

Flipping through his memory banks Ferry tends to let loose a throaty sort of embarrassed chuckle at being tagged the coolest man in Britain or, as the ``Greatest living Englishman'' to his acolytes. But he is arguably the swishiest in town.

There are those who swear that even at primary school he exuded an effortless eloquence and grace.

Quizzed on this he is startled; a quirky self-effacement considering the glitzy profile he's wallowed in since his teens.

By the early 1960s this son of a coal miner from the hard-worn town of Washington - not a million miles from Prime Minister Blair's constituency - had joined a band called the Banshees while reading for a fine arts degree at the University of Newcastle.

He continues to enjoy attending exhibitions and this artistic bent persuaded him early on that he was the most qualifiedto design his own record covers; even to choosing the size of typefaces.

After he linked up with a musical outfit called the Gas Board one witless magazine writer thought he was some kind of maintenance fitter, then with the bassist Graham Simpson, Ferry formed Roxy Music in the summer of 1970.

That truly was a seminal group of its kind, hailed then and now as grandiose pop iconoclasts, whooshing style into another dimension. Ferry laughs again, but there is clear pride that he was at the cutting edge: most pundits would concur that he was probably the zeitgeist's blade sharpener.

Mind you, despite their cult following it was to be a handful of years before they struck chart gold when Ferry's haunting version of John Lennon's poignant Jealous Guy hurtled them to the top.

``Yeah, it was a defining moment but I'd always been a fan of good if gut-rending songs,'' explains Ferry whose latest album Frantic is an improbable title for him because if he were any more laid back, he'd be flat out. It features glorious paeans to Garbo, Johnny Ray, James Bond and the self-penned song Goddess of Love trawls over the tragedy of Marilyn Monroe's fascinating but ultimately tragic young existence.

``She had such a haunted life and it was long overdue that I should pay homage,'' murmurs the ever-so-softly spoken Mr Ferry who blinks furiously - startled again - when the issue of him not having any kind of northeast accent whatsoever is raised.

``Erm, actually when I listen to myself I sound quite broad,'' he stutters, momentarily thrown, then has a fit of giggles as he agrees that perhapsJimmy Nail has the advantage in this matter. He blurts out bizarrely that he thinks his singing can be quite earthy, which is about as far removed from reality as is possible. Still, we all harbour misconceptions.

He's also a close pal of fellow `east coaster' Dave Stewart, the weirdly temperamental Geordie element of the Eurhythmics who has co-written a couple of songs on the new album, the pair sharing a fondness for classical arrangements, which might enlighten Stewart aficionados.

Ferry chortles benignly that Stewart is a proper eccentric and, with his surreal stance on life, is leagues distant from Bryan's own elegant sophisticate image. He declares they are like chalk and cheese but feels there is a natural bond that keeps them close.

``I think it's because we do have a shared northern sense of humour, but he's very much a will o' the wisp,'' and he titters before acknowledging his other show business debt; to the legendary Bob Dylan. It's been a peculiar habit of Ferry's to regularly try to interpret the old groaner's ramblings.

Years back he tackled the potent polemic about nuclear insanity, Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall, to the amused surprise of fans and friends alike. And he readily agrees that it wasn't originally his sort of stuff, but that it grew on him. This time around he's peddling Don't Think Twice and It's All Over Now Baby Blue; even personally letting rip with a fair harmonica backing.

``I was into black soul singers in the 60s but once I got over my prejudice of Dylan I realised his material and lyrics were tremendous. I really do like his songs now and actually wanted to do a guitar-based album of my own,'' confides Ferry.

His early influence, though, was the blues and recalls first listening to the Leadbelly classic Goodnight Irene when he was a mere 10, and now it's there as a tribute on the Frantic album 46 years later.

Bryan's keen to explore why Roxy Music split up and how they assembled again last year for a reunion following his own well-received solo tour the year before, along with all the guff about his years in the wilderness of the studio. Oh, and there's the acres of newsprint about his Jerry Hall heartache, which has denuded forests. But the more revealing tale is that he's a pukka fan of 30s and 40s noir black and white Hollywood movies and spills the beans that as a lad his mum would get free tickets for the local fleapit in their hometown.

``Every week I would go and watch these films about stars and the high life and be swept away by the mood.

``It was sublime,'' he grins and here, perhaps, is the key to his casually slick savoir-faire, sartorial standards and musical muse.

It seems his mum would make tea and sandwiches for the projectionist who gave her the tickets as a thank you. Ferry's warm smile evaporates to wan when he's asked about his mum being a tea lady. He retorts abruptly, unveiling an unexpected level of class angst: ``No. She wasn't a tea lady, not at all. It was just a friendly thing for the projectionist.'' Whoops.

Bryan reckons that his terrific following in Liverpool, where he appears at the Summer Pops tomorrow, is because of his gritty northern background, even though he's polished to a shine.

``Well, its quite respectable to be northern now and there is a gutsy feel to my music,'' he asserts. He was intrigued about the event and delighted to discover that he's part of a glittering list of stars booked to appear over two weeks, chums like Elton John and Jools Holland.

``Is it a big open space?'' he asks and is chuffed like a small boy when told about the massive, yellow and blue stripy tent.

``Wow,'' he murmurs and the glossy reserve just slips a little.

l Bryan Ferry at the Summer Pops, Kings Dock, Liverpool, Sunday, July 14.


MR NICE GUY: He; may be nearing 60 but Bryan Ferry looks as chic as he did when pioneering the sounds of Roxy Music in the Seventies
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 13, 2002
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