By: Victoria Yates
Bryan Ferry was born on the 26th of September 1945 in Washington, County Durham. His father, Fred Ferry, was a farmer. Bryan studied at a local grammar school where he had shown promise as both a writer and as an actor. But it was art and music that proved to be his true passions, and after achieving nine o-levels he went on to study Fine Art at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. It was while here that Ferry met Richard Hamilton, one of his teachers, and a founding member of British Pop Art. Hamilton went on to be influential to the development of Ferry’s artistic vision.
Whilst at university Ferry had formed and fronted two student bands, The City Blues and The Gas Board, and upon graduation was awarded a traveling scholarship by the Royal College of Art, moving to London soon after. In London he began writing what would become the music of his first Roxy Music album. At the same time he started recruiting other members (November 1970) starting with Graham Simpson with whom he had formed The Gas Board. Other members included Andy Mackay, Brian Eno, Dexter Lloyd, and David O’List (the latter two both being replaced before the first album was recorded). Bryan was also active in all other areas of the band’s gestalt, such as the design of their first album cover and planning the outfits to be worn on stage.
In 1972 Roxy Music appeared on ‘Top of The Pops’ and performed their debut single ‘Virginia Plain’, which earned them a more or less instantaneous following of teenage fans whilst also intriguing more serious modern music lovers. The band, in its typically unconventional way, released their album ‘Roxy Music’ before their first single. This album has been seen as a vital moment in the history of pop and rock, bringing together some of the most original musical minds of the time and creating a style which was unique and acclaimed. The single marginally missed out on topping the charts. However Ferry’s artistic vision continued to cement the group as both iconic and profound. The artistic influence of Ferry’s time with Hamilton can be seen in the invention of a band whose sound and image was a musical interpretation of Pop Art.
In 1973, alongside his work with Roxy Music, Ferry recorded his first solo album, ‘These Foolish Things’, a collection of covers that he interpreted in his own style (an idea he calls ‘ready-made’), utilizing intense emotion and merging classical styles such as rock and roll, and rhythm and blues. With this project Ferry had gained recognition as a solo artist, whilst at the same time Roxy Music continued to draw fans and acclaim; their concerts became legendary events which drew devoted fans who arrived in extravagant costumes in response to the romanticized glamour the group conveyed. Brian Eno, one of rock’s true innovators, left Roxy Music after the second album to pursue his own solo career, being replaced by Eddie Jobson. (There is a separate biography worth writing here, charting Eno’s unique and indispensible impact on modern music).
Roxy Music had several other successful albums, and as time went on the sound further developed into the more melancholy, luxuriant, dark style that defined their later work. Both Ferry and Roxy Music were seen as trend setting and ahead of the times in their image and their work – and in fact helped define popular culture; their album ‘Flesh + Blood’ is regarded by some as defining the new music sound of the 1980s. The last album of Roxy Music was produced in 1983, the triple platinum ‘Avalon’, after which Ferry continued to enhance his solo career.
Ferry had steadily continued to create solo works since 1973, releasing several commercially successful albums. The group had taken a brief hiatus in 1976 when Ferry had sought to launch his solo career in earnest, only reforming the band in 1978 after the disappointing response to ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’, its highest peaking track only reaching 37th in the UK charts. Since the end of Roxy Music however Ferry has continued to produce solo works, chiefly working with his ‘ready-made’ idea, covering songs so as to stamp them with his unique interpretation. He has continued to make original material, releasing numerous albums and performing regularly to enthusiastic audiences, notably Live Aid. Although marred with technical difficulties he produced an impressive set which resulted in his album of the time ‘Boys and Girls’ remaining in the charts for over a year.
His albums continued to garner critical and commercial success, and his 1999 work ‘As Time Goes By’, which featured a mixture of 1930s and his own songs, was nominated for a Grammy award. In 2001 Roxy Music reformed to tour extensively over a period of several years. Then, in 2005, Roxy Music announced that they would be recording an album of new and original music, featuring the return of Brian Eno, although this has not yet materialized.
Ferry has been an influential, innovative and leading musician whose work, both solo and with Roxy Music, has proven groundbreaking - not just in musical terms but also driving a significant influence on popular culture and fashion. Never one to worry about being conventional, Ferry’s unique artistic vision is truly unique and has led to a musical legacy that has been inspirational to many. He is a trendsetter, leading what amounted to a cultural movement of change in musical and aesthetic taste.