Bryan Ferry CBE (born 26 September 1945) is an English singer and songwriter. His voice has been described as an "elegant, seductive croon". He also established a distinctive image and sartorial style; according to The Independent, Ferry and his contemporary David Bowie influenced a generation with both their music and their appearances. Peter York described Ferry as "an art object" who "should hang in the Tate".
Ferry came to prominence as the lead singer and main songwriter with the glam art rock band Roxy Music, achieving three no. 1 albums and 10 singles which reached the top 10 in the UK between 1972 and 1982. Their singles included "Virginia Plain", "Street Life", "Love is the Drug", "Dance Away", "Angel Eyes", "Over You", "Oh Yeah", "Jealous Guy", "Avalon", and "More Than This".
Ferry began his solo career in 1973, while still a member of Roxy Music. His early solo hits include "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", "Let's Stick Together" and "This Is Tomorrow". Ferry disbanded Roxy Music following the release of their best-selling album Avalon in 1982 to concentrate on his solo career, releasing further singles such as "Slave to Love" and "Don't Stop the Dance" and the UK no. 1 album Boys and Girls in 1985. When his sales as a solo artist and as a member of Roxy Music are combined, Ferry has sold over 30 million records worldwide.
As well as being a prolific songwriter himself, Ferry has recorded many cover versions of other artists' songs, including standards from the Great American Songbook, in albums such as These Foolish Things (1973), Another Time, Another Place (1974), Let's Stick Together (1976) and As Time Goes By (1999), as well as Dylanesque (2007), an album of Bob Dylan covers. In 2019, Ferry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Roxy Music.
Ferry was born in Washington, County Durham, into a working-class family (his father, Fred Ferry, was a farm labourer who also looked after pit ponies), and attended Washington Grammar-Technical School (now called Washington School) on Spout Lane from 1957.
As a child he had a job as a paperboy. He studied fine art at Newcastle University from 1964 until 1968, under Richard Hamilton for one year. His contemporaries included Tim Head and Nick de Ville. During this period, Ferry was a member of the bands The Banshees, City Blues, and The Gas Board, the latter of which featured Graham Simpson and John Porter. He then moved to London in 1968 and taught art and pottery at a school in Olympia, while pursuing a career in music.
Ferry formed Roxy Music with a group of friends and acquaintances, beginning with Graham Simpson, in November 1970. The line-up was expanded to include saxophonist/oboist Andy Mackay and Brian Eno, an acquaintance who owned tape recorders and played Mackay's synthesiser. Other early members included timpanist Dexter Lloyd and ex-Nice guitarist David O'List, who were replaced respectively by Paul Thompson and Phil Manzanera before the band recorded its first album (early Peel Sessions for the UK's BBC Radio 1 feature O'List's playing).
Roxy Music's first hit "Virginia Plain" made the UK top 5 in 1972, and was followed up with several hit singles and albums, with Ferry as their lead vocalist and instrumentalist (he taught himself the piano in his mid-twenties) and Eno contributing synthesiser backing.
After their second album, Brian Eno left Roxy Music, leaving Ferry its undisputed leader. Ferry started a parallel solo career in 1973, initially performing cover versions of old standards on albums such as These Foolish Things (1973) and Another Time, Another Place (1974), both of which reached the UK top 5. After the concert tour in support of their fifth studio album Siren, Roxy Music temporarily disbanded in 1976, though band members Paul Thompson, Phil Manzanera and Eddie Jobson took part in recording Ferry's subsequent solo material. That year Ferry covered the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" for the transitory musical documentary All This and World War II. He released three solo albums during this period, Let's Stick Together (1976), In Your Mind (1977) and The Bride Stripped Bare (1978). All three albums reached the UK top 20.
Roxy Music reformed at the end of 1978 to record tracks for their sixth studio album Manifesto, which was released in early 1979 and reached no. 7 in the UK album charts, with Ferry, Manzanera, Thompson and Mackay. The follow-up was 1980's Flesh + Blood, which reached no. 1 in the UK album charts, two years before the group's final studio release Avalon in 1982, which also reached no. 1 in the UK album charts. The band also achieved their first and only UK no. 1 single, "Jealous Guy", released in 1981 as a posthumous tribute to its author John Lennon, who had been murdered two months earlier. It was the only one of their singles not to be written or co-written by Ferry.
After lengthy tours to promote the Avalon album, Ferry decided to disband Roxy Music in 1983 and continue as a solo artist.
Ferry's sixth solo album, Boys and Girls, reached no. 1 in the UK in June 1985, and was his first and only solo studio album to top the chart. Boys and Girls remained in the UK chart for 44 weeks and its lead single, "Slave to Love", reached the UK top ten. Boys and Girls also became his biggest selling album in the US. In July 1985, Ferry performed at the London Live Aid show, accompanied by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.
After the Avalon promotional tours, Ferry was rather reluctant to return to live touring on the road; however, a change of management persuaded him to resume touring in 1988 to promote the previous year's Bête Noire. Following the tour, Ferry teamed again with Brian Eno for Mamouna (collaborating with Robin Trower on guitar and as producer). The album took more than five years to produce, and was created under the working title Horoscope. During production, Ferry simultaneously recorded and released Taxi in 1993, which proved to be a greater commercial and critical success than Mamouna when it was finally released in 1994. In 1996, Ferry performed the song "Dance with Life" for the Phenomenon soundtrack, written by Bernie Taupin and Martin Page.
Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay and Thompson re-reformed Roxy Music in 2001 and toured extensively for a couple of years, though the band did not record any new material. In 2002, with the help of Manzanera and Thompson, Ferry returned with his next studio album Frantic, which featured several tracks written with David A. Stewart as well as a collaboration with Brian Eno. The album was a mix of new original material and covers – something that Ferry had not attempted on a solo album since The Bride Stripped Bare in 1978.
In 2003 Ferry provided the entertainment for the Miss World contest. In 2004, he starred in the short film The Porter. In 2005, it was confirmed that Roxy Music (Ferry, Mackay, Manzanera and Thompson) would perform shows at that year's Isle of Wight festival and that they would record an album of new and original songs, with no indication of when such a project would reach completion. Brian Eno confirmed that he had worked in the studio with Roxy Music once more and had co-written songs for the new album. However, Ferry later stated that some of the material from these sessions would most likely be released as part of his next solo album, and that "I don't think we'll record as Roxy again."
In October 2006, Ferry signed a contract with the British retailer Marks & Spencer to model its "Autograph" men's clothing range.
In March 2007, Ferry released the album Dylanesque, an album of Bob Dylan songs with backing vocals from Tara McDonald and Anna McDonald. The album charted in the UK top 10, and Ferry undertook a UK tour. On 7 October 2008, Ferry was honoured as a BMI Icon at the annual BMI London Awards.
In 2009, Ferry provided vocals on DJ Hell's record U Can Dance. The original version of the track was recorded for Ferry's new studio album Olympia, released in October 2010. The album included some of the material he recorded with his former Roxy Music band members, and featured musicians such as Nile Rodgers, David A. Stewart, Scissor Sisters, Groove Armada, Michael "Flea" Balzary, Jonny Greenwood and David Gilmour. The model Kate Moss was featured on the album cover.
Ferry also provided vocals for the song "Shameless" on Groove Armada's 2010 album Black Light. The album received a nomination for the 53rd Grammy Awards in the category Best Electronic/Dance Album.
In 2011 Roxy Music performed together for the last time to date as Ferry, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay embarked on a world tour to celebrate the group's 40th anniversary.
In June 2011, Ferry was made a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours for his contribution to the British music industry, and in 2012 he was awarded the French national honour of Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2014, Ferry was made an honorary Doctor of Music by Newcastle University.
On 26 November 2012, he released a new album entitled The Jazz Age with the Bryan Ferry Orchestra. The album features 1920s period jazz renditions of some of Ferry's songs (from both his solo discography and with Roxy Music). Film director Baz Luhrmann asked to use Ferry's song "Love Is the Drug" from The Jazz Age album for the 2013 film The Great Gatsby. This resulted in a collaboration with The Bryan Ferry Orchestra to create several jazz pieces throughout the movie, released as a separate album titled The Great Gatsby – The Jazz Recordings (A Selection of Yellow Cocktail Music). Ferry began touring with The Bryan Ferry Orchestra in 2013, including a performance at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival which was opened by Luhrmann's Great Gatsby film.
In 2014, Ferry toured extensively, with notable performances including Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, as well as an appearance at the Chicago Theatre which was preceded by a talk with author Michael Bracewell at the Museum of Contemporary Art on the subjects of fame and his creative inspiration. Also in 2014, Ferry collaborated with the Norwegian DJ/producer Todd Terje, providing vocals on a cover version of "Johnny and Mary" (originally recorded by Robert Palmer). The track was released as a single and appeared on Terje's album It's Album Time. In June 2014, Ferry appeared at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival, and in 2015 Ferry returned to Coachella to perform as a guest artist with Terje.
In November 2014, Ferry released a new album entitled Avonmore, featuring original material and two cover songs (including the aforementioned "Johnny and Mary" with Todd Terje). To support the album, Ferry launched a 20-date tour across the UK and released his first-ever solo live album, Live 2015. Ferry has continued to tour Europe and North America in the three years since the album's release, consistently playing no fewer than 30 shows each year. In 2017, Ferry gave his debut performance at the Hollywood Bowl, backed by the venue's full orchestra. Music industry critic Bob Lefsetz reviewed the performance, and noted Ferry's orchestral performance of "The Main Thing" as a highlight. In November and December 2018, Ferry will make his second appearance with the long-running concert series Night of the Proms, along with The Pointer Sisters, Milow, and Tim Bendzko.
While furthering his solo career in recent years, Ferry has continued to collaborate with previous members of Roxy Music, including backing singer Fonzi Thornton and guitarist Neil Hubbard. Both Thornton and Hubbard toured with Ferry extensively during his promotion of the Avonmore album in 2015 and 2016. In February 2018, a 45th anniversary deluxe edition of Roxy Music's eponymous debut album was released, including numerous demos, outtakes, and unseen photographs curated over the years by Ferry. During his promotional tour to support the deluxe re-issue, Ferry said he was open to collaborating once again with Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno.
Bryan Ferry and His Orchestra announced the new album Bitter-Sweet in November 2018. The Bryan Ferry World Tour 2019 set off across four continents in February, playing one British date at the 5,200-seater Royal Albert Hall in June, also adding 18 dates in North America through August and September. A separate date was slated for the BST Hyde Park festival in July 2019.
In addition to his contributions to music, Ferry has also come to be known for his distinctive style and artistic sensibilities. In 2005, GQ presented Ferry with its Lifetime Achievement Award, deeming him "pop's original art-school bobby-dazzler" and noting his solo career spent as the "world's best-dressed and most languidly mannered deluxe chanteur". Esquire has noted Ferry's lifelong obsession with clothing and describing any in-person interaction with him as a "bespoke event, a louche ensemble of elegant affectations".
In his 1976 essay 'Them', cultural critic Peter York described Ferry as "the best possible example of the ultimate art-directed existence" and suggested he was the most important pasticheur in Britain at the time. Ferry has credited numerous art and film influences throughout his career, among them Richard Hamilton, Marcel Duchamp, and Humphrey Bogart. Hamilton is credited by Ferry as an inspiration to him both as an artist and as a person, and is also responsible for introducing Ferry as an art student to Duchamp's work. The title of Ferry's 1978 solo album The Bride Stripped Bare is taken from Duchamp's classic work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. For Bogart, Ferry penned the song "2HB" ("2HB" = "To Humphrey Bogart"), leading the band Madness to record "4BF" ("for Bryan Ferry"), on their 1988 album The Madness. Phil Manzanera, who would become Roxy Music's guitarist, recalls Ferry discussing Humphrey Bogart and other classic golden age Hollywood films during his audition to join the band.
Several of the women Ferry had been involved with have appeared as cover models on the Roxy Music albums.
In 1975, Ferry began a relationship with model Jerry Hall, having first met when she appeared on the album cover for Siren, which was photographed in Wales during the summer of 1975. According to Harper's Bazaar, the photoshoot boosted Hall's status as an international celebrity. Her stay at Ferry's Holland Park (London) home, following the album cover photo shoot, marked the start of their affair. Hall and Ferry lived together, sharing homes in London and in the Bel Air district of Los Angeles, and Hall also appeared in some of Ferry's solo music videos, including "Let's Stick Together" and "The Price of Love" (both 1976). Their relationship ended when she left him for Mick Jagger in late 1977.
Ferry rarely talks about Jerry Hall, but fans have often speculated that his song "Kiss and Tell" from his album Bête Noire (1987) was Ferry's response to Hall's tell-all book about their relationship published a couple of years earlier. Additionally, Ferry's 1978 solo album The Bride Stripped Bare is widely believed to contain allusions to his break-up with Hall—particularly the song "When She Walks in the Room".
On 26 June 1982, Ferry married London socialite Lucy Helmore, who had become pregnant with their child Otis (b. 1 November 1982). Although her face is not seen, Helmore was the model on the front cover of Roxy Music's album Avalon (1982), released a month before their wedding. The couple had three more sons, Isaac, Tara, and Merlin. After 21 years of marriage the couple divorced in 2003. Helmore died in 2018 at the age of 58.
In 2000, the whole Ferry family were on British Airways Flight 2069 to Nairobi when a deranged passenger forced his way into the cockpit, attacked the pilot and caused the plane to lurch downward. A crash was prevented when the assailant eventually was overcome. The pilot was given a bravery award for recovering from a descent 12,000 feet in 25 seconds – the fastest rate of descent any civil aircraft has ever recovered from.
Ferry's son Otis has become known in the British media for his pro-hunting political activities. He has been arrested and charged several times for activities relating to hunting, only one of which led to a conviction. In 2004, Otis was among pro-hunt campaigners who stormed into the chambers of the House of Commons during a debate on the banning of hunting. He was charged with disorderly conduct. Otis was also a joint master of the South Shropshire hunt.
By 2008, Ferry's son Tara was performing in a rock band called Rubber Kiss Goodbye. By 2008, Merlin was studying for "A" Levels at Marlborough College, and then played guitar in a band called Voltorb. Ferry's children have also contributed to his albums Olympia and Avonmore. On Olympia, Tara played drums on several tracks, Merlin played guitar on one track, and Isaac was the producer of the album's artwork. Tara also toured with Ferry (and Roxy Music) on the band's 2011 For Your Pleasure tour, performing additional drums.
Ferry's youngest son Merlin was seriously injured in a head on car crash in Shropshire in December 2014.
Ferry and Helmore split in the early 2000s following an affair she had, and they divorced in 2003. After their separation, British newspapers photographed Ferry with Katie Turner, 35 years his junior, naming her as his new girlfriend. Ferry and Turner met while she worked as one of the dancers on Roxy Music's concert tour in 2001 (and is featured on the DVD of the 2001 Hammersmith Odeon Show). She appeared with Ferry on several TV shows to promote the Frantic album, and performed on the Frantic tour in 2002. After their break-up, Ferry had a relationship with British socialite Lady Emily Compton. In 2006 he resumed his relationship with Katie Turner for some time.
Ferry began a relationship with Amanda Sheppard, an acquaintance of one of his sons. Sheppard worked in public relations. In early January 2012, Ferry married Sheppard in a private ceremony on the Turks and Caicos Islands. In August 2013, it was reported that the couple were to separate after 19 months of marriage.
Ferry was estimated to have a fortune of £30 million in the Sunday Times Rich List of 2010.
In 2007, controversy arose when Ferry praised the imagery and iconography of Nazi Germany in an interview with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, citing in particular "Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags". In the same interview Ferry was reported to have referred to his West London recording studio as "The Führerbunker" (Adolf Hitler's bunker during World War II). Ferry later issued a public apology for any offence caused by the comments. Jewish Labour peer Greville Janner criticised Ferry for his remarks. At the time of the controversy, Ferry was contracted to the British retailer Marks & Spencer, one of whose co-founders Michael Marks was Jewish, to model its "Autograph" menswear line. However, despite Ferry's public apology for his comments, Marks & Spencer opted to sever its ties with him.
In 2008, Ferry alluded to support for the Conservative Party, referring to himself as "conservative by nature", but essentially apolitical. Without elaborating, he stated he was "proud" of his son Otis and declared the then-Labour Government's ban on fox hunting as "futile". He also alluded to an opposition to "left-wing bitterness" and the spectre of "political correctness". The model of free speech he cited was the 1970s. In a 2009 interview, Ferry stated:
In August 2014, Ferry was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue.
In other media
In 1985, Ferry contributed the song "Is Your Love Strong Enough?" to the Ridley Scott film Legend. The song, featuring guitar work by David Gilmour, plays during the end credits of the US theatrical release, and was released with the Tangerine Dream version of the soundtrack on CD (although this is out of print and rare). A promotional music video was created, integrating Ferry and Gilmour into scenes from the film; this is included as a bonus in Ferry's 2002 "Ultimate Edition" DVD release. The song was later covered by How To Destroy Angels for the soundtrack to the 2011 US version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A heavily fictionalised version of Ferry featured in the last episode of the first series of The Mighty Boosh. In it, he lived in the forest and raised Vince Noir alongside multiple animals.
- 1980: Petit déjeuner compris (episode 4 of a French TV mini-series of 6)
- 2005: Breakfast on Pluto
- 2017: Babylon Berlin
As an actor, Ferry has appeared in Neil Jordan's 2005 film Breakfast on Pluto as the character Mr. Silky String, as himself in the fourth episode of the French television mini-series Petit déjeuner compris in 1980, and most recently as a cabaret singer in the 2017 television series Babylon Berlin. In addition, Ferry contributed six songs to the latter series and its soundtrack, including "Dance Away" from the 1979 album Manifesto, and Bitter-Sweet, with its original German verses.
- These Foolish Things (1973)
- Another Time, Another Place (1974)
- Let's Stick Together (1976)
- In Your Mind (1977)
- The Bride Stripped Bare (1978)
- Boys and Girls (1985)
- Bête Noire (1987)
- Taxi (1993)
- Mamouna (1994)
- As Time Goes By (1999)
- Frantic (2002)
- Dylanesque (2007)
- Olympia (2010)
- The Jazz Age (2012)
- Avonmore (2014)
- Bitter-Sweet (2018)