His vocal style has been described as an “elegant, seductive croon“. He also established a distinctive image and sartorial style; according to The Independent, in common with his contemporary David Bowie, he influenced a generation with both his music and his appearance.
Ferry came to prominence as the lead vocalist and principal songwriter with the glam art rock band Roxy Music, achieving three number one albums and ten top ten singles 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” and “More Than This“. Ferry began his solo career in 1973. His solo hits included “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall“, “Let’s Stick Together” and “This Is Tomorrow“. After disbanding Roxy Music, Ferry concentrated on his solo career, releasing further singles such as “Slave to Love” and “Don’t Stop the Dance“.
As well as being a prolific songwriter himself, Ferry has also gained attention for his many cover versions of other artists’ songs and for his re-working of standards, especially from the Great American Songbook, in albums such as These Foolish Things (1973), Another Time, Another Place (1974) and As Time Goes By (1999). When his sales as a solo artist and as a member of Roxy Music are combined, Ferry has sold over 30 million albums worldwide.
Bryan Ferry was born in Washington, Tyne and Wear, England into a working-class family (his father, Fred Ferry, was a farm labourer who also looked after pit ponies), Ferry attended Washington Grammar-Technical School (now called Washington School) on Spout Lane from 1957 and achieved nine O levels. Among his classmates was Everton footballer Howard Kendall. Ferry later studied fine art at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne from 1964–68, under Richard Hamilton for one year. His contemporaries included Tim Head and Nick de Ville. During this period Ferry was a member of the student band the City Blues. Ferry became a pottery teacher at Holland Park School in London. Ferry formed the band the Banshees and, later, together with Graham Simpson and John Porter, the band the Gas Board. Ferry moved to London in 1968 with the intention of pursuing a career in music.
Roxy Music and solo years (1971–1983)
Ferry formed Roxy Music with a group of friends and acquaintances, beginning with Graham Simpson, in November 1970. The line-up expanded to include saxophonist/oboist Andy Mackay and his acquaintance Brian Eno, 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 occasional 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 had already 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. In 1976 Ferry covered a song by the Beatles, “She’s Leaving Home” for the transitory musical documentary All This and World War II. He went on to release 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, but by this time his career had begun to wane.
Roxy Music reconvened in 1979, with Ferry, Manzanera, Thompson and Mackay (Jobson was no longer a member). The band recorded the albums Manifesto (1979), Flesh + Blood (1980) and Avalon (1982), the latter two reaching number one in the UK album charts. The band also achieved their first and only UK number one single, “Jealous Guy“, released in 1981 as a posthumous tribute to its author John Lennon who had been murdered some 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 in 1982, Ferry decided to put Roxy Music on hold and continue as a solo artist.
After Roxy Music (1984–2001)
Ferry continued to record as a solo artist, and released his sixth solo album, Boys and Girls, in 1985. The album reached number one in the UK, his first and only solo recording to do so, and also became his biggest selling album in the US.
In July 1985, Ferry performed at the London Live Aid show, accompanied by the guitarist David Gilmour, formerly of Pink Floyd. He was hit with technical difficulties on sound, the drummer’s drumstick broke at the start of the first song “Sensation” and Gilmour’s Fender Stratocaster went dead, so he had to switch to his candy-apple red Stratocaster for the rest of the performance. The difficulties in sound were overcome for “Slave to Love” featured in the films (Bitter Moon and 9½ Weeks) and “Jealous Guy”. As with other successful Live Aid acts, his current album, Boys and Girls, remained in the UK chart for almost a year.
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 try touring again in 1988 to promote the previous year’s Bête Noire release. Following the tour, Ferry teamed up 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 another covers album, Taxi in 1993, which proved to be a greater commercial and critical success than Mamouna would be when it was finally released in 1994. In 1996 Ferry performed the song “Dance With Life” for the Phenomenon soundtrack, which was written by Bernie Taupin and Martin Page. In 1999 Ferry appeared with Alan Partridge (played by Steve Coogan) on BBC’s Comic Relief.
Roxy Music reunion 2001 and after
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, Eno, Mackay, Manzanera and Thompson) would be performing further shows at that year’s Isle of Wight festival and that they would also be recording a further album of new and original songs, with no indication of when such a project would reach completion. Brian Eno confirmed that he has worked in the studio with Roxy Music once more and has co-written songs for the new album. However, Ferry later debunked the idea of a new Roxy Music album and stated that the material from these sessions will 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 and Spencer to model their “Autograph” men’s clothing range. In March 2007 he released the album Dylanesque, a tribute album to Bob Dylan with backing vocals from the McDonald sisters Tara McDonald & 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. He joined past Icons including Peter Gabriel, Ray Davies, Steve Winwood, and Van Morrison, amongst others.
In 2009 Ferry provided vocals on DJ Hell‘s record, U Can Dance. A new version of the track was recorded for Ferry’s new studio album, Olympia, released in October 2010. The album contained the material he had been recorded with his former Roxy Music band members, and also featured an impressive cast of other musicians such as Nile Rodgers, David A. Stewart, Scissor Sisters, Groove Armada, Michael “Flea” Balzary, Johnny Greenwood and David Gilmour, and also featured model Kate Moss on the front cover. Despite this, and being released in multiple “deluxe” editions (one including a large format hardback book), the album was not a commercial success in comparison to Ferry’s previous studio albums, barely making the UK Top 20 and dropping out of the chart altogether after only three weeks.
In June 2011, Ferry was made a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his contribution to the British music industry.
On 26 November 2012, he released a new album entitled The Jazz Age with the Bryan Ferry Orchestra. The album features new jazz renditions of some of Ferry’s older hits (from both his solo discography and with Roxy Music). However, the album was a commercial failure, peaking at No. 50 on the UK Albums Chart, the lowest of Ferry’s career. However, 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 do several jazz pieces throughout the movie, which was 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. On 9 January 2014, it was announced that Bryan Ferry would perform at the Coachella Valley Music Festival on 11 and 18 April 2014.
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.
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). The same month, he was diagnosed with acute laryngitis and on medical advice was declared unfit to perform the remaining dates of his current European tour. Concerts were cancelled from 29 November 2014 in Hamburg up to and including 11 December 2014 in Brussels, though the dates were rescheduled for 2015.
Several of the women Ferry had been involved with have appeared as cover models on the Roxy Music albums. Ferry dated the French singer and model Amanda Lear, who was photographed with a black jaguar for the cover of the For Your Pleasure album. She later went on to date David Bowie.
Ferry then began a relationship with model Jerry Hall. Ferry first met Hall when she posed for the Roxy Music album cover for Siren in Wales during the summer of 1975. Hall’s autobiography Tall Tales (1985) describes the photo session, and she elaborates on how the blue body paint she wore to look like a mythical siren would not wash off; Hall says that Ferry took her back to his house, claiming he would help her to remove the paint. 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 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”. Ferry’s original songs on the album were in fact written some time before the relationship ended, although it was recorded afterwards.
On 26 June 1982, Ferry married London socialite and model Lucy Helmore (14 years his junior), 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 they married, Helmore helped Ferry to kick a cocaine habit, and she herself attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous in the mid-1990s.
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. Maintaining his composure in a frantic situation, Ferry took the time to berate one of his sons for using bad language during the incident. A crash was prevented when the assailant was eventually overcome.
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, 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 is also a joint master of the South Shropshire hunt. Ferry’s second son, Isaac, was suspended from Eton College for sending abusive e-mails to an anti-hunting campaigner.
By 2008, Ferry’s son Tara was performing in a rock band called Rubber Kiss Goodbye and was about to start studying at the Chelsea College of Art and Design. By 2008, Merlin was studying for “A” Levels at Marlborough College, and now plays guitar in his band Voltorb. Ferry’s children have also contributed to his 2010 album 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 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 went on to appear with Ferry on several TV shows to promote the Frantic album, and also 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 ex-girlfriend of one of his sons. Sheppard worked in public relations until she quit her job in 2009 after Ferry offered to support her financially. 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.
“the way that the Nazis staged themselves and presented themselves, my Lord!…I’m talking about the films of Leni Riefenstahl…And the buildings of Albert Speer and the mass marches and the flags—just fantastic. Really beautiful.”
Ferry’s comments caused considerable controversy in the media and, in the following month he made a public apology, stating
“I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective. I, like every right-minded individual, find the Nazi régime, and all it stood for, evil and abhorrent.”
At the time of the controversy, Ferry was contracted to the British retailer Marks & Spencer to model their “Autograph” menswear line. However, despite Ferry’s public apology for his comments, Marks & Spencer opted to sever their ties with him.