Poor Bryan, another wife has furrowed an unauthorized hoe:
- Rock star Bryan Ferry and his wife, Lucy, were divorced Friday after 21 years of marriage.
The High Court Family Division granted Ferry, 56, and the former Lucy Helmore, 42, an uncontested divorce. The couple, who married in June 1982 and have four sons, did not attend the brief hearing.
In papers filed with the court, the former Roxy Music front man said his wife had admitted adultery, but he did not identify the other person involved. The papers said he had first suspected she was having an affair in May 2000 and that the adultery was continuing when they separated. [AP]
Doomed romanticism has been the underlying theme of his extraordinary career as leader of Roxy Music and as a solo artist: slave to love, indeed.
The last time this happened to Ferry it caused a bigger stink, when his supermodel (Yves Saint Laurent Opium perfume and Revlon cosmetics) wife Jerry Hall, who had posed for the sleeve of classic Roxy album Sirens in ’75, dumped him for Mick Jagger in ’79: love is the drug in life as in art.
Roxy Music is one of my top five favorite bands and Ferry one of my favorite performers and songwriters. I talked with the great producer John Porter about his stint with the band.
“I went to Newcastle University in ’65 because it seemed like there was a great music scene: it had the first all-niter club in England, and a university band called the Gasboard. I joined that band and we did Bobby Bland, Freddie King, B.B. King, and stuff like that. We had a horn section – which was pretty rare – and Bryan Ferry was in the band, although at the time we didn’t think he could sing. We gigged around and were pretty popular in northern England,” says Porter.
For a brief time in the early-’70s Porter played guitar on sessions in L.A., but he had to sell his guitar and return to England when he couldn’t get a green card or join the musician’s union. Porter had worked with Ferry in various configurations since college, and he accepted an invitation to join Roxy Music in ’73.
Porter played on the classic For Your Pleasure album, but refused to be photographed with the group for the album because he didn’t wish to be seen “dressing like a pansy,” and besides, he didn’t really like the music.
I, on the other hand, think it’s one of the greatest albums of all time.
Pleasure did extremely well, and Ferry, itching to try his hand at a solo effort, asked Porter to help him produce it. Porter hired some musicians he knew, including members of the Average White Band, Roxy-drummer Paul Thompson, and future-Roxyite Eddie Jobson.
These Foolish Things would establish Ferry’s pattern of recording idiosyncratic versions of standard tunes (“A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” “The Tracks Of My Tears,” the title track) for his ’70s solo albums, while keeping his original material for Roxy Music. Porter played on three more Ferry albums before a dispute arose regarding credits and they parted ways.
I also spoke with Rhett Davies, who worked with Roxy and Ferry a few years later.
Davies replaced his friend and mentor Phill Brown as engineer on the Roxy Music reunion album Manifesto in 1978, when Brown had to be hospitalized for a time.
Roxy had been recording in the band format: a song would be rehearsed, the band would set up in the studio, get appropriate levels and then record the song live five or thirty times until they got it right. Then they would record the vocals and solos and whatnot over that backing track.
Davies showed leader Bryan Ferry a new way, the “rhythm box” [click track] method he had learned from Eno. “In the old school method the drums are the most important part when you are cutting a backing track,” Davies says. “Paul Thompson was a fantastic live drummer, but he was difficult to work with in the studio – there was a certain disinterest, and that frustrated Bryan as he was trying to get what he wanted out of him. But with the rhythm box you can lay
down tracks and not worry about the drummer until later.
“When it came to making Flesh and Blood, we basically cut everything from the groove upwards. Phil Manzanera had built a studio down at his house, so we laid all the backing tracks down there. Bryan really enjoyed that way of working and we had about four or five pieces down, but he was feeling a little bit uncomfortable that this was Phil’s studio.
Bryan didn’t feel he was getting his stamp on the record, so he said, ‘Look, can I just have a couple of days working with Rhett alone to try to write some songs and get some things down?’
“In those two days we wrote and cut ‘My Only Love’ ‘Over You’ ‘Flesh and Blood’ and ‘Same Old Scene.’ Bryan was just over the moon.”
And well he should have been, because those songs are the backbone of an album of indelible beauty, poignancy and energy. Flesh and Blood is the nexus between the art-rock, jagged Roxy of the ’70s and the smoothly romantic Roxy (and Bryan Ferry) of the ’80s, bearing the best characteristics of each.
“Same Old Scene” grooves to Alan Spenner’s thumping bass and Ferry’s
keyboard wash, as Ferry scrambles to staunch the flow of viscera from the
“same old scene.”
In “Flesh and Blood,” Ferry addresses his own penchant for dangerous beauty (Jerry Hall, Lucy Helmore), and their respective needs (his – “You’d nail her if you could”; hers – “Love me for my mind”) over his own monster guitar riff. “My Only Love” captures a suspended moment before love’s loss becomes unbearable, and features pungent solos from Manzanera and saxophonist Andy Mackay.
“Over You” pours out after that moment is lost, and then tries to look to a hopeful future when “Some day, yes it might come babe/When I’ll be babe – over you.” In that future lies a stunningly simple, elegant piano line from Ferry and an aching, soaring sax solo from Mackay.
Avalon followed Davies’ “groove theory” even more closely. “I would get to the studio about 10 in the morning and I would set rhythms up – get interesting grooves going, weird things happening, and have the keyboard hooked in, ready to go. Bryan would saunter through the door about 1 o’clock and this vibe would be happening already. Bryan would just come and sit down at the keyboard and work a chord progression, or whatever, to go with that.
“It was a fantastic way of working, and working down at Phil’s studio was brilliant. They were paying for Phil’s studio, but nowhere near top rates, so a looseness was there.”
The perfect mate to Flesh and Blood, Avalon rides a midtempo groove through a world where love’s death throes have given way to a languid acceptance of the inevitability of romantic failure. But the denizens of this Avalon (the isle of the heroic dead in Celtic legend) savor the temporary triumphs and meaning that romantic struggle brought to their lives and, as disembodied wraiths, twirl eternally together under a distant, shimmering pale moon.
And lastly, I spoke with songwriter/producer Patrick Leonard about working with Ferry in the ’80s.
Following his ongoing work with Madonna, Leonard’s second most important collaboration has been with Bryan Ferry on his moody, squirming Bete Noiralbum. Leonard used his expertise with electronic instruments to help create a seething, rhythmic stew of romance and intrigue (Leonard co-wrote five of the tracks and co-produced the entire album with Ferry).
The single “Kiss and Tell” finds a supple groove and a clean melody for a tale of romantic bartering. “Zamba” floats on a strange syncopation to reveal a sharp autumnal image of loss. “The Right Stuff” packs a loping punch, and the title track closes the album with a gypsy flourish.
Though the album is great, Leonard isn’t satisfied with it. “I don’t think that record was fully realized. Bryan was going through management changes and things were dragging a bit. We just had to finish it, and we did. We probably used machines a little too much because of the way we were working.
“There are some good qualities to that record,” he continues. “I learned a lot of interesting things – bizarre things I would have never tried – like taking trumpet solos that were done for one song, sampling them and taking a piece, flipping it backwards, dropping it down a fifth and putting it in a different song. Now that is stuff that everybody eats for breakfast, but in ’87 it wasn’t. Now you can just do it with ProTools.”
But love and loss never change – just ask Bryan Ferry