AFTER witnessing the less-than-lacklustre performance of Bryan Ferry at Glastonbury, as shown on BBC television two weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect of him live on stage at the Henley Festival. Did the uber-cool crooner of the Seventies have any spunk left?
There was no need to worry. From the moment he jiggled out on stage in his multi-coloured velveteen smoking jacket, his bow tie already undone and slung loose about his neck, it was clear he was going to deliver. And how? He’s 68 and his shock of black hair is now streaked with grey, but he dances as he walks for goodness sake. He can’t help himself. He’s an oldie with rhythm in his bones. Any older and it might be considered indecent.
In the frosted purple light of the floating stage, he sang Slave To Love and the audience was putty in his hands.
His musical genius and sidekick Brian Eno is long gone, but Ferry has gathered an admirable band of young hipsters about him — a pair of gutsy guitarists, a woman on drums who does a female impression of Animal out of the Muppets, a female sax/clarinet player with a razor sharp black bob and a pair of gold-fringed flapper girls for backing singers. Together, they made a tight, classy ensemble clearly out for a good time.
The middle of the set encompassed a lot of music I’d never heard, but it was sharp and original and new-agey and reminded us that Ferry was a musician ahead of his time.
There were syncopated jazz rhythms combined with psychedelic riffs, echoes of Led Zeppelin and shades of Pink Floyd. A strange, heady mix, like nothing I’d ever heard.
Then the hits came thick and fast: More Than This, Avalon and Virginia Plain. As the sun set over the river and moonlight glanced off the passing slipper launches, the crowd swayed, their arms waving in the twilight. Ferry exited stage left to the roar of stamping feet on the grandstand floor and came out again to deliver an encore of great lustrous brio.
What could it be but Let’s Stick Together? Remember a 20-something Jerry Hall, his then lover, whooping on to the stage in a leopard-skin cavewoman outfit, rolling her tongue and brandishing a whip above her head?
The flapper girls were not quite in that league but they did a pretty good impression. The Henley crowd went wild. Then Ferry sang Jealous Guy and inside we all wept.
This concert was testament to the power of live music over television and to the magic that can be spun by the Henley Festival.
Bryan Ferry is a lounge-lizard legend, an innovator, a man in a class of his own, and what better place to see him, still crazy and cool and dancing after all these years, than on the floating stage?
Rock on Ferry, rock on Henley.
Floating Stage, Henley Festival
Wednesday, July 9