The last date of his Avonmore UK tour was a long time coming. Having originally been scheduled for June, illness forced Bryan Ferry to cancel the night before his Brighton show. Four months later, he was back and in good health, looking better than any just-turned 70-year-old should rightly look.
Accompanying him as usual were some first-class musicians, including a few new faces since we last saw him a couple of years ago when he headlined Love Supreme. Three backing singers were on hand to provide the oomph that may be lacking in his voice these days and having his own lyrics scrolling on an autocue was, to use one of his own song titles, a sign of the times.
But any frailty in the vocal or memory department can be forgiven when you are a bonafide musical legend who has been putting out great records both as a solo artist and as the leader of Roxy Music for the past 43 years. Visually, he looks much the same as he always has done. His last tour saw him wearing a colourful floral tuxedo and bow tie, this time he’s toned things down and is dressed head to toe in dark blue. The relaxed approach also carried over to the staging where there were no production gimmicks, and not a video screen in sight. With no visual spectacle, it meant the evening was all about the music.
With so many songs to choose from – his back catalogue is extensive, even if you don’t include the numerous covers he’s recorded over the years and all the hits he’s had with Roxy Music- choosing what to play within the 90 minutes was always going to be a question of pleasing some, while disappointing others. Certainly compared with his Love Supreme set, where he debuted the Bryan Ferry Orchestra and gave some of his most familiar tunes a largely uncared-for big band treatment, this was a better balance of the old and the new.
The 22-song selection spanned his entire career, although it was a surprise that he chose to get things underway with the title track of ‘Avonmore’ his most recent album. Musically, it set the tone for much of the show: super-smooth, super-sleek soundscapes, full of classy melodies, if a little lacking in energy. The playing was exemplary, with heavily pregnant saxophonist Jorja Chalmers regularly taking centre stage and new guitarist Quist given plenty of opportunity to display his musical chops.
Things really came alive in the last third of the show as Ferry rolled back the years with a run of Roxy hits beginning with ‘More Than This’ and ‘Avalon’ and continuing with a trio of early classics. It was testimony to how far ahead they were, that none seemed to have lost their modernity: ‘Love Is The Drug’ sounded as great as it did back in the day and it’s astonishing to think that ‘Virginia Plain’ made its first appearance as long ago as 1972.
With new found exuberance and clearly feeding off the crowd’s energy, the year’s seemed to be cast away as Bryan powered through ‘Do The Strand’ and ‘Let Stick Together’. By now everyone was up on their feet and crowding the stage. From the smile on his face and the foppish bows, Ferry himself was clearly enjoying this final show as much as the fans – some of whom had paid over £100 for the privilege.
The night ended with a soaring version of Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ a song that over the years, Ferry has made his own. Having spotted Otis Ferry in the audience, one couldn’t help but wonder how he felt seeing his dad up on stage: Jealous of the old guy? Or proud of his old man? The likelihood is it was a little bit of both.