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Bryan Ferry. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Bluesfest International Highlights: Bryan Ferry

By Terry Steeves on July 19, 2016

Bluesfest tied things up nicely on its final day with class act, Bryan Ferry, who graced the Claridge Stage on a gorgeous Sunday evening. He brought with him an impressive orchestral contingent, which consisted of three guitarists, bassist, violinist, drummer, pianist, sax/keyboardist, and two backing vocalists.

Bryan Ferry, performing on the Claridge Stage on Bluesfest's closing night. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Bryan Ferry, performing on the Claridge Stage on Bluesfest’s closing night. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Bryan Ferry celebrates a musical career that has spanned over 50 years, the fruits of which have produced two highly successful musical projects – Bryan Ferry the solo artist, and Roxy Music. At one time between 1973-1982, he walked both lines, until Roxy Music disbanded in 1982, where he continued on his solo path. However, his accomplishments from both collections forever changed the face of music throughout the seventies and eighties. His new age/art rock-pop compositions, layered in multi-instrumentation, and awash in the signature sensual timbres of his voice, seduced the world with his own unique brand of music. One cannot mention Bryan Ferry without reference to Roxy Music in the same sentence, and I was elated to see he included a hefty helping of both in the set list.

Singers Fonzi Thornton and Bobbie Gordon, with guitarist Neil Hubbard. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Singers Fonzi Thornton and Bobbie Gordon, with guitarist Neil Hubbard. Photo by Terry Steeves.

The crowd sent out a warm welcome of cheers at the very sight of Ferry, who at 70 years of age, still exudes his handsome charm and demure aura. He began with the title track from his most recent album, Avonmore (2014), which kicked in with a driving beat. Singers Fonzi Thornton and Bobbie Gordon subtly blended their voices in alongside Ferry’s trademark crooning vocals for most of the material, which further added to the music’s lushness. Another from the album, “Driving Me Wild”, featured some great guitar work that rang through the song’s infectious chugging beat.

Bryan Ferry, performs on the Claridge Stage on closing night of Bluesfest. Photo by Terry Steeves.

Bryan Ferry, performs on the Claridge Stage on closing night of Bluesfest. Photo by Terry Steeves.

For the remainder of the show, he reached into his past repertoire, beginning with the lulling sensuality of “Slave To Love”. This was followed by very early Roxy Music classic, “Ladytron”, which began a series of featured amazing sax solos by Jorja Chalmers and superb guitar leads by Jacob Quistgaard. The song morphed into a melange of instruments going full tilt in a dramatic climb to the finish. One called “Bête Noire”, orchestrated a similar build, from a sweeping latin cadence to a soaring swell of energy that set the crowd in motion. Violin embellishments by Emma Smith added to the song‘s vibrancy. “Tara”, an instrumental piece, was dramatic in its haunting melodic leads of sax, piano, and guitar, delivered by Chalmers, Paul Beard, and Quistgaard respectively.

A few of these earlier pieces were unfamiliar to me, but quickly became added to my list of favourites which were yet to come. The one that triggered some emotional shockwaves was “Oh Yeah”, from the 1980 record Flesh and Blood – the album that would put me under the spell of Bryan Ferry’s musical genius. More treasures would follow: “Take A Chance With Me”, “More Than This”, “Love Is The Drug”, “Let’s Stick Together”, and the wonderfully ambient “Avalon”. Chalmers pierced the air with another great sax solo, and songstress Bobbie Gordon lent her flawless voice to the song’s high vocal outro.

Ferry showed his other musical attributes aside from his silky vocals when he sat at the keyboard for songs, “Ladytron”, and the darkly atmospheric, “Stronger Through The Years”. He also played harmonica during a beautiful version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”. Ferry has also been known for his takes on material by other artists, such as “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, which was almost unrecognizable in its new age feel and gentle rhythm. But I believe his most acclaimed, was his arrangement of Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”, which Ferry saved for the end of the show. The mellow vibrato of his voice coated the simple-written melody with such a melancholy vibe that struck another raw chord. Gordon gave a sensational “Great Gig In The Sky” vocal treatment to the end of the song that was absolutely riveting.

The reception was so strong at the end of the show that Ferry seemed genuinely touched and almost reluctant to leave such a loving audience behind. We were reluctant too, as the cheering continued long after he and his crew left the stage. As is the case every year, leaving the Bluesfest grounds for the last time always feels like the end of summer camp. But I left savouring what I thought was the perfect cherry on top of this year’s fantastic line-up.

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