In hushed and velvety tones, Bryan Ferry tells me about his first trip to Gibraltar, when the 1960s hippie trail to Tangier took him to the Rock.
The Roxy Music star’s gig at the Gibraltar Music Festival this weekend will be his first here and for 10,000 fans it’s a chance to see a singer who shaped popular culture.
But he was before.
“I went to Gibraltar in the late 1960s, when I was on an adventurous drive through Europe with my first girlfriend,” he says in warm English.
“I drove from London to Morocco and spent a few days there. I thought it was wonderful. Quite magical. It seems so far away now.
The thrill-seeking young Ferry was on the verge of a musical career that would propel him to global stardom.
Roxy Music burst onto the scene in 1971, a glamorous, avant-garde and colorful explosion. David Bowie had already broken down the doors of what was permitted in rock and roll with his outrageous androgyny. Ferry and his arthouse band – with Brian Eno on keyboards – picked up the torch and ran with it.
Their stylish singles like virginia plain, Ladytron, love is the drug and Make the strand were a far cry from the heavy, leaden rock of the early 70s. With Eno resplendent in make-up feather boas and Ferry immaculate in a white tuxedo, they patented bold, decadent glamour.
It’s hard to imagine modern musicians making that kind of impression on the national consciousness, I think.
“There are bands like Radiohead who are hugely popular and amazing musicians,” says Ferry.
“But I don’t think they had such a cultural impact. When Roxy started it was pretty unique. I was very lucky to be part of it. »
What bands does he like to listen to these days?
“Dead,” he laughs. “I always like to listen to the Velvet Underground. But I mostly listen to jazz. Sometimes you don’t want to listen to too much rock music. It affects your own vision a bit. You don’t want to be influenced by things. You want to keep some purity in your head.
Ferry, the working-class son of a Durham miner, found a creative outlet in the fine arts before moving to London in 1968 to pursue a musical career. His success allowed him to indulge his original passion (in 2010 he organized an exhibition of his private art collection) and the frequent trips to Spain are an opportunity to visit the masters.
“When I go to Madrid, I always go to the Prado to see those incredible Goyas and Velazquez,” he says.
“Normally I go to Seville, because I have friends there. I go to a place called Trasierra, which is outside Seville. Recently I was in Granada for a wedding. I like the music. All that culture they have down south is fabulous. Unfortunately we don’t play much there so looking forward to that rare visit.
Sunday’s appearance at the Gibraltar Music Festival follows a coast-to-coast US tour, which took Ferry to Nashville for the first time and the legendary Grand Ole Opry.
Such long tours show that at 70, his prodigious work rate shows no signs of slowing down, though fatigue can tell at times.
“In a way, touring becomes more difficult for the voice,” he says. “We try to pace it these days. At the start of my career, we were always overdoing it, really. Make a record by finishing a record, then the next day you go on tour.
“Now I try to travel on a day and a day off. It’s a pretty young group. It keeps me on my toes.
The gigs continue, but rock’s grim reaper took its toll on fellow musicians in 2016. David Bowie‘s death in January ushered in a depressing wave of legendary figures who died.
Bowie and Ferry were, of course, tightly knit and cut from the same cloth, with the two tripping off each other throughout the ’70s.
“I was on tour when I heard Bowie had died. A very sad affair,” Ferry says. “I hadn’t stayed near him as he lived in New York and I in England.
“Prince too, who I was close to, although we are both quite reserved people. He did part of his last album in my studio.
“Every time I open the newspaper, I wonder who’s next?”
Does this sense of his own mortality cause him to get creative, I ask?
“You are very concerned about making the most of your time,” he says. “It happened to me a few years ago when one of my best friends passed away. I became aware of the fact that I have to do as much work as possible in my last period, as horrible as that may seem.
In recent years he has reached a rich vein of form, with the 2014 solo album Avonmore – which featured Smith’s guitarist Johnny Marr – was a huge critical acclaim. A live album of a 1974 concert at the Royal Albert Hall is due out this year.
His 45 years in the music industry have brought him worldwide fame and success. But would a young Ferry become a musician in 2016?
“I’m not sure. I might like to get into IT,” he laughs. “There are no more record stores. It’s a very strange world for musicians now. Everything everyone wants to perform live.
“But it was very good for me, it certainly encouraged me to go further and further to play live. And end up in Gibraltar.
With that, he rushes to Abbey Road, promising to play “lots of early Roxy stuff” on Sunday.
Almost half a century after his first visit, it will be good to see him again.