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Electric Picnic: Bryan Ferry never short on style

Bryan Ferry refused to accept that he was in a rock band rather than at a dinner party -- or so The New Yorker magazine once noted of the self-regarding Roxy Music star during his mid-Seventies heyday.

They weren't the last magazine to gush. GQ called him the Coolest Living Englishman -- he made James Bond seem drab by comparison. And this was to say nothing of the long-haired, not obviously androgynous man in baby-blue eyeshadow and a short-waisted jacket beside him who looked like he had been beamed down from a planet where they had bad stylists: step forward in platform boots, Mr Brian Eno.

One of the presenters on BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test jokingly summed up Roxy Music when he introduced them thus: "Anything but denim." Bryan Ferry, lest we forget, is the man who Greil Marcus once wrote had "enough soul in him to record for Motown".

Put aside the famous delicately chiselled face of a great beauty, even at his age, Geordie-born Ferry still has one of the great voices. And Roxy Music had some of the most decadently cool songs of the Seventies.

To say it was glamorous music for glamorous people would be like saying that Fianna Fail were all about the interests of the property developers in Ireland. There is something of truth in it but it is not the entire truth.

So Roxy Music rocked the house and continue to rock the house all these years later. Their music was peacocky but beautiful: Love Is the Drug, Virginia Plain, Do the Strand to name but three of their timeless classics.

Their music (unmistakably lush and sophisticated) and their look (ditto) was also influential: NME called Suede, Pulp, Blur and Moloko "Roxy's children". US critic Lester Bangs branded Roxy "the triumph of artifice".

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But that's untrue. Roxy were more substance than style in the final analysis of their music. NY Magazine a few years ago asked Ferry, out of a career spanning 30 years, whether he had any professional regrets. He didn't mention the album of dodgy Dylan covers. "When I stopped touring in the early Eighties for a few years, it was a mistake looking back," he replied.

"I lost touch with my audience in a way and I think that was a bad career move. I turned down a song that would've been a number one record. Simple Minds did it. It's a really good song that launched them -- Don't You Forget About Me.

If there was one person Ferry could not forget about it is Mr Brian Eno -- his former co-worker in Roxy who went on to produce U2.

Ferry was asked a few years ago the difference between the two Brians. "The difference? Oh, there's a huge difference!" he laughed. " I'm much more serious than him. No, I think he likes talking more than I do. He loves to talk! He has to talk the talk. And I tend to rather sit and watch more. That's where the main difference is.

"But we're both self-centred. There are a lot of similarities to us. I think we both think the world revolves around us," he joked.

Last month in The Guardian, journalist Vicky Frost tried to entice Eno into warm conversation about his famous old band. Four decades ago, she told him, you and Bryan Ferry were the ultimate control queens. Roxy wasn't a glam rock band, but a pop assemblage by former art-school students, cherry-picking from rock 'n' roll, heavy metal and any other style that took their fancy.

"Jesus Christ!" snapped Eno. "The second question is about Roxy Music. I knew it. Where's that knife? I'm sick of journalists asking me if I'm going to reform Roxy Music. Didn't I warn you I'd shoot you if you asked about Roxy Music?"

Sadly for Roxy fans, Brian Eno won't be playing with the band when they pitch up at The Electric Picnic on September 4 (there will, however, be saxophonist Andy MacKay and guitarist Phil Manzanera, amongst others). Roxy Music with Bryan Ferry are still one of the best groups in living memory.

And the Electric Picnic bill this year (with Pil, The Waterboys, Leftfield, Massive Attack, The Frames, Imelda May, Seasick Steve, The Horrors and Mumford & Sons among many many others) is one of the great festival line-ups. Ferry is the stand-out of the weekend -- once he doesn't talk to any pesky journalists about his penchant for Nazi art.

In 2007, the seemingly permanently tuxedoed icon and lounge lizard Ferry told a German newspaper that he called his studio the Führerbunker. He also waxed lyrical about "the way in which the Nazis stage-managed and presented themselves." Quite.

Electric Picnic at Stradbally Hall, Co Laois, is on the September 3-5. Weekend tickets are €240 and are available from Ticketmaster and all usual outlets. www.electricpicnic.ie

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