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Bryan Ferry is Neil Tennant‘s ‘Thing’

Marking the Roxy Music mainman’s 78th birthday, a retro rewind to the throwback Thing, a series of eight short films curated by Frieze magazine in which various artists each choose a single object of significance and discuss what makes it special. 

Fellow Geordie and Pet Shop Boys frontman Neil Tennant reflects on a Bryan Ferry poster he saw in 1974 in a film called Sophis.

Created by Jacqui Edenbrow

Directed by Peter Stricklay

In the autumn of 1974, when I was studying History at North London Polytechnic, magnificent billboards appeared across the city featuring a beautiful, sophisticated, but melancholy image of Bryan Ferry standing by a swimming pool, which, I later discovered was at the Hotel Bel Air, Los Angeles.

This image was advertising his new album, called Another Time Another Place. Bowie and Roxy Music were the central pillars of my musical taste in those days, and this image clearly indicated a cultural shift.

1974 marked the end of Glam rock; everyone was moving on. Marc Bolan was finished and the fag end of Glam was naff. Bowie, meanwhile, was off touring America, and here was Bryan exiled by his swimming pool in Bel Air, as wealthy and enigmatic as Gatsby, the irony of his previous incarnations evaporated.

I‘m not sure in 1974 I‘d even heard of Bel Air, but you could tell from the light that it was in California. You could also tell by the clothes of the people in the background: a young woman standing alone in shocking pink; an elder woman who could be Lucille Ball in a pantsuit; a very louche guy in Oxford bags with a smoking jacket and an insinuation of a cravat; a house with a swimming pool – sophistication as in wealth but wealth, like Gatsby‘s wealth, doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. Very adult.

We just entered the European Union at this time. They promised us that if we joined the union we‘d have cheap wine and cafés with outdoor tables. I thought ‘I want both of those things. I want to be European. And, actually, we got them. You have to remember, there was a time when people didn’t sit outdoors and drink cappuccino, when it seemed chic to see people abroad drinking Vin Ordinaire out of cheap glasses. Bryan made us want to be sophisticated. Or, as my friends from Newcastle used to say: “sophis.”

1974 was the year Jack Hazan’s film about David Hockney A Bigger Splash, came out – another swimming pool in California. The film version of The Great Gatsby – starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow – was released. That fascination in Hollywood glamour had started out being a camp interest in kitsch. Now it was serious. Glamour wasn‘t Glam. Bryan was becoming the thing he‘d previously imitated satirically. From this point on, Bryan would not be quoting sophistication. He would be sophisticated. And his audience could feel that they were aspiring to this sophistication; not imitating it but learning how to be it. Everything was changing, we were all on a journey.

Neil Tennant 

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