Following the announcement that Bryan Ferry was set to release his first ever solo live album, I got all excited. When we realised it was the lounge lizard’s much talked about solo show at the Royal Albert Hall which took place on 19 December 1974, I think I may have peed a little.
Preceding a brand new UK tour that, of course, includes a stop at the Albert, on 7 February 2020 Ferry will issue the archive album Live at the Royal Albert Hall 1974. It took place 45 year ago today, and is now available to pre-order now on CD, LP, and digital.
The 1974 tour was a big deal for Ferry and, in fact, the Albert Hall itself. Fresh off a self-enforced rock and roll hiatus, the Albert welcomed Ferry at the swashbuckling beginnings of his career away from Roxy Music. The first shows of his solo career would see him travel to meet his fans across the nation culminating in this famous gig in the capital. A gig, that just a few months earlier, was blocked by the venue’s archly conservative board.
The grand circular hall, after suffering some form of incident in 22 out of the 23 rock and pop shows they held in 1972, decided to halt all rock and roll shows and enforce a ban on the performances. The Who and their ionic if interminable rock opera Tommy was also affected by the ban.
Ferry’s request for a show on 31 January 1974 followed the release of These Foolish Things, his debut solo LP released the same day as a rival covers project, the slightly less good David Bowie’s Pinups. BF was still experiencing huge success as Roxy’s chief author and frontman, but even he wasn’t immune from a ruling would label all rock and pop as “unsavoury”.
As the original exchange of letters makes uncomfortably clear, Hall policy at the time asked the concert promoter to send over the artist’s latest release along with the request to book the venue for the show, it would then be checked by staff to see if it avoided the restrictions. However, the record was considered to fall within the rock/pop category and therefore the event was blocked.
With the January 31 idea quickly scrapped the promoters went about finding a more suitable date or at least a new recipient of their request. Luckily, the restrictions that were begin enforced by the Hall wouldn’t last as long as first feared and Ferry (one of the last acts to be blocked by the board) was granted use of the venue for a show on December 19. And boy did he use it.
The singer’s set was littered with the classic covers from These Foolish Things and follow up Another Time, Another Place as well as a few samples of his immeasurable contribution with Roxy Music. While many knew Ferry as the lead singer of the artpop outfit par excellence, in these shows Ferry showed that he was so much more, and in retrospect this was the beginning of Ferry growing in confidence, transcending from the enigmatic shy frontman to the only name on the bill.
Ferry was moving away from the band that spawned him and was beginning to find value in his voice. He was a charismatic and cultured showman, and the auteur decided he didn’t need anyone on stage to help him with that. Indeed, BF’s bravado would see him not only take to the stage without Roxy or indeed any band (though he was backed by a sublime orchestral accompaniment), but also kick off proceedings with an edgy and urgent and reinterpretation of one of the Rolling Stones’ most celebrated songs.
Sympathy For The Devil? In light of last week’s British general election result it seems more than appropriate.