Swellboy on… all that jazz

Bryan Ferry and some aurally administered stimulation lead to an unlikely revelation in tie adornments

Image: Brijesh Patel

I recently went to the launchof Bryan Ferry’s new album, The Jazz Age. It is a work of genius and,like so many brilliant ideas, it is really rather simple. He has taken someof his best-known songs and reimagined them as they might have sounded had theybeen written and performed in those champagne-drenched years between the GreatWar and the Great Depression.

The first half of the 20th centurydoes not seem to have been a particularly jolly time. If you lived “upstairs”in the Edwardian era, things were probably all right, but the certainties ofthe late 19th century quickly dissolved in a brace of world wars,the rise of totalitarianism, genocide and financial Götterdämmerung. You cansee why the wealthy flung themselves into an orgy of Bugattis and Bentleys; cocktails and cocaine (I believe that author/politician Chips Channon used to put Benzedrine inthe cocktails to give his parties some pep).

The soundtrack to all this wasearly jazz. Not the hep-cat, dark-glassed, beret-wearing variety, but thebright, syncopated and feverishly energetic type of music that emerged out ofragtime: the jewel-like jangling banjo (alas all too absent from such popularmusic movements as dubstep), crisp cymbals, brushes tickling the drums, brayingtrombones and clarion trumpets.

Rather like some aurallyadministered stimulant, it is impossible not to feel lively and altogether perkierwhen this sort of music is being performed. It may not make life better, but itcertainly moves things along more rapidly – and a frenetic pace keeps too muchtroublesome introspection at bay. Listen to it excessively and you will findyourself dressing in correspondent shoes and Oxford bags (which, by the way, isnot a bad thing).


Anyway, back – or should that beforward? – nine decades or so to Annabel’s in 2012, where Ferry launched TheJazz Age. He was that rara avis, a rock legend with taste, wearing abottle-green, needle-cord evening suit by the master of lightweight tailoring,Rubinacci. There were flapper-like “cigarette girls” handing out charming PaulColin postcards and all in all he had managed to give the whole thing the sortof air that would have left you unsurprised to see Josephine Baker across theroom, or hear Sally Bowles being announced as the musical entertainment.

As it was, Bowles and Baker wereunavailable, so the Bryan Ferry orchestra played through dinner and I had thegood fortune to be on Bryan’s table, where I sat next to writer Michael Bracewell,with whom I spoke on the most unlikely subject of the artist Pellerin inFlaubert’s Sentimental Education: a bizarre conversational backdrop tothe constant stream of people who stopped by the table to pay their respects.

Among the visitors was one of theSpandaus, whom I suppose had reason to be grateful to Ferry, as without RoxyMusic there would probably not have been any New Romanticism and he would havefound himself out of a job. One thing I noticed with some surprise wasthat he was wearing both tie clip and collar pin.

I’ve tended to follow a rule,unusually restrained for me, that I will only have one thing going on at a timewith my ties and collars. Thus, if it is a button-down collar (with which I tryto wear only knitted silk or woollen ties), I will go without a tie clip.Likewise, if I join my collars with a pin, I will eschew a clip. And if wearinga tie pin (usually only with a waistcoat) skewering my tie to my shirt ataround the second button down from the collar, I will forgo any other ornament.


Maybe it was the racy tempo, but I felt emboldened by the sparkling music and have resolved toemulate the Spandau example. Knowing me, I will, however, take it to extremesand wear pins, clips and gewgaws galore until my shirtfront begins to look likethe wanton arrangement of rear-view mirrors on a mod’s motor scooter.

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