I recently went to the launch of 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 some of his best-known songs and reimagined them as they might have sounded had they been written and performed in those champagne-drenched years between the Great War and the Great Depression.
The first half of the 20th century does 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 of the late 19th century quickly dissolved in a brace of world wars, the rise of totalitarianism, genocide and financial Götterdämmerung. You can see 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 in the cocktails to give his parties some pep).
The soundtrack to all this was early jazz. Not the hep-cat, dark-glassed, beret-wearing variety, but the bright, syncopated and feverishly energetic type of music that emerged out of ragtime: the jewel-like jangling banjo (alas all too absent from such popular music movements as dubstep), crisp cymbals, brushes tickling the drums, braying trombones and clarion trumpets.
Rather like some aurally administered stimulant, it is impossible not to feel lively and altogether perkier when this sort of music is being performed. It may not make life better, but it certainly moves things along more rapidly – and a frenetic pace keeps too much troublesome introspection at bay. Listen to it excessively and you will find yourself dressing in correspondent shoes and Oxford bags (which, by the way, is not a bad thing).
Anyway, back – or should that be forward? – nine decades or so to Annabel’s in 2012, where Ferry launched The Jazz Age. He was that rara avis, a rock legend with taste, wearing a bottle-green, needle-cord evening suit by the master of lightweight tailoring, Rubinacci. There were flapper-like “cigarette girls” handing out charming Paul Colin postcards and all in all he had managed to give the whole thing the sort of air that would have left you unsurprised to see Josephine Baker across the room, or hear Sally Bowles being announced as the musical entertainment.
As it was, Bowles and Baker were unavailable, so the Bryan Ferry orchestra played through dinner and I had the good 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 in Flaubert’s Sentimental Education: a bizarre conversational backdrop to the constant stream of people who stopped by the table to pay their respects.
Among the visitors was one of the Spandaus, whom I suppose had reason to be grateful to Ferry, as without Roxy Music there would probably not have been any New Romanticism and he would have found himself out of a job. One thing I noticed with some surprise was that 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 time with my ties and collars. Thus, if it is a button-down collar (with which I try to 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 wearing a tie pin (usually only with a waistcoat) skewering my tie to my shirt at around 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 to emulate the Spandau example. Knowing me, I will, however, take it to extremes and wear pins, clips and gewgaws galore until my shirtfront begins to look like the wanton arrangement of rear-view mirrors on a mod’s motor scooter.