The support act for Bryan Ferry’s current tour is Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen who describes her new album, Ebb & Flow, as “a love letter to Laurel Canyon”. Earlier in the day while I was on the phone to my friend Terry, arranging to meet up for the concert, he checked out Judith’s website and noted that the backing band on Ebb & Flow were stellar LA session musicians Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel and Russ Kunkel. Those guys are all over our record collections. “It would be great if they were her touring band” I joked. We laughed, knowing that would never happen. So to say that we were pleasantly surprised when the unmistakable figure of Sklar, looking like one of ZZ Top’s beardy uncles, ambled on stage accompanied by Wachtel and Kunkel would be something of an understatement.

It’s clear from the get go why these three have earned their legendary status. Kunkel’s drums, augmented by percussionist Pedro Segundo, are solid but spare; Sklar’s bass underpins the beat while providing melodic counterpoint at the top end of the neck. Wachtel’s guitar evokes that light, jazzy feel that signifies the LA sound. You have to be pretty special to attract musicians of this calibre and Judith Owen evidently is. Led by her skilled piano work, her songs evoke the classic singer-songwriter style of artists such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King and James Taylor. She retains her own voice, however; this is no copycat cash in, rather the fruits of years of craft. Owen’s confident, slightly self-deprecating between song banter engages the audience like she was the main act rather than the support and her half hour on the stage flys by far too quickly. Highlights include a Laurel Canyon reworking of Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime which shouldn’t really work but does, and Some Arrows Go In Deep which allows the band to stretch out a little. Ebb & Flow is definitely an album I’ll be investigating further.BF1

I first encountered Bryan Ferry in March 1973 when Roxy Music appeared on Top Of The Pops playing their second single, Pyjamarama. The band sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before and looked like a group of aliens who had taken a crash course in twentieth century culture. Ferry was in his late twenties – positively ancient by today’s boy band standards – and will be seventy later this year, having carved a career as one of rock’s most innovative and adventurous interpreters of song; both his own and other people’s.

As a result of Ferry’s extensive back catalogue, putting together the perfect set list may be practically impossible. Which Roxy songs to include? How many Dylan covers? – an evening made up entirely of Ferry’s Dylan covers would be fine by me, but I may be in the minority there. Tonight, Ferry has made a good stab at balancing obvious favourites with selections from his solo albums and the obligatory handful of new songs from his latest album Avonmore, and it works well on the whole.BF2

Roxy Music’s other Brian, Mr Eno, once said: “Whatever is now at the edges will become, in time, the centre”. While Roxy’s own career saw them move from angular art-rock to Eighties AOR sheen, Ladytron from the band’s debut album retains the shock of the new even now. Ferry’s ten piece band do a splendid job with sax player Jorja Chalmers impressing particularly. Slave To Love – unbelievably now thirty years old – sounds as fresh as if it were penned yesterday. The Dylan covers – there have to be Dylan covers – are a slightly unlikely Bob Dylan’s Dream and a reflective Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Bryan showing that he can teach Bob a thing or two when it comes to harmonica playing.BF3

An air of faded, jaded elegance has long been Ferry’s hallmark and it’s to his credit that the passing years haven’t seen it fade too much. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes retains all its power to charm with its world weary acceptance that all good things come to an end. Birthday boy Waddy Wachtel returns to the stage to rock his way through a track from 1978’s The Bride Stripped Bare on which he featured as a session player. Instrumental Tara then gives the band members an opportunity to shine while Bryan takes a breather.

As good as tonight’s show has been, and it has been very good, it’s the final section that really gives the audience what they came to hear. Love Is The Drug gets the whole hall on its feet. Virginia Plain, Do The Strand, Let’s Stick Together, Editions Of You and finally Jealous Guy. A killer combination that sends everyone home happy with the thrill of it all.

 John Scott

All photographs courtesy of Matthew Becker (

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