IN plush, velvety tones, Bryan Ferry is telling me about his first trip to Gibraltar, when the 60s hippie trail to Tangier led him to the Rock.
The Roxy Music star’s gig at this weekend’s Gibraltar Music Festival will be his first here and for 10,000 fans it’s a chance to see a singer who shaped popular culture.
But he’s been before.
“I went to Gibraltar in the late 60s, when I was on an adventure driving round Europe with my first girlfriend,” he says in a warm English burr.
“I drove from London to Morocco and spent a couple of days there. I thought it was amazing. Quite magical. It seems so long ago now.”
The young, thrill-seeking Ferry was on the brink of a music career that would catapult him to global stardom.
Roxy Music burst onto the scene in 1971, a glamorous explosion of the avant-garde and colourful. David Bowie had already kicked open the doors of what was permissible in rock and roll with his outrageous androgyny. Ferry and his art-house band – with Brian Eno on keyboards – took up the mantle and ran with it.
Their sleek singles like Virginia Plain, Ladytron, Love Is The Drug and Do The Strand were a world away from the leaden heavy rock plodding around the early 70s. With Eno resplendent in make-up feather boas and Ferry immaculate in white dinner jacket, they patented a daring, decadent glamour.
It’s hard to imagine modern-day musicians making that sort of impression on the national consciousness, I suggest.
“There are bands around like Radiohead who are hugely popular and incredible musicians,” says Ferry.
“But I don’t think they had maybe such a cultural impact. When Roxy started it did feel quite unique. I was very lucky to be a part of it.”
What bands does he like to listen to these days?
“Dead ones,” he chuckles. “I still like listening to the Velvet Underground. But I listen to mainly jazz. Sometimes you don’t want to listen to too much rock music. It kind of affects your own vision a bit. You don’t want to be influenced by things. You want to keep a certain purity in your head.”
Ferry, the working-class son of a Durham miner, found a creative outlet in fine art before moving to London in 1968 to pursue a music career. His success has allowed him to indulge his original passion (in 2010, he held an exhibition of his private art collection) and frequent trips to Spain are a chance to visit the masters.
“When I go to Madrid I always go the Prado to see those incredible Goyas and Velazquezs,” he says.
“Normally I go to Sevilla, as I have friends down there. I go to a place called Trasierra, which is outside Sevilla.Recently I was in Granada for a wedding. I love the music. That whole culture they have in the south is fabulous.Sadly we don’t get to play very much over there, so I’m looking forward to this rare visit.”
Sunday’s Gibraltar Music Festival appearance comes hot on the heels of a coast-to-coast US tour, which took Ferry to Nashville for the first time and the legendary Grand Ole Opry.
Such lengthy tours show that at 70, his prodigious work rate shows no sign of slacking, even if the strain can sometimes tell.
“In some ways touring gets harder on the voice,” he says. “We try to pace it nowadays. In the early days of my career we were always doing too much, really. Making a record finishing a record, then the next day you’re off on your tour.
“Now I try to travel one day on and one day off. It’s quite a young band. That keeps me on my toes.”
The gigs roll on, but rock’s grim reaper has taken a savage toll among his fellow musicians in 2016. David Bowie’s death in January ushered in a depressing wave of legendary figures passing on.
Bowie and Ferry were, of course, closely linked and cut from the same cloth, the two sparking off another throughout the 70s.
“I was on tour when I heard Bowie had died. A very sad business,” says Ferry. “I hadn’t stayed close to him as he lived in New York and I’m in England.
“Prince as well, who I was close to, although we’re both quite reserved people. He made part of his last album in my studio.
“Every time I open up the paper I wonder who’s next?”
Does that sense of his own mortality push him on creatively, I ask?
“You are very conscious of making the most of your time,” he says. “That happened to me a few years ago, when of my best friends died. I got wise to the fact that I must do as much work as I can in my final period, as ghastly as it sounds.”
In recent years, he has hit a rich vein of form, with 2014’s solo album Avonmore – which featured Smith’s guitarist Johnny Marr – was a huge critical success. A live album from a 1974 Royal Albert Hall gig is due for release this year.
His 45 years in the music industry have brought worldwide fame and success. But would a young Ferry become a musician in 2016?
“I’m not sure. I might want to get into the computer business,” he laughs. “There aren’t any record stores any more. It’s a very strange world for musicians now. Everyone wants to be performing live.
“But it’s been very good for me, certainly encouraged me to go further and further afield to play live. And end up in Gibraltar.”
With that, he rushes off to Abbey Road, promising to play ‘a lot of early Roxy stuff’ on Sunday.
Nearly half a century after his first visit, it will be good to have him back.