A Day on the Green: Bryan Ferry is still the coolest guy on the planet

Ingredients were ripe for A Day on the Green at Victoria’s Rochford Winery: balmy skies, light breezes, full strength drinks and an eclectic bill headed by the king of cool, Bryan Ferry, supported by a trio of local acts. The well-oiled event ran to the minute, with chair hire, food trucks, multiple bar stalls, clean portaloos and a superb sound system aimed at maximum enjoyment. About the only drag was the lengthy admission queues to go through bag checks and past sniffer dogs targeting punters hoping for a day on a different ‘green’. With the mostly 40s+ crowd happy with plonk, booze buses were likely busier.

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Stephen Cummings launched proceedings

The music kicked off on Saturday with enigmatic Stephen Cummings, who forgets and repeats lyrics these days, but is no less engaging for it. A last-minute fill-in for Died Pretty, whose lead singer Ron Peno has esophageal cancer, Cummings stripped a wealth of classic Sports and solo tunes to their bones with guitarist Cam McKenzie, among them opener Strangers on a Train, She Set Fire to the House and one that my friends, at least, remembered word for word, Don’t Throw Stones. But it was The Sports’ signature track, Who Listens to the Radio, that raised most of the crowd from their picnic blankets to sing and dance (or at least sway). Audiences moaned in response to Cummings’ revelation that the upcoming tour for highly regarded new album, Prisoner of Love, will be his last. Here’s hoping the eccentric 64-year-old’s studio output continues (and that ‘live retirement’ will be John Farnham length).

Models’ fan base is arguably split into two camps: those soldered to pioneering early 80s material, and those who prefer their mid-80s dalliance with the mainstream. A quirky, energetic set featuring original members Sean Kelly, Andrew Duffield and Mark Ferrie, with masterly drummer-for-hire Ashley Davies, catered to both, opening with a groove-locked cover of Kraftwerk’s The Model, as if to double stamp their identity. Songs nearing 40 years old (you read it right) Local &/or General, Two Cabs to the Toucan and Happy Birthday IBM tele-ported diehards back to sticky carpets of yore, while chart favourites Out of Mind, Out of Sight and Hold On had the crowd up. “We love you, James,” cried one woman to the sky – an impassioned reference to the late Models vocalist, James Freud, who’s stage magnetism is still missed. (Had Freud been looking down, he’d have liked what he heard).

But he’d have loved I’m Talking. The six-piece funk rockers, whose solitary studio album, Bear Witness spawned several hits in 1984, have reunited after 32 years. It may as well be three months, such was the energy, tightness and sheer joy they brought to infectious hip swivellers including Touch Me, Do You Wanna Be and Holy Word. Kate Ceberano and Zan Aberatne’s vocals were spot on throughout, no mean feat given the synchronised aerobic workout they put in. They took breath only for a transcendent Ceberano cover of Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, for which even the Yarra Valley birdlife stayed silent. Ably backed by a rock solid rhythm section and live-wire saxophonist Brodie Everist, the band has a chemistry that not only celebrates the past, but suggests a healthy future. Can’t wait for an intimate, indoors show!

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Kate Ceberano is one sixth of I’m Talking

By the time Bryan Ferry’s consummate band assembled, night had fallen, stage smoke flittered through spotlights and the air was expectant. Then, to rousing applause, the man appeared, settling into The Main Thing before better known solo hits Slave to Love and Don’t Stop the Dance. At 73, the still svelte Brit skirts around certain notes, but he performs with a passion and delight – not to mention sublime, well-drilled musicians – that recalled Leonard Cohen’s Rochford concert 10 years ago.

Ferry’s set is arguably more varied, encompassing early Roxy Music art rock (Ladytron, Virginia Plain and the best song ever written about blowup sex dolls, In Every Dream Home a Heartache), his smooth FM era (More Than This, Avalon) and a stretch of intense, mature solo tracks that most resemble Cohen (Bete Noire, A Wasteland and Windswept). Roxy Music’s solitary number one, John Lennon’s Jealous Guy was the night’s cigarette lighter song (or would have been, if people could afford to smoke).

Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry and band take to the stage

My personal highlight was the mesmerising If There is Something, from Roxy Music’s inspired debut, which showcased the band’s solitary Aussie, saxophonist Jorja Chalmers, who makes her instrument cry, croon and crow, depending on the song. By Love is the Drug the winery was heaving, figuratively speaking, and stayed that way until the final notes of rousing closer, Let’s Stick Together were drowned by applause. The perfect finale. No encore necessary and none called for. Simply more applause as Ferry glided off stage as he’d arrived, still the coolest man on the planet.

Words and photos by Steve McKenzie

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