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David Gray

Born David Peter Gray, 13 June 1968, Sale in Manchester, England, GRAY has went from a backstreet singer-songwriter to an international star – a modern-day folk-poet for whole new “bedsitter-to-coffeehouse” generation.
As a young boy of nine, David moved to Solva (in Pembrokeshire, Wales) with his family, where he found the joys of guitar strumming while taking in the local punk-folk scene. In 1992 (through manager/A&R man Rob Holden), he signed to Virgin offshoot Hut and issued his debut set A CENTURY ENDS (1993) {*6}, a record which displayed his tender and emotional songwriting skills; check out `Living Room’, `Wisdom’ and the title track.
FLESH {*7} appeared one year later. Featuring Neill MacColl (son of EWAN MacCOLL) on slide guitar, each of the ten songs show teetering between angst (`What Are You?’) and romance (`Mystery Of Love’, `Falling Free’ and the title track).
By now, GRAY had made a promising name for himself, attracting a huge cult following around Britain and Europe. The aforementioned albums were not bad for somebody who was still learning his trade, comparisons to DYLAN, MIKE SCOTT, VAN MORRISON and even EDDIE VEDDER were bandied about like confetti at a wedding. The acoustic guitars, bouncing pedal steel and occasional piano, made the aforementioned stand out tracks levitate above some recent attempts at melancholic music, proving GRAY to be one of Britain’s best kept secrets and filing him along with assets YORKE and ASHCROFT.
SELL, SELL, SELL (1996) {*6} was perhaps too proverbial for its own good and thus it didn’t gain enough exposure to hit the shops in the UK. Nevertheless, it still received some airplay from Radio One’s Steve Lamacq (at least for opener `Faster, Sooner, Now’ and `Gutters Full Of Rain’) and went on to sustain GRAY’s reputation in the alt-music world.
It was 1999’s WHITE LADDER {*9} – on new imprint IHT – which caught the attention of music critics and audiences alike. A fine album in every sense, GRAY took us into the underworld of his soul… and deeper, with tracks `Sail Away’ and SOFT CELL’s `Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ bringing something delicate and strangely human to the work. Easily the highlight from the set was `Babylon’, a chart flop first time around, although album opener `Please Forgive Me’ slightly compensated for this, clocking in at No.72. Ah! what a difference a year can make. Duly licenced to east west Records, `Babylon’ was re-promoted to a wider audience and after massive play-listing it finally peaked at No.5. The resurrected parent album also climbed the charts post-millennium, rising to No.1 a whole year later. A newcomer of sorts (tell that to the struggling 30-something troubadour!), GRAY proceeded to have three further major hits during 2001 courtesy of `Please Forgive Me’, `This Years Love’ and `Sail Away’.
The sombre singer/songwriter returned in 2002 to issue A NEW DAY AT MIDNIGHT {*6}, an altogether more thoughtful and intimate set than his previous classic. It included the soaring piano lament `See You On The Other Side’, a deep but nevertheless uplifting feel through GRAY’s psyche. Another sure-fire hit with fans was the song `Be Mine’, a slight hark back to the minstrel’s halcyon days. But it was the bitterly bitter-sweet sound of his piano on the frosty ballad `December’ which set him apart from many copyists.
UK chart-topper LIFE IN SLOW MOTION (2005) {*6} – featuring the hits `The One I Love’ and talismanic `Hospital Food’ – didn’t bring much extra colour to GRAY’s signature sound, a sound which had already spawned the equally pedestrian JAMES BLUNT and DANIEL POWTER.
Taking somewhat of a sabbatical of sorts and signing with Mercer Street Records, GRAY returned with a new backing band (including American neo-traditionalist JOLIE HOLLAND and ANNIE LENNOX) on studio album seven DRAW THE LINE (2009) {*6}. FOUNDLING (2010) {*6} was another universal Top 20 set, an ambitious double that was scribed from the same sessions as his previous effort. Pleasant and pastoral, singer-songwriter GRAY stretches out on Sunday morning folk-porch songs such as `Only The Wine’, `Who’s Singing Now’ and `Old Father Time’.
Hooking up with LAMB technician Andy Barlow on production/songwriting, GRAY’s next excursion into the contemporary soft-rock world was with MUTINEERS (2014) {*7}. An improvement on his previous outing, both critically and commercially (Top 10), its rich tapestry of melodies and deep lyrics seemed to still be in touch with his loyal fanbase. As the listener drifted on an ocean of tranquillity by way of `Back In The World’, `As The Crow Flies’ and the download singles, `Beautiful Agony’ and `Gulls’, David proved he might yet have a “Babylon” in him; look out too for his addendum version of `Snow In Vegas’ with LeANN RIMES.
Glossing over a “Best Of” compilation in 2016 and a subsequent “Live Here Now” double-CD series entitled `Live At The National Concert Hall, Dublin’, 2019 was the year that seasoned singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist GRAY chose to re-launch his solo career. GOLD IN A BRASS AGE {*7} showed he’d lost a little chart ground (hp#21); possibly his folk fan base and several reviewers didn’t see the set as turning a corner. Producer Ben De Vries had pushed the envelope far out in order to elasticize David’s warm and melancholy moods (at least in the title track and The DURUTTI COLUMN-esque `Hall Of Mirrors’). The overall picture was possibly bright. Maybe back in the day, singles such as `The Sapling’, `A Tight Ship’, `Watching The Waves’ and `If 8 Were 9’, might’ve booked airwave space instead of disc-jockeys just simply climbing aboard his “White Ladder” from exactly 20 years ago.
© MC Strong 2002-2011/GRD-GFD2 / rev-up MCS Mar2013-Mar2019

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