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A musical Goliath
He may have started out as the classic underdog, but David Gray has gone on to become one of the most successful songwriters of his generation
Mark Keane, 07 Jun 2006
You’d think adopted Irishman David Gray would get tired of having us barrel on about how we gave him his leg up, kept him fed and watered during the barren years, and generally nurtured him from suckling singer-songwriter to global behemoth.
You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. “The gigs in Ireland are always like a homecoming," he reflects. "They always have a special atmosphere, and some fans from the very early days are usually present.”
The Gray story is a classic fable about perseverance. He’d been at it for years before he hit pay-dirt. Indeed he had been unceremoniously dumped by his label Hut, following the commercial failure of his previous release, the somewhat fatalistically titled Sell, Sell, Sell. But Gray had a core support in the media in Ireland, and RMG, his record label, were also hugely committed. As a result, his seminal White Ladder album of 1998 was a success here first – it went on to sell a phenomenal 200,000 copies – and it was that which inspired its subsequent global lift-off. It went on to shift some six million-plus copies worldwide, and launched a slew of lo-fi imitators. Not only was it recorded in his own bedroom’s studio, but it was funded by the man himself.
Of the early days, Gray is sanguine: “I really didn’t know what the business was all about. I was totally nonplussed by it all. I had a certain confidence it was going to happen – but I always had that. I just hoped someone would hear it and take it to their hearts.”
Mercifully, someone eventually did. White Ladder's successor, the top-selling New Day At Midnight, was also largely recorded at home – but there was a shift in priorities for last year’s critically lauded Life In Slow Motion, on which he went for a bigger and far more lavish production. “I don’t think you can remain the underdog forever, and I wanted to experiment,” he explains. “A lot of the songs came about from playing as a band or from messing around with sounds. I realised at that point, this was going to be a big affair.”