- 13 Jun 22
Happy 54th Birthday, David Gray! To mark the occasion, we're revisiting a classic interview with the acclaimed singer songwriter – originally published in Hot Press in 2000...
It's all changed for DAVID GRAY. Within the past month he has played a series of sell-out gigs across the US, gone top ten in the UK, and returned to this country to celebrate the release of Lost Songs. In a hotpress exclusive, NIALL STANAGE reports from New York, Boston, London and Dublin on the globalisation of Ireland's favourite Welshman...
PART ONE: NEW YORK:
ADVENTURES IN THE ARMS OF BIG MO
A yellow taxi cab. A sticky June night. Manhattan is pulsing in the heat. Through the window, the city flashes by: street stalls and strip clubs, delis and diners, a melange of neon and noise. The journey goes on, past scenes familiar from a thousand movies - Times Square, the billboards of Broadway.
Soon, the frenetic pace of midtown drops, just a notch or two, to be replaced by the relative serenity of the bookshop-strewn squares around New York University. But the calm doesn't last. Irving Plaza, a mid-sized music venue, is a hub of bustle and barter. The ticket touts circle, and they're looking to buy. Hundreds of people stream through the doors. They've come to see David Gray.
Inside, Irving Plaza has the look of an old ballroom. Its walls will soon have another layer of sweat to absorb. The crowd is shoe-horned in. A few Irish-American twangs can be heard, but Gray's appeal now stretches far beyond the diaspora. This is a genuine Noo Yawk audience, come to check out the hottest rising star in town.
A small, dark-haired woman takes the stage. She's Rita Houston, a DJ with WFUV, one of the more influential and adventurous of the Big Apple's countless radio stations. She makes a short speech, encompassing her own enthusiasm for Gray's music, the instant audience reaction when the station began playing his records, and her delight at seeing so many people here for him tonight.
She departs, and a moment or two later Gray and his band make their way onstage. Even from a viewing point halfway down the hall, the main man looks pale from exhaustion. His promotional schedule is unforgiving, and today's commitments include a schmoozy record company lunch and post-gig meet'n'greet as well as interviews.
The relentless demands on Gray's time may be beginning to tell physically, but they aren't impacting on the music. True, the opening, 'My Oh My' is more languorous than usual, but soon the transformative symbiosis between fans and performer takes effect. As 'Sail Away' ends to a rapturous ovation, Gray looks up and smiles as if shaking off the last vestiges of weariness. 'Late Night Radio', all driving guitar, gunshot snares and roared vocals blasts in, and the gig takes off.
After many a line-up change over the course of the lean years, the band is now rock solid: Clune, a 100% proof eccentric (and connoisseur of Hawaiian shirts), occupies the drummer's stool. Busily throwing out deft, complex rhythms, he's the longest-serving of the sidemen, and perhaps the most essential. Tim Bradshaw, formerly of The Fat Lady Sings, supplies splashes of keyboard atmospherics, though he also sometimes turns his hand to guitar, while bassist Rob Malone holds it all down with some nicely fluid touches. Iestyn, programmer supreme, is here but is keeping a low profile - he has been the object of the touring party's jibes since breaking his foot in a supremely Spinal Tap-esque 'bizarre skipping accident'.
The stability of the band has benefitted every aspect of the music. For a start, the set can encompass songs as divergent as the quietly introspective 'Twilight' and the raucous 'Wisdom' while still maintaining a unified feel. Greater muscle has also been added to the tracks drawn from White Ladder. Previously, the attempted welding of Gray's songwriting sensibilities to a contemporary production didn't always work. Now, there are no weak links. 'Please Forgive Me', for example, which closes the pre-encore set, has become a stomping roof-raiser, in the process demonstrating exactly why the singer has for years namechecked Orbital as a key influence.
By this stage, the audience, made up of everyone from teenage wannabe bohos to 40-somethings in battered leather jackets, has been won over. Encores like 'Shine' (laughingly dedicated to "the two people who bought my first record") and 'Flame Turns Blue' (the lead single from the new Lost Songs 95-98 album) are sure-footed and potent.The hardcore following sing every word; the curious have become the converted.
As a finale Gray risks a new, unrecorded song, 'All The Love'. It begins, staccato and understated, then builds until the intensity reaches a frenzied pitch. At the climax, the performance segues into an unlikely cover of Led Zeppelin's 'Black Dog'. Though the singer will later describe this as "just a bit of fun", it works. Exit Gray and band, his rawk shout of "Thangyoo, New York!" only slightly tongue-in-cheek.
Some members of the crowd hang around chattering excitedly. Others file out onto the streets. There's something different, more substantive than the usual post-gig euphoria in the air, though; a unique and heady concoction, sharp enough to taste. It's what electioneering Stateside politicians refer to as Big Mo - the momentum that builds behind a campaign when everything comes together. When you're In The Zone. When you know that this, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW is your Big Chance.
When Big Mo hits, the effect is as tangible as an intravenous shot of pure adrenaline. It leaves no ambition unachievable, no mountain too high to climb. It can take you to places beyond your imagining. But, for exactly that reason, it's also unpredictable, uncontrollable. And sometimes that's scary.
For the best part of a decade, international support for DG has amounted to little more than sweet FA. But now word is seeping through from England that White Ladder has entered the Top Twenty. In the middle of this New York night, Big Mo and the David Gray bandwagon are finally getting acquainted. It all feels, simultaneously, weird-as-hell and just about right. Like a lot of things in GrayWorld at the moment.
PART TWO: BOSTON
SUCCESS GRIEF AND HAIRY TEETH
It's the morning after the New York gig. Your correspondent is on a train bound for Boston, a five hour journey up the East coast. The high rises, garages and basketball courts of NYC's outlying neighbourhoods soon give way to more rural scenes: first come the dense woodlands of upstate New York, then the prosperous yacht clubs and country homes of Connecticut and, towards journey's end, the gentle landscape of Massachusetts.
There's plenty of time for contemplation too, and no place better to start than how Gray got to this point. The story of his Irish success is well-known by now: the slow build over the course of his first three albums, followed by the staggering breakthrough of White Ladder. It is still in the Top Ten, having made it to Number One more than a year after its October '98 release, and has now reached seven times platinum status.
Equally well-known is the utter indifference with which Gray was met in the UK until recently. How this has been turned around, though, needs some elucidation.
Gray's own company, Iht Records, released White Ladder in Britain last year. There were stirrings of radio support from both national and local stations, and the man and his band gigged their way from city to city in an effort to firm up a small fanbase. On its initial release the album clocked up 20,000 sales - respectable but not earth-shattering.
As this was going on, however, an important change took place: Christian Tattersfield was made head honcho of East West, a subsidiary of industry giant Warners. Tattersfield shared an Orbital connection with Gray's manager, Rob Holden, and was convinced that if his label applied its muscle, White Ladder could replicate its Irish success in Britain. Gray signed up.
East West re-released White Ladder in May. What happened next gives a neat illustration of the mechanics of the music business. The company took full page ads for the album in several leading magazines. Soon, publications which had ignored White Ladder on its release by Iht gave it glowing reviews. As Gray's profile rose exponentially, airplay also shot up. Sales followed. By early June, White Ladder was hovering around the mid-teens on the UK album chart, the video for 'Babylon' was popping up regularly on MTV and requests for TV and live appearances were coming in thick and fast.
In America, meanwhile, roots rocker Dave Matthews had set up his own label, ATO. Matthews had been a fan of Gray's since he heard A Century Ends back in 1993. The two men and their respective 'people' got to know each other. In March, White Ladder became ATO's first release. The sheer size of the US makes it impossible for an artist like Gray to make the kind of rapid advance witnessed in England. Nevertheless, sales are already over 30,000 and accelerating, while influential magazines like Spin carry features on "the soft-spoken Englishman" and his "strummy folk ballads".
All of which goes some way to mapping the road that has led Gray to Boston's Karma Club for tonight's gig. In contrast to Irving Plaza, it's a smallish venue, with a capacity of around 600. When your correspondent finally reaches it after a circuitous cab ride through downtown Boston's tree-lined avenues, DG is nowhere to be seen.
It's late afternoon, and the band and crew are hanging around, smoking and chatting languidly, trying to keep boredom at bay. Everyone travelled here overnight on the tour bus, eventually stopping for a morning feed'n'wash at a hotel on the outskirts of the city.
From there, Gray went on to an in-store appearance and assorted other promo activities. He has subsequently been delayed in traffic.
When he finally appears, looking harried, there is a flurry of activity for the soundcheck. Soon, there are thumbs-up all round, and we adjourn to a nearby restaurant for the interview. Even then, the frantic place doesn't slacken. Gray, who is talkative and wont to go off on odd tangents at the best of times, occasionally interrupts his own lengthy answers to cram in a mouthful of food. One eye also remains on his mobile, where a call from his wife, Olivia, is due to come through from London. "Sorry. I'm just trying to stay in touch with my own life," he says, smiling.
So, when did it all start to go right?
"It's been one long succession of pleasing synergies - people being in the right place at the right time, the band coming together, things like that," he replies. "But the Point gig [last December] was just a monumental night, really. It was the culmination of years of passionate support from the fans, and of blood, sweat and tears on our behalf."
No-one who was there is likely to forget the emotionally charged atmosphere. Gray felt it most keenly of all.
"There were a few moments when the crowd went completely ballistic and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It was like, 'Wow! This is serious.' I've never seen anything like it, I've never been to a gig where it's happened. Christ almighty, it was truly awe-inspiring!
"What was really mad was being the person at the piano or with the guitar," he continues. "You're just another part of the whole thing. The audience bring to it what they will; that night, they were fantastic and all I had to do was not blow it."
The word-of-mouth cult which developed around Gray in Ireland cast him as an outsider hero, the man whose talent had triumphed over the major label mannequins. Against that backdrop, his being heralded as a new 'priority act' by East West seems incongruous.
"If it hadn't been for Christian Tattersfield, I would never have even entertained the idea [of signing]," he comments. "But he persuaded me with his brutal logic and his enormous budget! He wants to sell a million records, he wants me to win the Brit Awards, he has incredible objectives. But he also didn't waffle on with the psychological 'I love you' stuff. He just talked the hard facts: 'this is going to work. What else is there out there?'"
Doesn't Gray find it odd to suddenly become the toast of the music business?
"The UK is bizarre," he muses. "It's now more than the record being played, it's as if everyone thinks it's fantastic. Everyone's trumpeting the whole thing and I'm like, 'hang on, this record came out last year and you didn't say fuck all about it.'"
It's the type of inconsistency that tells its own story about the industry. But at least now its working in Gray's favour. As his newfound success begins to take root, so the siege mentality of yesteryear has begun to mellow.
"I had years of being hammered by everything," he says. "It's too painful to be putting yourself out all the time to the indifference or the casual slagging or being totally ignored. That line 'throw my heart out on the stones' from 'As I'm Leaving' [on Lost Songs] - that's exactly what it's like. One doesn't feel good about it. It's hard to 'remain philosophical'. So you carry a bit of a defence mechanism - cynicism and so on.
"That's becoming an inappropriate way to deal with things now. I'm having to open myself up to a world where people have run away with the whole thing, and it's not mine anymore. Even though I didn't put any particular ceiling on it, I suppose I didn't think it would go this far. And I do think everyone's pleased for me. Success through failure - there's a great story there."
That much is true. A major part of the tale consists of troughs which were at least as pronounced as the current high. At one point, Gray seriously considered throwing in the towel, acute disenchantment having been brought on by his experiences in the Land of the Free under the tutelage of EMI America. The tour which ostensibly supported his third album, Sell, Sell, Sell, was an unhappy fiasco.
"They sent us out into the Mid West on some fucking bullshit, half-assed scheme," he says. "It was really depressing. We arrived at one venue and there was a huge sign outside: 'TONITE: Barbecue Ribs - Sold Out. David Gray - 8 o'clock.' When you're less of a draw than barbecue ribs, you've got to ask yourself some serious questions!
"The next night in Toledo the support act played to about 250 people. We thought, 'fuck, this is cool'. Then a door at the back of the room opened and everyone went down to a club. We played to about eight people, while this throbbbing kind of country techno club was packed by freakish people with eyes on the wrong side of their face and hairy teeth! It was like being inside a Hieronymus Bosch painting."
Gray laughs at the absurdity of it all. But for him, as for myriad other artists, America exerts an endless fascination.
"The geography of it alone is inspirational. It's a glorious place. They've got deserts, mountain ranges, lakes. They've got grizzly bears!" he exclaims. "And they've got creatures that can fucking bite your tongue off, fucking rip your head off, fucking you name it. Whereas we've got . . .the fox! [guffaws]
"The country is so vast and different, but to make the culture work things have been boiled down to a ludicrously simple level, with lashings of over-zealous enthusiasm. You see adverts here, and there's no subliminal message, it's just like [mimics American accent] 'Hey! This is great! Can you afford not to have it? Fucking get it now!' Or you go to buy a duvet and it says 'Extra Warm'. So you think that must be the warmest. But then there's like 'Extra, Extra Warm', 'Super Warm' and then, you know, 'Fucking Two Hertz, Ultra Warm, Mega Fucker That Keeps You Hot in Alaska'."
Has Gray found a way to absorb the culture shock?
"I've got used to it. Culturally, on one level, I think it's a bit grim. But then you just look at all the amazing music that comes out of here. The folk music here, which is what I'm really into, is brilliant - records like Nebraska or stuff by Hank Williams or Johnny Cash. There is a sort of ache at the centre of the music."
The same could, of course, be said about Gray's songs. And, given that he operates in what he describes only half-mockingly as the "heart-on sleeve balladeer" mode, the vibrancy of the troubadour tradition in America is more conducive to him than British music culture. After all, in England any mention of 'folk music' tends to conjure up images of country fayres and morris dancing.
"When someone sings a folk song in England it seems a bit twee, because that whole thing is well and truly fucking buried," he agrees. "But here, it's a lot fresher. It's only a hundred years ago that they were killing off the last of the Indians. The blood is still on the soil, it's in people's veins, it's still a pretty wild place in ways.
"But, as well as all that, the country is big enough to support various sub-cultures. In the UK, it's rare that you get a groovy little scene happening. But here, you can go round and sell a hundred thousand records on this slightly weird, rootsy level."
It's to his own acoustic roots that Gray has returned with Lost Songs 95-98. Recorded in London at the end of last year, it's a sombre affair, both lyrically and musically, but one which holds its own stark charm, particularly on tracks like 'As I'm Leaving' and 'Flame Turns Blue'. Such downbeat directness is likely to offset any danger of Gray transmogrifying into Mr Pop for the moment. Just as importantly, the album serves to clear the decks before the 'proper' follow-up to White Ladder is recorded.
Gray is keen to ensure that Lost Songs is not seen as either the next step on his creative path or an exploitative odds'n'sods collection.
"The title spells it out," he insists. "I don't want to take any risks. It's bound to get stuck in the front of the record shops, because retailers have seen our last record do so much. But I want people to perceive very clearly that we haven't got down to following our creative twistings from the last thing yet. As far as the stripped-down approach to the recording goes, it just seemed appropriate; for the people who liked the earlier stuff, I suppose it's a bit of a treat."
There is more than that to Lost Songs, though. The bulk of the material was written during an unhappy phase of Gray's life. Not only was his career going nowhere fast; his parents also split up. It was a traumatic experience and one about which he still speaks only haltingly.
"It was a while ago now but, yeah, everything went a bit weird. It shattered the family unit and the situation became completely fragmented, which is disorientating. I questioned a lot of things about what the past had been like: had I just been missing the point?"
Did he come to any conclusions?
"Yeah. I think I was living in cloud cuckoo land. Your parents, whether you consciously put them on a pedestal or not, are still your parents. When you suddenly see them as people, and they're acting in such a way that you're feeling more grown-up than they are, it's like 'what the fuck's going on here?'
"Then they split up, sell the house, one's over here with a new bloke and suddenly there's no home either. I remember going back to a couple of particularly miserable occasions and thinking 'fuck'. You really think, 'I'm out on my own here', and it comes home to you what your existence is all about: 'that's all I ever was' and that kind of thing.
"But," he concludes briskly, "I won't pontificate more or drag out family details. It did happen and it did have a profound impact on me, although I think I've recovered from it. It just changed my perspective."
Presumably that change, though, manifested itself in his view of love and relationships beyond the specifics of his parents' situation?
"Yeah, that's true," he responds. "The urge to fantasise things into being better or more idyllic than they are is something I would resist. It's easy to live in cloud cuckoo land or just not to see."
Though 'Gutters Full Of Rain' from Sell, Sell, Sell is the only song Gray names as having been informed by these feelings, doubt and familial confusion also hang over newly released tracks like 'Hold On' and 'If Your Love Is Real'.
That said, those songs strike about the only melancholic note of the moment, and represent what Gray has come through, rather than where he is headed. He seems as baffled as anyone else about where the tide might take him.
"I've really no idea where it's all going. Breaking America would be a fucking excellent thing to happen. As you can feel from things like the gig last night, there's a belief out there, a buzz. We've got Letterman later on in the summer and another tour after that. Big things are slotting into place to go to the next level.
"As for recording, it's too early to say what's going to happen on the next album. I don't want to shut any doors. I could let these things drive me a bit mad, but I'm not going to worry about it. I've got a lot of ideas and it feels really strong - melodic, upbeat. I'm looking forward to getting to grips with it all."
"Fast forward three hours. Gray must contend with the fact that he isn't Boston's biggest attraction tonight. That honour belongs to the city's beloved baseball team, the Red Sox, who are playing in their nearby enormodome.
But, judging by the sweat-soaked devotion permeating the Karma Club's atmosphere, no-one in here regards the gig as the second-best option. During the encore Gray even delves into his back pages for a raging yet celebratory 'A Century Ends'. And, as 'Black Dog' once again brings to the show to a climax, he raises an arm and a smile: "Next time you see us we'll be playing in that stadium across the road."
Later still, as a weary Gray takes refuge from the aftershow party in his tour bus, that strange feeling from New York still lingers in the air. Something he said during the interview echoes again:
"As an artist, I want to go and make my next record, I don't want to go and sing this one for another year. But there's something stronger at work. My career's taken off. This shit doesn't happen twice. We're on a roll and you can't stop it."
PART THREE: LONDON AND DUBLIN
TFI FRIDAY CUSTARD PIES AND THE TOP TEN
It's eight days after Boston. Riverside Studios, home to TFI Friday, nestle on the banks of the Thames at Hammersmith. The London evening sunshine is more comfortable than America's stickiness, but the atmosphere in GrayWorld resembles that of a pressure cooker. The album has risen on the chart again, to No.13, and all the promotional stops are being pulled out in an attempt to breach the Top Ten. There's also the imminent re-release of 'Babylon' to be considered. This double whammy led Gray to drag his jet-lagged body onto The Big Breakfast a few days ago, and now he's reconvened the band.
This week, in a bid to counteract falling ratings, the TFI people have opted for a live transmission of their late night show. Although it's more than two-and-a-half hours before the broadcast is due to begin, a long queue of audience members has already formed. They're mostly in their late teens and early twenties, the women all clackety heels and cleavage, the guys drawing hard on cigarettes and trying to look bored.
Across the road an anonymous semi-detached house doubles, somewhat bizarrely, as a complex of dressing rooms for the programme's guests. One is marked 'Andy Gray', raising fears that there has been an unfortunate mistake, but it transpires that the Scottish soccer pundit is also slated to appear. His musician namesake is ensconced on the top floor, sorting through clothes purchased this afternoon by the record company's flamboyant stylist.
That's not the only showbizzy aspect to the tableau. TV persons skitter about wearing the 'I'm important and I'm stressed' expression of TV persons everywhere. Orders about who is needed when and where are issued, then changed. Gray quietly signs various copyright exemption forms, before repairing to a small, empty room for a chat.
As a relative novice in live TV work, is he suffering from nervousness?
"It is nerve-wracking, yeah. A gig is fine because you can make mistakes, basically. TV is more pressurised because you only have one shot at it, and that's the whole point of being there. There'll be some ludicrous thing where you're in the South Seas somewhere and will be flown back at ridiculous expense with, like, 300 people involved along the way. Then you'll do three minutes of TV before being flown back to do the concert. Sometimes you think, 'is all this worth it?'. Obviously in some ways it is."
Gray is well attuned to, and wary of, the excesses of TV culture. But doesn't that make it more difficult for him to fit into that world?
"Not really, because I don't take myself incredibly seriously when it comes to chatting about stuff. You've just got to be there, waffle, have a laugh and . . .throw a custard pie at someone or whatever."
He laughs, but when he continues his tone is serious:
"It's when you actually have to sing that it's sort of grotesque. Having to be soul-baring in the most unlikely and unconducive scenarios gets on my wick. I'm obviously going to be in for an onslaught of inane situations, and I think it's best to try to enjoy it. If I fight it, I'll just drive myself crazy."
Emanating from someone else's lips, those sentiments might sound priggish and precious. But a sense of uncompromising integrity is central both to Gray's appeal and, clearly, his artistic self-esteem. The trick he now has to learn is how to cross over to the mainstream without getting swept away by it.
These ruminations are disturbed by a knock on the door. It's Trevor, DG's tour manager, come to tell him he's required for a rehearsal. As usual, such an instruction marks the start of a lengthy period of hanging around, enlivened only by a perfunctory run-through of 'Babylon'. For this reporter, though, there's a private audience with Andrea and Sharon Corr.
The Corrs are also performing live on TFI and the two sisters unexpectedly agree to an interview ("but only three minutes," I'm informed by an associate) on the subject of Gray's success.
"I think he's the Neil Young of our era," Sharon says. "Last night at two o'clock in the morning, I couldn't get to sleep and I was listening to that album [White Ladder]. I just kept rewinding and listening to it again, so I suppose you could say he's better than sleep!" she laughs.
"I think the songs are fantastic," agrees Andrea. "They're very true, very honest, and it's music for music's sake, which is rare these days."
Three minutes up, I depart. GrayWorld just got significantly weirder once again.
The show itself is uneventful, save for the 'strictly live' rule being bent to facilitate Shaun Ryder - the producers want to get his slurred take on the Freddie Mercury/Montserrat Caballe hit 'Barcelona' safely in the can before broadcast.
There's a lot of dull chat about football, a dismal acoustic performance from Space, and just enough time for Gray to give 'Babylon' his best shot as the credits roll. The studio audience wants more, but the floor manager is having none of it and pulls the plug.
Back in Gray's dressing room, manager Rob Holden has good news. A slot on a side stage at Glastonbury had already been secured, but now Burt Bacharach has pulled out of his scheduled appearance on the Main Stage. The people at Glasto were wondering if Gray would be interested. He is.
There's no partying tonight, though. Band and crew members pack up and leave. A few of them repair for a quiet drink at a nearby hotel, but for Gray, home beckons. Moments outside the crucible are becoming precious.
"The bigger he gets, the more he's going to see of limousines and fancy hotels and record company people who tell him he's wonderful, and the less he's going to see of the environment from which he drains his energy. The benefits that accrue to musicians because of the thing that they do well can all too easily incapacitate them from doing it any longer, because it isolates them from the circumstances that made them want/need to do it in the first place ."
It's now 25 years since the NME's Charles Shaar Murray penned those words about a pre-breakthrough Bruce Springsteen. But they weigh heavily on the mind at the Dublin launch of Lost Songs 95-98 and in the days which succeed it.
Not that there's anything wrong with the launch itself - if anything, it's more genuine than the norm, sincere well-wishers being in a clear majority over the odd jaded industry freeloader and (even odder) dingbat. Nor is there any massive problem with the events which follow in its wake, though they range from an appearance with Richard &Judy to a triumphant Glastonbury performance. At time of writing, 'Babylon' has entered the UK singles chart at No 5, while White Ladder is at No. 7. It's a phenomenal turnaround.
The only doubts hang over the changes that will be wrought by such success, not just in Gray's music, but in his life, and in the delicate, interlocking relationship of the two. Encouragingly, it's something he's well aware of.
"There's definitely going to be some sort of collision between this and my life as I've had it for the past ten years," he said in Boston. "I've got used to wandering around doing my own thing. Now it looks like this insane sort of success will start and it will, I'm sure, bring its own stresses. I've very little interest in being a celebrity. Zero, in fact."
The issue, though, goes beyond the the cult of celebrity, and into the vexed area of what David Gray represents. The man himself understandably doesn't much care for this tendency among both critics and public to weigh him down with theories about his 'significance'. Nor would this writer like to give succour to the zealots who clog up Gray's website at the flimsiest opportunity to accuse him of another imagined 'sell-out'.
But for all that, there is little doubt that the fanatical support he attracted in Ireland from the start was part-inspired by the notion that he was, somehow, 'different'. The songs were, of course, the major element in this, but they weren't the whole story. There was also a wider sense that in a time when music was/is spoon-fed to the populace like just another huckstered product in a spin-dried culture, DG meant something. That he was real, not one more marketing project.
And there's the rub. For when the people who made up that grassroots army wished him success, it was, implicitly, a triumph on the Radiohead/Manics model they envisaged - an underdog victory without compromise. And when it turns out instead to involve him being cooed over by The Corrs or pressing the flesh on daytime TV well, it just sits a bit strange.
There's another worry, too. Gray's songs have always had at their root more than just the sense of uncompromising individuality alluded to above. They were also characterised by such fragile graces as tenderness, wonder, solitude. And there simply isn't much space for those things to come into David Gray's world at the moment.
"It's very hard," he admitted in Boston. "I can see how bands struggle to get an album out every two years. After fucking touring your ass off, you don't want to go into the studio and not see daylight. I like trees, bushes and running water, you know? "
Is there a point when the well from which he draws could be parched by business demands?
"I'm sure there is, and I'm sure I will get to that point. I've got it all to come, but I try not to get involved in too much speculation as to what it's going to be like. If you knew, you probably wouldn't do it."
There's a need for all these reservations. But let's not block out the sun. Hell, even that quote about Springsteen went on to acknowledge that "he's got a way to go before any of that starts happening to him", and the same is true of Gray now. Yes, DG is moving into a whole new world, but if he adapts to it, harnesses its peculiar energies, and escapes the worst of its mercenary cruelty, then we're really in for something special.
"To be a musician is a transparent art," he commented backstage at TFI. "If you're doing it properly, things just flow through you. If you're the person who can make contact with music, then that's what you attempt to do as purely as you possibly can."
His days as a cult hero are over. Major league status seems assured.