Two years ago David Gray got a phone call from someone in Dublin wondering if he'd come over to play a gig... Gray thought they were taking the piss: at the time he was playing to audiences of 10 or less in England. He came over and within the year was selling out shows across the country. With a new album Sell Sell Sell out shortly, he's back again and playing the Mean Fiddler on Monday 9th as part of a country wide tour which will, no doubt, sell out. Colette Colfer caught up with him before a gig in Toronto.
Blessed be the media for they shall have power. Blessed be Donal Dineen who, in the first few months of his television show 'No Disco' adopted David Gray and his video 'Shine' and blasted it out into TV land. According to Dineen that during the teething stages of No Disco (1994), "Shine kind of became the classic, the anthem of the year."
Sell Sell Sell is the first release in nearly two years - under his new label EMI - and is more of a collaboration and band effort. Produced by Gray along with drummer Clune and guitarist/bassist David Nolte, Sell Sell Sell is more upbeat than previous albums, A Century Ends and Flesh, and distinctly more electric than acoustic.
And what about that title? Projecting those little words Sell Sell Sell into the universe will create eeny weeny elementals to swoop down on the multitudes and grab 'em in: this album will sell. So is this sneaky subliminal selling or a touch of Gray's ould cynicism creeping through?
"Well it's a line in one of the songs: 'Praise the lord above and sell, sell, sell'. Perhaps the most cynical line on the record. I don't know why I was tempted to use it as a title. I think I liked it because it was simple. Possibly half my mind was thinking, 'well we'll see what EMI does with this'. It's the third time I've had a major record deal so I was wary about how they were going to deal with it after all the big claims of how successful they would make it et cetera."
For music that so obviously just needs to get out there, get through the strainers and sieves, a bit of air play could do the trick - it seems like it should be easy peasy. Not so for Gray: three deals and still wary.
"Fucked off is probably the best expression to describe how I feel about the whole business side of things. Part of me is determined not to dwell on the negative side of it like the record companies, the commercial failures and the business not happening." Do not think of an egg, do not think of failure.
"I'd rather just be making the music that I find uplifting. I want to concentrate on the good things that do happen cause otherwise I'll end up a miserable old wreck like you find so many people in bars grumbling on about the music business and what should have happened. I'm determined not to be a martyr to that cause. It does fuck me off but I don't go on about it too much."
Strong words from the singer songwriter, scratch that, emotive musical poet. The first line of the biography says 'Do not call David Gray a singer/songwriter', so I call him one... his doorbell rings so he has to leave... he does return "It's not that I hate being called one. I just don't want to be associated with all the other crap ones. You know there's so many half-baked lyricists and there's a sort of movement of singer/songwriting that's happened in the last five years, I was just resisting being lumped in with that. I didn't make any huge stand saying I didn't want to be called a singer/songwriter. Somehow it's come to be put down in the biog so I have to answer this fucking question all the time." Woah.
Whatever tag we do have attached to him we hear it from reliable sources that the new songs are better than ever. Donal Dineen saw him play recently in America and says we will be blown away, according to Dineen "David Gray comes down in a line from all the best stuff, all the way through Van Morrisson, Bob Dylan, all the best songwriters - that's the class he's in. The thing about him, that he's not successful worldwide, is that he's definitely out of time, I think he's ahead of it."
An Afternoons Debauchery, New Horizons, the newer beauties like Smile and Hold On To Nothing we can look forward to them live. We end on a fitting note as he recites the first few lines of Mystery of Love down the phone "City gates at twilight and a red ship sinking behind winter's grey wall. Ice in the wind and the fire in the embers of your heart as darkness falls".
David Gray's latest album Sell Sell Sell is released shortly by EMI and he plays in the Mean Fiddler on Monday the 9th as part of Guiness In The City Live.