Few artists in the UK can claim to have sold as many albums as David Gray yet his first night at Cadogan Hall in support of a Best Of collection was refreshingly laced with humility and low-key delivery. Gray could have been a fledgling new artist, relying on acoustic guitar, lop pedals and piano and hand clapping to accompany himself, with self deprecating comments peppered throughout his set. A misjudged adjustment of said loop pedal stopped ‘Nemesis’ dead, which caused Gray more amusement than annoyance and he announced “my nemesis is back” on a later foray onto the same bit of kit.
The simple nature of the set was at odds with the scale of the hits which Gray dutifully, almost relentlessly played in the second half of the set. He was the magician with a succession of tricks up his sleeve, each bigger than the one before. ‘Ill see your ‘Sail Away’ and raise you ‘The Other Side’ and ‘This Year’s Love’ being the no-nonsense approach.
From one nineties/noughties anthem to the next, be it a softly strummed, laid back ‘Babylon’ or the singalong ‘Be Mine’ Gray gave them no more weight than earlier songs in the first half which he seems to hold in higher esteem. Gray had far more to say about his earlier songs than his most well known radio-friendly hits.
Taking to the piano with the lights dimmed for ‘Snow in Vegas’ and ‘Gulls’ he delivered the night’s most chilling moments. “Playing some of these old songs its like ghosts are coming out of the walls,” said Gray, who was treated to a respectful crowd who quietness he said was ‘properly quite impressive’.
The venue was perfectly suited to Gray’s stripped back execution. Perhaps no British singer-songwriter does heart broken as well as Gray, his unmistakable vocal suiting romantic lament as well as his poignant lyrics.
The feeling lingered though that he was looking for more back from his fans but their silence was more a mark of respect than he perhaps realised at the time. Tracks from his album ‘Life in Slow Motion’ and White Ladder single ‘This Year’s Love’ rendered the night’s the biggest cheers, ‘One I Love’ being delivered in a no-nonsense, no-intro “I’ll just start strumming and sing” style and being all the better for it.
Throughout the night many of the songs played on guitar fell into a pattern of having a very long and involved ending after he had finished singing, with Gray overlaying different guitar fills over each other. Used sparingly this would have had more impact but for some songs, ‘Babylon’ especially, the lyrics seemed a distant memory by the time the instrumental had ended.
But when you’ve got Gray’s back catalogue and such a respectful, captive audience, you can pretty much play the songs however you like. It’s worked live for Bob Dylan for years.
Words: Greg Loades (@greg1724)