David Gray, an English singer and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about his fond memories of Nottingham, the highlight of his career, his latest album Gold In a Brass Age and his forthcoming tour of the UK.

David Gray is an English singer and songwriter who released his first album in 1993 and received worldwide attention after the release of White Ladder six years later.  It was the first of three UK chart-toppers in six years for Gray, of which the latter two also made the top seventeen in the USA.  White Ladder became the fifth best-selling album of the 2000s in the UK

Gray’s first two albums A Century Ends and Flesh were issued in 1993 and 1994 respectively and led to Gray becoming popular in folk-rock circles, but both failed in terms of commercial sales.  In 1996 Gray released his third album, Sell, Sell, Sell and despite critical acclaim, the album did not chart.

It was the re-release of Gray’s fourth record album, White Ladder in 2000, which brought him commercial success and critical attention.  The album included his best-known songs, This Year’s Love, Babylon, Please Forgive Me and Sail Away.  Babylon was released as a single and it sold over 100,000 copies in Ireland alone, making it a number one chart single for six weeks.  The single also reached number five in the UK Singles Chart.

In 2001 he won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song for Babylon and another in 2003 when The Other Side won the Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.  White Ladder also won the Best International Album and Gray won the Best International Songwriter at the 2001 Meteor Music Awards.

Whilst getting ready for the release of his eleventh studio album, Gold In A Brass Age, and his forthcoming tour of the UK, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.


David good afternoon how are you today?

Hi Kevin I’m very well thanks, how are you?

I’m good thank you, and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it’s my pleasure.  I have to tell you that I currently feel a little strange as I have never used this method of multi-interviews before and I feel like I am in some sort of Max Headroom kind of virtual space with different people’s souls coming through the walls and speaking to me (laughter).  No doubt it will be Henry XIII next (laughter).

It must be a little off-putting for you as you have absolutely no idea as to who is listening to you (laughter). 

The thing that I keep asking myself is “is this even legal” (laughter).  They shoot you for this kind of shit in some countries (laughter).  This shit doesn’t happen in Saudi Arabia I can tell you that but please, let’s not get drawn into politics (laughter).

Is that not taking the privacy laws a little bit too far?

(Hysterical laughter) I’m not even going to go there; all that I am going to say is “Hello Nottingham”.

I have to ask, despite all of the cloak and dagger approach to today’s interviews, just how is life treating David Gray?

Life at the moment is alright if you know what I mean.  Everybody has got a bit older, bits are now starting to fall off and all of that.  Life is an unpredictable process.  I currently think that we are in control but I fear that is just a total illusion.  Having said all of that, all things considered then certainly in a creative sense I am in a really good way.  I am really enjoying what I am doing.  Life has its challenges and I am bearing with it.

I have to tell you that I have been playing the latest album, Gold In A Brass Age for the past couple of weeks now and I think that it is a great body of work.

Fantastic, that is great to hear.  It’s wonderful as I have had a lot of positive responses to the album.  It shouldn’t sound like it but we laboured long and hard over this album.  For me it has a joyous and uplifting quality about it.  In a way it is a soft record, it really is quite intimate, but I am personally delighted with it.  It was obviously a departure for me in some ways; I sort of pushed the boat out and did something quite experimental for me.

It sounds as though you are really happy with the finished product?

Absolutely, I am totally happy with it.  I don’t put records out unless I am totally happy with them but I do feel that this record has got something special.  The only yardstick that I have really got to measure that with is the feeling that it gave me when I made the album.  You don’t often get the lightning strike on more than a few occasions during the process of making a record but I kept having those spine-tingling moments when songs just came and I capitalised there and then and I wrote, performed and recorded the songs simultaneously in a short blast of time.  However, that’s not to say that we then didn’t spend six months messing around with it, tweaking it, changing things, and trying to make it work perfectly.

The creative force, the force of the initial creative burst of song writing, recording and sound making generally happened very quickly.  I like to feel that even though I have steered clear of anything obviously autobiographical, I still feel that it is just flooded with emotion, and really because of the sonic choices, the chordal choices, the lyrical choices, the editorial choices that you make when making a record, it doesn’t matter if it is a non-narrative object, it is still very revealing about everything that has ever happened to you.  So the emotion, together with my heart and soul is in there every time and that begins to tell its own tales.  So when I stand back from the record I feel that it is a significant document of everything that has been happening to me.

You mention spending six months tweaking and changing things on the album.  Once the album was finished, were you able to walk away from it or are you always meddling?

(Laughter) funnily enough we have been in the studio this week remixing one of the extra tracks on the album which will be going on the deluxe box set (laughter).  The record was finished over a year ago now, so there has been plenty of time for me to mess with things (laughter).  A lot of artists are virtually demented in that way.  However, I have always been good at stepping away and carrying on doing something else.  So I went away and poured my heart and soul into another small project which I have got brewing.  So once Gold In A Brass Age is all done and dusted there will be another record for me to bring out.

So being honest I haven’t been tinkering with the album, and I feel that is because we put such a lot of work into the album from the outset.  The luxury of time is always such a good thing; it gives you the opportunity to reflect on a few songs, and allows you to make some cut down radio friendly versions of things where you have to get them down to three and a half minutes.  It proposes different solutions to the songs which may have been valid when you were making the album versions.  So it is always interesting.

Gold In A Brass Age is one of the tracks on the album.  Why did you chose that one as the album title?

It just felt right.  It is celebratory, and it is also saying something that matters in an age full of noise and nonsense.  It doesn’t take a genius to work it out as a metaphor.  It is the stuff that is important.  That line came from a short story by Raymond Carver the American short story author and poet.  When we had finished writing the song Gold In A Brass Age, it came in a real flurry of activity, a crazy hairs on the back of the neck moment; a kind of mad burst of energy, and it was probably the most ferocious burst of writing on the record in a way.  It was four or five hours of just nonstop writing, after which we just stood back from the thing and Ben my producer said “I’m going to save this, what am I going to call it” and I just said “Gold In A Brass Age”.

I don’t know why, that is just what came into my mind.  In a way that spontaneous decision ended up being the title of the record; it just felt like it encapsulated the whole thing.  After spending a whole week thinking up dozens and dozens and dozens of titles for the record, in the end I preferred that one.

You have already released three tracks from the album; The Sapling, Watching The Waves and A Tight Ship.  Have you been pleased with the fans reaction to the tracks?

To be totally honest with you, I don’t go through it all.  What I see is that we are selling tickets for the forthcoming tour like nobody’s business.  So that tells me that people are connecting with what we are doing.   This is a totally different way for me to put a record out.  I would normally be frontloading the whole thing on a single and then you are hoping that the media does you a favour and that they give you some decent reviews.  However, I just didn’t feel like that was the way to go this time around.  The media as an entity is so eroded and undermined by the entire world of social media that I am not so sure that it is the full story anymore.

So we decided to just put the music out there and let the fans have it for nothing and start to tell a story before the story officially begins.  I have to say that it has worked a treat in so much as the UK tour is basically sold out and sold out well in advance of the gigs.  That tells me that people are reacting positively to what they are hearing.  The people who were involved in the making of the album will go through the comments and see just what people are saying but I generally will not go there being totally honest.

At the moment I have three go to tracks on the album and surprisingly none of them were singles.  They are Ridiculous Heart, It’s Late and Hall Of Mirrors.  I think that they are fantastic.

Thank you, that is really good to hear.  I don’t consider the three tracks that we put out to be superior to the rest of the songs on the album.  It’s just that everybody who I am working with, record companies and lots of different people who are coming at it from lots of different angles, all have strong favourites and in the end I just go ‘fine’ (laughter).  Having said that I feel that we had to start with The Sapling, it felt right to start the record with that track.  I felt that was the right stepping off point.  But apart from that I didn’t really care what we put out next to be honest.

The tour starts on Friday 15th March.  Are you looking forward to being back out on the road here in the UK?

Yes I am in fact I can’t deny that I really am super excited.  Touring for me gets more exciting the older I get.  For me to be able to do this in the way that I am doing it without compromise, to be able to take my music out to the crowds I feel like I am on such a strong foundation.  The reactions have been so strong to the new music that I can feel that I can really put my new material across.  Of course I am going to be playing some of the older songs which people want to hear as well.  So being in this new music, for me it’s like being reborn.  It’s not just acting out the same old songs again and again.  That’s the game, that’s the music game.

You have got to make it look and feel like it is actually happening to you right there and then whilst basically doing it hundreds and hundreds of times.  Whereas whenever you start with a new project, you are not acting at all, you are basically discovering just what it is like to be inside this music, and that is what this journey is going to be all about.  It is a very short but very intense tour although having said that we are already adding a few shows in the summer here and there.  It really is going to be very intense but because I am trying to do things differently in order to honour the record really, it is an electronic kind of record, so I have got lots of technology involved within the stage show.

I will be looping my voice, my piano; I will be looping my guitars, and there will be a live sampler on stage allowing me to sample other bits of rhythm and other bits and pieces.  So really it will be like watching me at work in the studio live on stage.  I think that its great and the possibilities are simply immense.  It is a completely new way of making live music for me.  On my last tour I was just stripped down to me on my own but this tour is totally the opposite.  We are involving technology so if a computer crashes we are fucked (laughter).  That’s the downside.  But apart from that we don’t mention that happening because quite simply that is not going to happen.  We will put on a show even if it does.

How many of the new songs will make it onto the set list for the forthcoming tour?

To be honest, as yet, I have no idea but I should think that there will be a fair few.  I think that the best way to do it is to start with the new music and just let everyone know that I am going to play them some new music for forty-five minutes and then we will get onto the business of the last twenty-five years (laughter).

When are you starting rehearsals?

We are going to be staring rehearsals next week.  We have already done a few showcases so in a smaller sense we have already showcased the music and the record whilst playing a few shows over in New York together with a show in London last November.  So we had to do a hell of a lot of technical prep to enable that so we are a bit further ahead than we normally are as we step into the rehearsal room with a full band.

You will be bringing the show to the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on Saturday 23rd March and I have just checked and there are literally a handful of tickets left for the show.  That must please you?

Yes it does, it really is tremendous, but please remember that I do not take any of that for granted anymore.  It’s not as though I travel the country sitting on every sofa trying to be a household name.  I just want to do it on my own terms.  Like I have said, for me to put a tour on like this and to have done the social media campaign before any prep or any radio has kicked in, and to see these tickets going so well, it really does feel tremendous.  I think that the gigs will be really potent as a result of all this.  I am really psyched up for the tour.

Do you enjoy your time spent here in Nottingham?

To be honest it has been a little while since I have been up there in Nottingham but I remember being told many years ago, or did I gleam this from The Hit Man And Her, that the ratio of young women to young men was very heavily slanted towards more young women than there were young men.  That is one of the things that I clearly remember hearing about Nottingham.  Is that still correct (laughter).

(Laughter) well I am sorry to disappoint you but that may very well have been the case back when The Hit Man And Her was on our TV screens between 1988 and 1992.  However, a recent survey carried out by Mail Online showed that Nottingham now has a ratio of 51% males and 49% females.  You should have been quicker off the mark (laughter).

Bugger, that’s crazy, just what is going on (laughter).  I did once get set upon by a group of very attractive young ladies whilst I was playing up there in Nottingham and I have to say that it wasn’t a wholly unpleasant experience (laughter).  It wasn’t quite on a Benny Hill scale so that is a fond memory of my time spent in Nottingham (laughter).

In January 2015 you released Snow In Vegas which featured LeAnn Rimes.  Just how did that collaboration come to fruition?

I have to say that was great.  I knew LeAnn from before and the weird thing was that I had met her in Vegas and that is where I had started to write that song funnily enough.  I was writing it when I met her for the very first time.  However, I didn’t know at that time that she was going to sing on it.  She is such a lovely person, and disarmingly straight forward.  We hit it off straight away and that was it.  I have to say that all of the duets that I have done I have thoroughly enjoyed.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Well I felt like I was standing on top of the world when my album, White Ladder was vaguely in its ascendancy.  We were at Glastonbury, and we had played our set and then we were asked to play a second set as Burt Bacharach had pulled out of his set on the Sunday evening, so we actually played two sets before the late David Bowie closed the festival on the main stage in the year 2000.  We came off the stage and started to listen to the chart rundown on the radio and Babylon had entered the charts at number five.  I had to have a piece of string tied around my toes just in case I floated off (laughter).  I was buzzing like crazy for days and days.  I didn’t come down off that high for a few weeks.

We did a Top Of The Pops performance a couple of days later and everything was just nuts.  It all started to go really well over in America, things were taking off here in the UK, and everything was already massive over in Ireland.  It was a crazy feeling.  You have got to balance that out as to just how shit things had been for many years (laughter).

You have played all over the world.  Is there anywhere left where you would like to perform?

Oh absolutely one hundred percent.  I still have never played in South America.  The beauty of Spotify is that you can see where there are lots of people listening to your music.  I would love to perform in Chile, as I am totally mad on Pablo Neruda the Chilean poet.  I love the idea of going to the likes of Santiago, Buenos Aires, Central America, Mexico, are most definitely on my list as is Iceland.  That is also somewhere that I have never been.  So yes, there are still lots of places left for me to play in.

What was the first record that you bought?

(Laughter) I could say Puff The Magic Dragon but I was far too young for that to count.  So if I skip on a couple of years then I can remember buying I Don’t Like Mondays by The Boomtown Rats.

Who did you first see performing live?

Weirdly my very first proper gig was The Smiths and it must have been 1984.  It was the Meat Is Murder tour.

Being supported by James if I remember correctly?

I was in no fit state to remember that (laughter).  At the time I lived in South West Wales and my best friend’s brother was in the Navy and stationed in Edinburgh.  He tantalised us with all of the bands that he was going to see which thinking back was most probably total bullshit (laughter).  He spoke to his brother who told him that he had tickets for The Smiths in two days’ time.  He said “why don’t you come up, we can all go to the gig”.  So we thought ‘fuck it, let’s bunk off school and go to Scotland’.  So we went all the way up to Edinburgh, rang him up on ship, and he didn’t have any tickets at all; it was all total nonsense.

So basically we all bought tickets off a tout outside the venue but we were all in different parts of the room (laughter).  That was my first proper experience of seeing a band performing live.  I actually gave my beads to Morrissey and the story begins there (laughter).  Morrissey gave me a strange piece of weed which he had ripped out of the car park at the rear of the building (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Me crying at a song or piece of music is not unheard of; that’s what it is there for.  I don’t know if I really know the answer to that question, but I’m not pretending that it doesn’t happen.  Thinking about it there is one song that has made me cry, and that is because of the beauty of the song really.  There is a song called Despedida by Maria Rita Camargo Mariano, who is a Brazilian singer.  It’s a bit obscure this but it well worth listening to.  It truly is a wonderful piece of music.  That was a little while ago and I literally had tears in my eyes as I was listening to it really loud in my studio.  Again I was taking on the weight of what was actually happening, the performance is stunning and totally beguiling.  To be able to stand in front of beauty like that, that truly can make you cry.

On that note David let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great.  You take care.

Thanks ever so much Kevin, that’s been brilliant.  You take care and I will see you up there in Nottingham.