About a month ago, David Gray put a message on his website and social media sites telling fans about an interesting tour he had planned. He’d been rehearsing with a band and writing new songs for the last year, and he wanted to test them by playing them to Irish audiences in small intimate venues around the country. The route of the tour was decided by the fans, who chose where they would like to see David play. On 18th November, eleven venues, one of which was
An Grianan Theatre
In Letterkenny were announced, and people could apply for tickets through a lottery system, and buy them if they were chosen. I was lucky enough to be one of the approx. 380 people in the venue to see the gig last night.
Before I attempt to describe last night’s gig, I should probably put my own love of David Gray’s music into context. Like most people, I first heard of him through the ‘white ladder’ album in 1999. Listening to his lyrics and hearing him talk about song writing completely changed how I listened to music myself, and I learned to appreciate the work of a songwriter, whereas before that, I had probably always just listened to melodies and tunes. I first saw David play live in Marley Park in Dublin on July 19th 2001. I went with my sister and two friends, and we’d been looking forward to it for months. An hour before we left for the gig, my sister told me that we were going to meet him the next day. Imagine the shock! I was fifteen, and I was getting to meet my musical hero. They say, (whoever “they” are) that you should never meet your heroes, but in this case, it was definitely not true. David couldn’t have been friendlier, taking 15 or 20 minutes to talk, and he was so relaxed. He signed a CD cover and all our tickets, His PR person took pictures and gave us tickets for the gig again that night. I remember everything about that day like it was yesterday.
Since then, I’ve seen David Gray four more times, but last night was very different and completely amazing on a whole other level.
The gig opened with a set from Lisa O’Neill. She’s from Cavan, and she has a very unique voice and a fantastic personality and sense of humour. My cousin Laura noticed David standing at the side of the stage to watch most of her performance, which I thought was a nice touch. Lisa was also part of the band of guitarists, string players and vocalists who joined David when he went on stage at about 9 P.M. The band, which was especially put together for this tour included Robbie Malone, David Kitt, Caroline Dale and Niamh Farrell. Seeing him play in such an intimate venue like An Grianan Theatre felt a bit surreal for the first few songs. The gig began with four or five new songs, which sounded really dreamy and beautiful. ‘Ain’t no love’ was the first song I recognised, and it wasn’t until then that it started to sink in, that David Gray was on stage, two metres in front of me, in my favourite theatre in Donegal. This seemed like the most unlikely situation ever, especially twelve years ago, when I sat talking to him and he asked many questions about where I lived in Donegal. If I could have seen him play anywhere, it would have been in that room, and now it was actually happening. Next he played ‘gathering dust’, a personal highlight of the gig, which my cousin said was obvious from the look on my face. The band left the stage, leaving David to a solo set, where he alternated between guitar and piano. Working his way through his earlier albums, the quiet attentive audience were treated to versions of ‘shine’, ‘falling free’, ‘coming down’, a cover of ‘in the morning’ by the BGS, and ‘every time’ with a bit of Van Morrison thrown in at the end. The band gradually joined in for the rest of the gig, which included (in no particular order), ‘Kathleen’ with Lisa O’Neill on backing vocals, ‘from here you can almost see the sea’, ‘the one I love’, and probably a couple more that I’ve forgotten. He played a gorgeous version of ‘this year’s love’ with violin accompaniment, and before he had left the stage, the audience were on their feet for an encore. This consisted of a brilliant new song called ‘the incredible’, which he described as a bastard to play! The band high fived each other and seemed delighted with their performance of it by the end. A girl in the audience asked him if he’d like a cup of tea after that! They played an impressive, extended version of ‘nemesis’ and the night finished with ‘Babylon’ and ‘sale away’, with a happy audience singing along.
Laura and I were one of the last people to leave the theatre, partly because I had to collect money for tickets, but in fairness we took longer than we could have. Our persuasive pleas to meet David didn’t work. A girl gave me a plectrum when she took a couple from the stage, so that was as close as I got this time. The theatre staff were great, and should be proud of such a well organised gig. They were asking where O.J was, and I considered taking him, but wasn’t sure if it would be too loud. It wouldn’t have been, apart from lots of falsetto and some whistling which he might not have approved of. I didn’t want to risk him being unhappy, because I’d have to leave with him and miss part of the gig myself. That was not happening!! And if he was there, I’d have had to sit in the wheelchair section, and we wouldn’t have got the great seats that we got up the front!
It’s easy to think of the success of ‘white ladder’ when you hear David Gray, but if you really know his music, you’ll know there’s a lot more to him than that one album. Last night showed a real maturity and depth in his music that I’ve never seen before. The harmonies and new sounds were beautiful. I hope when this new material is recorded, it captures much of what the band performed live, because it sounded perfectly fine to me. Overproduction would just kill it and take all the magic away.
The idea of the ‘sounding out’ tour was to give something back to the people of Ireland who have been so supportive of David Gray’s music over the last twenty years, and he definitely did that last night. It’s going to be a really special tour, so anyone who has tickets is in for a real treat.