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Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 11:07 GMT
David Gray: Climbing the ladder
David Gray
David Gray struck lucky with his fourth album
David Gray is the overnight sensation who spent seven years working for it to happen.

A year ago you would have been hard pressed to find anyone who could pick David Gray out of a crowd, let alone sing one of his songs.

White Ladder is the antithesis of big budget sterility

David Gray

But a million homes in the UK now own a copy of White Ladder, his breakthrough album which was recorded in the desperate wake of a singer rushing to embrace a breakdown.

The album of heartfelt, heart-rending songs was recorded in the singer's house in Stoke Newington, north London, and released on his own label after he had been unceremoniously dumped by his publishing company.

Bob Dylan-esque

It was the last roll of the dice; a change of direction for a singer who had been compared to Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, but had failed to shift any significant copies of his first three albums.

Of the record itself, Gray described it as "the antithesis of big budget sterility".

David Gray
David Gray was born in Manchester and raised in Wales
He said it "nearly killed me, is about doing something for nothing and next to nothing by the book, was recorded in a small house in London with the windows open and the traffic going by".

White Ladder brought him to the attention of broadsheet-reading music fans eager for his wistful words and to hear more abou the singer himself.

He was born in Manchester, but raised in Pembrokeshire, west Wales, an area noted for its folk music roots and a possible early influence on his music.

Bargain bin

He formed a band in Liverpool while at art college, Waiting for Deffo, but had no compunction about dropping his fellow band members when he was offered a solo record contract.

A move to London in 1993 brought a rapid succession of highs and lows. He met his future wife, Olive, and recorded his first two albums, Century Ends and Flesh.

But the albums were destined for the bargain bin - his lyrical, acoustic sound was not in keeping with the dominant sound of Britpop at the time.

Only in Ireland, where folk retains a mainstream appeal, did the singer have any real success.

Sell, sell, sell

A third album, Sell Sell Sell, was poorly titled. It stubbornly failed to sell more than a handful of copies and David Gray, to pinch a line from his breakthrough hit, Babylon, was going nowhere and all the green lights had turned to red.

In 1998 he released White Ladder - the title is a metaphor for a woman's spine - and despite an initial run of just 4,000 copies it went on to top the charts in Ireland for months.

The story would have ended there if the managing director of EastWest records, Christian Tattersfield, had not heard the chime of potential in his songs.

The album was picked up by the label and the slow burn of publicity began.

White Ladder was passed between friends who wanted to share Gray's music and Babylon was played frequently on Jo Whiley's show on BBC Radio 1, giving Gray the right sort of credentials in the eyes and ears of the station's listeners.

Brit nomination

White Ladder has now spent 43 weeks in the album charts and predictably his back catalogue has been re-released.

But his nomination for best album at the Brits is a curiosity.

White Ladder was not eligible because it was released in 1999 and so Lost Songs, a collection of tracks recorded between 1995 and 1999 has the nomination. It is currently number seven in the charts.

Gray himself feels the nomination may be a mistake, a nod of recognition to the singer for an extraordinary year.

He was also in the running for best single, for Babylon, and best male.

But the industry which ignored him for so many years opted not to give him any prizes.

His rise may appear meteoric but the press frenzy obsucres a long slog.

Moving from a performance in front of a handful of people in Swansea in 1998 to seling out Radio City Music Hall in New York may sound like a huge leap but he has had the help of a very useful white ladder.





See also:

11 Feb 01 | New Music Releases
CD Review: David Gray
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