People can usually remember where they were when major historical events, or important things in their lives took place. Why I remember trying on a deep red shirt in an expensive clothes shop on a trip to Leeds, one weekend in 2001, is a bit of a mystery….other than this was the first time I heard David Gray singing ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’.
The song has been a favourite of mine since it was written and released as a single by Soft Cell. That was in 1982, when I was a student at Leeds Polytechnic, at the same time that Marc Almond was studying fine art there, and starting to make a name for himself.
I’m not often impressed with covers of songs that I like, but, in my opinion, David Gray’s version of ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ is magnificent. He slows it right down and extends the running time to just under nine minutes of shear class. The track was the fifth single from the album ‘White Ladder’. The album was originally released in 1998, but re-released in 2000, when he changed labels, and gave Gray his big commercial break-through. He has released another seven albums in the 16 years since then, but none have had quite the impact or success that this one achieved.
So, never having seen David Gray play ‘live’, I went to the Sage really looking forward to seeing him perform songs from ‘White Ladder’ in particular. It’s a great album, full of memorable tracks, and I’ve only recently started to listen to it again, after the CD has been hidden away in the depths of my collection, untouched for years.
There was no time for a support act, with this solo acoustic performance lasting just under three hours, with a 20 minute break in the middle. Hall One was full as the evening got under way with one of Gray’s oldest songs, ‘Lead Me Upstairs’, which he wrote over 30 years ago. He used a loop on his guitar with great effect on this, and many other tracks throughout the evening, producing a great sound.
The next two tracks – ‘Shine’ and ‘Coming Down’ – also featured Gray singing along to his accompanying acoustic guitar, before he switched to the piano for ‘Slow Motion’. The acoustics in the hall are top quality, and helped to emphasise Gray’s clever arrangements and more than competent playing. The majority of the songs have personal lyrics, telling emotional tales full of melancholy.
The only slight problem I have with David Gray is that even songs that have happier themes and story-lines, and there are a few, sound as if they could be lamenting lost love or the loss of someone dear. However, he certainly has a great distinctive sounding voice, and it is perfectly suited to the type of melancholic songs that characterise his career in the business. There’s nothing wrong with the path that David Gray has chosen to follow, especially when your voice and song writing skills are as good as his. However, the inclusion of some upbeat toe-tapping tunes would definitely add some much needed umpffffff to the proceedings.
The lighting for the show was fairly simplistic, but worked well. ’From Here You Can Almost See the Sea’ was played with lots of echo, which worked especially well on the elements that were sung with high-pitched vocals. A magical cone-like veil of silver light was thrown around our man, appearing to trap him until he reached the end of the track.
We were kept waiting some time until we were served anything from ‘White Ladder’, but boy, was it worth the wait! The quite brilliant ‘Please Forgive Me’ was played very slowly on the piano to great effect. The words to this love song are really spellbinding, describing the depth of his love, and what the sight and thoughts of his lover do to him – “…feels like lightening running through my veins, every time I look at you.” The musical arrangement of the track on the album, combined with the powerful and very descriptive lyrics, make it quite uplifting, and although it is played at a slightly slower tempo, this feeling was not lost when the song was played tonight…..superb!
Although there’s not a lot of chat with the audience, David is very confident, without being aloof or arrogant, handling the comments and requests that some members of the audience felt compelled to share with us all very well. He came over as friendly and seemed to enjoy the evening almost as much as his audience.
Getting an audience involved, either via clapping where required, or singing some of the lyrics, can be difficult, or the exact opposite. At the Sage, Mr Gray had no problems at all, and during another memorable performance of a song from ‘White Ladder’ – ‘Sail Away’ – it seemed that everyone was joining in with the chorus, without needing much encouragement.
The acoustics in Hall One are fantastic. What isn’t so fantastic is the constant opening of the access doors to let people in and out. Every time the door opened near to where I sat, bright light gushed in, violating the darkness in the hall.
The set came to a close with ‘Babylon’, the top selling track in the catalogue, which reached number 5 in the UK charts in 2000, and 57 on the Billboard Hot 100. Another great song from ‘White Ladder’, which demonstrated that David Gray doesn’t always ‘do melancholy’. However, it also showed that when he does branch out a bit, it results in some of his best, and most popular material.
Inevitably, David has saved two more amazingly good ‘White Ladder’ tracks for his encore. The first is ‘This Year’s Love’, which while being a song essentially about hoping for better fortune in love, is also a return to the inevitable melancholy….well, he does these songs as well as anyone in the business, so why not!
…and the final song?
Yes, it carries on in this vein, but even I am happy with that, because it’s the song that I’ve been waiting for all evening, and, making it the last one he played, maybe shows that it’s one of his favourites as well – or he’s just tattah!
….’Say Hello Wave Goodbye’….oh yes!
Photographer – Adam Kennedy
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