Cambridge Corn Exchange
Saturday 16th March 2019

After a Turkish meal served by Emlyn at The Copper Kettle on King's Parade and a quick pint in the Eagle, my partner and I headed for the Corn Exchange to witness David Gray's first ever gig in the fair city of Cambridge.

Support came from the Cambridge formed 'Lunacre' who, by singer Ben's own admission on Youtube, play "Alternative Rock just like Alt-J and Radiohead". I have to say that once I got that Radiohead comparison in my head myself, it was hard to get away from it but that's okay - I like Radiohead! The set they played was short but sweet and set the stage nicely.

Lunacre pic from Slate The Disco

Like him or not, we all know David Gray was more than capable of writing such strong and memorable anthems as 'Sail Away' and 'This Year's Love' 20 odd years ago - super radio friendly songs too, especially in Ireland where his international career began and where his 'White Ladder' album still remains the bestselling album in the Republic. The question in my mind was 'Can he still write songs as good as that'?

Having heard his recent interview with Radio 2's Ken Bruce, it appears he has discovered a new songwriting tool for his new album in the form of one of those fancy digital loop pedals that Ed Sheeran is so fond of. However, in this performance, rather than layering track apon track to make a wall of sound as Ed does, David prefers to start each new song by twiddling a few simple notes on an acoustic guitar into the pedal to create a hypnotic repeating riff which becomes just another layer to his bands' overall soundscape, before returning to his piano stool.

At first this process is quite effective. The set opens with the song 'Mallory', the penultimate track on his new album 'Gold in a Brass Age' and the looping pedal in the background actually sounds pretty lush. Sadly though, after repeating this looping process 3 or 4 times with other songs, the novelty begins to wear thin. Looking around me I realise that I'm not the only person who is thinking this. Several people are starting to yawn while others are heading for the bar. By song number 8 we've heard nearly all of the tracks from the new album, pretty much all of which were presented in this way and none of which really grabbed me, to be honest. Sufficed to say, creating a song with a new fangled guitar pedal is no substitute for ceating a song from a strong melody or a change of chord at least!

Thankfully, after about an hour the hits start, most of which we've all heard before and the audience comes alive again. The majority of the older songs are taken from 'A New Day at Midnight' , 'Life in Slow Motion' and of course 'White Ladder' - the biggest cheer of the night going out to the classic single 'Babylon', especially when he sings that bit that goes '..And faye-aye-eel it now' in the style of the intro to Lulu's 1964 hit single 'Shout'... and, as if 18 songs in a set wasn't enough, the band return for a four song encore, starting with 'This Years Love' (my favourite) and finishing with 'Please Forgive Me' (my partner's favourite), probably the danciest tune of the night which even inspired some audience members to get up and throw some shapes of sort!

Pic Matthew Thorpe

To summarise, I'd say David Gray can still impress an audience with his performance. His inherent talent as a musician is obvious and his individual voice is as powerful as ever, even at the age of 50. Overall it was a good sound and a great light show but whether I'd spend another 30 quid to see him at The Corn Exchange again is doubtful - I certainly wouldn't spend 100 quid for a so-called 'V.I.P'. ticket to sit in the first nine rows on a fold-away metal seat a bit too tightly clamped to the next one. I reckon the best place to enjoy the mellow vibe of a gig like this is in the comfy seats at the back where we were.

In retrospect, I think he was quite brave to begin the show with all new songs - despite the fact that they weren't very strong songs, you've got to stick them in somewhere I suppose, so why not get them out of the way early on? All in all a great night out thank you very much considering this was only the second night of his 'round the world tour of about 60 nights so that approach to the set might change before July's last night performance, in Cork... where I'm guessing it must feel a bit like going home for him... and where, after all these years, like me, they all reckon at least the 'White Ladder' album still sounds pretty good - 1 in every 4 Irish households can't be wrong!


Words : Ricky Howlett
Thanks to Rob @ Sonic PR for sorting things out.