David Gray’s first solo tour in 20 years heads to Collingswood

grayarticle

by Nicole Pensiero, FOR THE INQUIRER

London-based singer-songwriter David Gray concedes that launching his first solo tour in 20 years is a bit disconcerting, but his self-described “preshow jitters” are far outweighed by genuine excitement.

 “I’m planning to play a long set … songs going back to the very beginning, then to the present day, and maybe a new song or two,” Gray says of the seven-city North American tour, which stops Wednesday at the Scottish Rite Cathedral  in Collingswood for a sold-out show, then segues next month into a European jaunt. He’s envisioning his concerts divided into two sets: the first half, an overview of personal career-spanning favorites; the second, fan-favorite hits like “Babylon,” “Fugitive,” and “Sail Away,” given  the “all-out treatment,” as he puts it.
Gray says the bare-bones performances – just him, a guitar, a piano, and some looping effects to enhance his often-atmospheric soundscapes – seem the best way to encompass aspects of his 25-year career: “I’m bringing it right back to the beginning, when it was just me in an open space with a few instruments. I’ll have to engage the audience in a different way. It will be very intense.”

Gray says he’ll happily include songs from his still-beloved breakthrough effort, 2000’s home-recorded White Ladder, which remains among the top-selling albums of all time in Ireland and one of the United Kingdom’s biggest hits of the last two decades. In the U.S., it earned Gray a 2002 Grammy nomination for best new artist (Alicia Keys won).

“It was a very unguarded, openhearted record, and I think people were excited to discover a new sound,” he said. “There’s a natural effervescence that still comes through.”

 Born in the northern English city of Manchester,  Gray spent much of his childhood in a remote, windswept area of Wales, where,  as a preteen, he got turned on to ska music. From there, British pop-rock bands like The Cure and The Smiths enthralled the burgeoning musician. It wasn’t until his early 20s that Gray found himself drawn to introspective songwriters like Nick Drake and Bob Dylan.

Now at work on a new album produced by Ben De Vries – son of Marius, who helmed Gray’s seventh album, 2005’s Life in Slow Motion – Gray says the as-yet-untitled effort is “the most uplifting thing I’ve ever done.”

“There’s a real lightness to it, which is interesting because it’s been a kind of heavy year, but I think it’s simply the joy of making music,” he said. “There’s a real sense of momentum and tempo.” So much so that Gray says he practically had to be “pulled kicking and screaming with my headphones on” to get on the road again.

“But I’m excited about that, too,” he said. “Realizing that you’re not going to go on doing this indefinitely makes it mean more. Each show is another opportunity to connect.”

David Gray, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Scottish Rite Auditorium, 315 White Horse Pike, Collingswood. Sold out. 856-858-1000, collingswood.com.