By our estimate 42,900 punters have so far enjoyed this year’s iTunes festival for free. Not bad going Apple. I would hazard a guess that most of them are considerably happier than the half a billion that are moaning they were spammed with a free U2 album last Tuesday. When it comes to freebies there’s just no pleasing some people.
And so we head out on a Sunday night to witness the delicate sounds of Ireland’s Lisa Hannigan and the return of “Old Bobble Head” himself David Gray.
For those of you that don’t know it, the Roundhouse makes for an impressive festival setting. Built in 1846 as a turntable shed for the London and Birmingham railway it was only in use for a decade or so before lying dormant for years and finally being resurrected as an arts venue and having some 44 million spent on it. Nice.
This reviewer was last here in June to witness one of Prince’s (spectacular if a little self-indulgent and far too late for this 40something) pop up gigs but I get the feeling the funk is going to be a little more subdued tonight.
Not that it matters. It is after all a Sunday so who wants to rave when it’s school the next day? Not me, sir.
Lisa Hannigan takes to the stage to an almost full venue. The previous backing singer of Damien Rice is well received initially though her fragile songs struggle after the initial novelty of her, admittedly blinding voice, wears off. Tracks like ‘Lille’ and ‘Passengers’ bring them back but it’s a crowd full of Sunday night drinkers that are ready to greet David Gray.
By now we’re all used to the iTunes 30 second countdown clock. With a global audience tuning in every evening the one thing these iTunes artists aren’t going to be is late. 10-9-8-7… yup, it’s cheesy, but we all love a timed entrance.
David Gray released a new album this June – the blink-and-you-may -have-just-missed-it Mutineers managed to grace the top 10 briefly before disappearing out of the public conscious and seemingly the charts for good. But, to be fair to him and the three and a half thousand odd fans screaming their appreciation, no one seemed to mind that his better days are firmly planted in 1998.
I’ve always felt that he was unfairly tarnished with “dinner party” syndrome; the fate that befell Simply Red’s Stars, Adele’s 21 and numerous other artists, where certain albums that simply get so big you cannot escape a house visit without it being aurally forced down until you are beaten into submission and a quivering mess forever chanting “I cannot listen to that fucker again”.I say unfairly as I’ve always felt Mr Gray has a deeper level to him. Not many out there would put pen to paper on someone’s last moments as they lie bleeding to death (“The One I Love”)
3 – 2 – 1 – BOOM! (Not really), and he is there on stage.
For the first two songs, “Birds Fly Over The Arctic” and Back In The World” (both lifted from his new album), it all starts well. The new tracks are as strong as anything he has written before and hearing that voice again after a 3 year absence is like saying ‘hello’ and giving a man hug to one of your closest mates. Then Gray is faced with a bit of a dilemma. Basically, he is playing to a room of 3,500 competition winners. None of the really want to hear his new album and pretty soon the mumbled shout outs of ‘Babylon’ and ‘Thailway’ (presumably, ‘Sail Away’) start getting to David.
When he plays ‘Nemesis’ with the line “let’s leave this party now/everybody’s talking and no one listening” it all started to ring slightly true.
Nevertheless, he ploughs on regardless. Finally when “Alibi” chimes out from 2005’s Life In Slow Motion, the crowd’s collective ‘ahhhh’ ensures that Gray responds the ‘ahhhh’ in return, albeit a little through gritted teeth. What did he expect?!
‘Fugitive’ and White Ladder’s ‘Please Forgive Me’ win them over, with the latter particularly bringing the house down (complete with clapping and Dave dancing like a grown up entertainer at a children’s party. In a good way).
Finally ‘Sail Away’ draws the evening to a close before Gray returns alone with his guitar muttering “I’m running out of time” before breaking into ‘Babylon’ and ‘The One I Love’. Cue a mass singalong and the party finally going off.
Sadly, it feels a little too late. If only he had peppered a few of the crowd pleasers throughout the set he would have had everyone onside and, perhaps more importantly, discovering his new material. It wasn’t that it was bad, not by any means, but it all felt a little frustrating and misjudged.
He has the chops, the new album is strong; it’s just that David Gray, somewhere along the line, seems to have forgotten how to play the entertainer.