It's pretty mad that Ireland's greatest selling album was not recorded by U2 or Sinead O'Connor or the Pogues but by a Welsh singer-songwriter named David Gray.
Gray is the success story that nearly wasn't. While White Ladder could be found on every Irish CD rack in the year 2000, its success was down purely to Gray's hard work and graft. Even the most bitter cynic would find it hard not to experience a lift from the first chords of 'Babylon'. The song, and the rest of White Ladder, capture a time and a place, and bring it rushing back to life any time its played.
Ireland played a huge role in lifting Gray from obscurity, as Gray played countless gigs in small Irish venues as he rose up the (white) ladder of success. Gray made his name here, and slowly but surely, the whole world embraced his music. As such, Gray enjoys the status as Ireland's most beloved Welshman (sorry Tom Jones, Giggsy and Gavin Henson).
RTÉ will be airing a brilliant documentary tonight about David Gray.
Here's how Gray described the making of White Ladder to Hot Press this week:
“It was striking how grateful we all were, and how naïve – and how un-full-of-shit we were about the whole thing! Because it was fucking real: we had no plan and no budget. We just hoped people liked what we’d done, and we had this wonderful thing happen. We poured so much into it, but when the success carries on, you get to the point where you start to lose sight of that wonderful feeling. You take it for granted a bit.”
Donal Scannell made the documentary and wrote on RTÉ.ie this week about his relationship with White Ladder.
I’ve been immersed in the David Gray story since our lives first intersected in 1994 so it’s been interesting zooming out and thinking about the wider relevance for people who couldn’t care less about his music. Everyone thinks they live in interesting times, but the late 90’s felt like a cultural watershed in Ireland. In the late 80s, the tide of emigration finally felt like it was beginning to turn. I went through secondary school being told that emigration was my only option, yet by the early 90s not everyone was leaving. Some of us were lucky enough to stay. Some of us even got to make a living doing outlandish things like DJing in clubs and promoting gigs and writing about music. Our new Ireland could support this.
'David Gray: Irelands Greatest Hit' airs on RTÉ One, Thursday 11th June at 10.15 pm.