We speak to singer-songwriter David Gray ahead of his Dubai Jazz Fest gig tonight, covering everything from his disdain for today’s top hits, to his idols and his Dubai go karting experience.
This will be your third time in Dubai. What are you looking forward to about being back in the city? I think we’re all just looking forward to getting a bit of sunshine on us. You know, it’s the winter blues kicking in over here.
We had a real laugh at the Go Kart circuit – not the fancy one that’s in town but the one that’s way out of the city. We had a crazy night there quite a few years ago, and that was a lot of fun. No proper health and safety stuff at all, exactly as it should be.
What can we expect from you set at Jazz Festival? I think when you’re on a mixed bill, you tend to play your most popular songs. I’ll be playing a bit of a Greatest Hits set, with some stuff from my last album, and a smattering of different things from across my albums. It’ll be like a panoramic snapshot from across my life in music so far.
Do you still enjoy playing those crowd pleasers? Is there ever a moment where you think ‘If I have to play Babylon one more time…’ Well, what the crowd give you back is what lights those moments up. But there are the odd occasions when I do get bored. So we try and spice up the songs, and do them differently now and again, because that challenges us, which keeps it fun to play. Nobody wants to watch an artist who’s just going through the motions.
You have to gauge it to the point where you’re satisfied too. If you just please everyone by playing the same thing over and over again, you’ll end up completely bored, and burned out, and just buying a place in the south of France, moving away and giving it all up!
But with this being a mixed bill, and a one-off, I think we’re going to enjoy playing everything, and it will be a very fresh and raw performance.
Is there anyone else on the bill that you’re very excited to share the bill with? Well, Sting of course. He’s a phenomenal talent who we’ve all enjoyed in various ways over the years – apart from his yoga moves.
You’re not interested in yoga? No issue with yoga, I just don’t like people who do it in public in their underpants!
Apart from that, he’s a force to be reckoned with. I’ve never seen Sting or the Police live, so I’ll be fascinated to watch. We’re all massive Police fans, and I’ll be interested to see if he’s going to play a jazzy show, or throw some of his classics into the mix.
Is he one of your big influences? Definitely. Although I’ve probably been more influenced by Bob Dylan and other singer songwriters in terms of my own style, and what I’ve tried to do. Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, John Martin… Those solo artists are really the ones that inspired me.
What about artists working now? Are there any that you really rate? I like a guy called Bill Callahan. I think he’s as good as anybody, I snap up everything that comes out by him. He’s got a dark sense of humour, and he sounds quite unlike anything that’s come before. He’s difficult to categorise.
The music I like is quite underground. The music in the charts now is very pop, and very brash; unlistenably so, for me anyway. I pay no attention to it.
You’ve been writing and touring for well over a decade now. Do you ever still get nervous before a gig? I think I might get a few butterflies before this show in Dubai. It’s natural, but as soon as I get into my stride, I’m okay. It’s a bit like being a footballer, and just focusing on a big game. I’m in my own world then, really.