David Gray - Manchester Bridgewater Hall

David Gray continues on his journey away from the expansive indie folk of his coffee table ubiquity. Post-megastardom, we find him heading purposefully towards something altogether more focused, quietly dark and suited not so well to the arenas and festival fields of the late 90s but made for a venue such as this. The Bridgwater Hall, as imposing as it is impressive, can certainly throw a cloak of solemnity over the expectations of your average rock gig; a decade ago, Gray would have been out of place between these hallowed walls. Nowadays, with his mojo as alive at it ever was but sniffing out more ruminative inspiration, he’s ploughing a furrow melancholy but true. With 2009’s Draw The Line and the recent Foundling Gray is as poetically compelling as he’s ever been.

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For a glumster he certainly looks happy to be here. His audience, going nowhere, it seems, aren’t complaining, either, despite the awkward between-song silences. We’ll put their reticence down to respect for the performance and the chill of the venue. (Credit to the guy who shouts out for an off-the-menu ‘Coming Down’ and gets his wish.) The former, largely down to a winning level of commitment from Gray himself and the support of an uncommonly gifted band, is unquestionable. The set-list, brave and obscure, has no truck with the casual ‘White Ladder fan. Yes, the recent stuff muscles its way to the front but there are pickings from way back: ‘Flame Turns Blue’, anyone?

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‘Alibi’ and ‘Ain’t No Love’ from Life In Slow Motion are unexpected and brilliant. An intimately challenging opening (‘Foundling’) is rewarded with treats on the home straight including a pin-drop ‘This Year’s Love’ and skyward takes on ‘Babylon’ and ‘My Oh My’. Just in case anyone hasn’t been keeping up with his recent work rate and needs some hand-holding, an encore of Foundling’s ‘Fixative’ gives way to a bounding ‘Sail Away’. Reverence gives way to elation as Manchester find its voice and its feet.

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Photos by Mike Gray.

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