The gentleness is the key...
You join us with David Gray still pinching himself. “We’re gonna play this one now just to prove to ourselves that this year’s been as weird as we think it’s been,” he announces, half an hour into his third sold out night at this decaying Brixton amphitheatre. “This one’s called ‘Babylon’”.
At which point the crowd – two-thirds female and drawn, by the looks of it, from every corner of the caring professions – raise the roof and put a little more of their daytime-selves into proceedings. Because this is devotional stuff alright, from the minute the band troop on – following a finely tuned warm-up tape of Van Morrison (!?), Ian Dury and Bob Marley – and launch into a glorious ‘Sail Away’, where Dave gets drowned out by a mass first chorus before he’s even got there himself.
No wonder he thinks he’s dreaming. Having been going for longer than anyone cares to remember, he’s seen his bedroom-recorded ‘White Ladder’ LP pinball from obscurity to the big league – it’s still lodged in the top twenty now – and headlined every festival which would once have had him playing a half-empty jazz/world tent. Christ, the sun even shone when he played Glastonbury.
Understandably, he’s not about to break whatever holy hoodoo finally got him here. “This is a new song, but I feel you’re gonna like it…it feels so powerful tonight!” he gushes before hitting us with ‘The Longest Day’, which receives nodding heads and smiles all round. Then, recognising this is no time to try a crowd who’ve spent a long year on the emotional frontline, he dispenses with the band, clambers behind the piano and rattles out the opening bars of ‘Please Forgive Me’.
The place goes loopy. The gentleness is the key. Here’s Fran Travis shorn of the soppy-student schtick, Weller without the strait-jacket of geezerdom, Richard Ashcroft minus, well, the long face. The encores are awful, admittedly – a Christmas medley, would you believe, of Mud, Boney M and Slade – but a final cover of ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ makes at least some amends. It’s a soft sell, for sure, but the groups of grown women swaying along in the aisles are too woozy to notice.
They’re long gone, dreaming of David, just like he’s been dreaming of them, all these years.