David Gray's White Ladder 20th anniversary tour reaches Cartmel Racecourse in June

Wild about the Wensum event at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve. The event was officially opened by (pictur

David Gray will bring his White Ladder 20th anniversary tour to Cartmel in June - Credit: IAN BURT

‘We were expecting trouble but it never came.’ David Gray is reflecting on his White Ladder album and how much of a step into the unknown it was. 

‘We went out to celebrate in south London and I said “Jesus Christ, I wonder what people are going to make of this record?” We thought we were in danger of losing the few fans we had because it was so different to anything I'd done before.’ 

Contrary to his fears, it has sold seven million copies worldwide and remains beloved by fans more than two decades later. For a while at the turn of the century, its hit singles – Please Forgive Me, Sail Away and, above all, Babylon – seemed to be everywhere.  

Gray is now on a 52-date world tour playing White Ladder in full which brings him to Cartmel Racecourse in south Cumbria at the end of June.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor wows the crowds at Cartmel Racecourse as she supports Cliff Richard. PICTURES by

Sophie Ellis-Bextor wowed the crowds at Cartmel Racecourse in 2019 - Credit: Milton Haworth

It’s billed as a 20th anniversary tour which he admits is a stretch. White Ladder was originally released in 1998 but took off after being re-released two years later and pandemic postponements have pushed the anniversary to closer to 25 years. 

Not usually one for looking back, Gray was reluctant to tap into the nostalgia but eventually persuaded himself. 

‘I was hugely resistant. But some of the people I've worked with for 30 years were saying goodbye. So it felt like a way of celebrating the finest moments of all that had happened. And it was an incredible thing to be a part of, there was a sort of magic at work.’ 

Most Read

And technology in 2022 has caught up with his ambition in the late 90s. 

‘Now you can sample everything, you can play everything like it is on the record. And once we got into doing that, it just felt so good. It's been a real re-education in how we made that record. To put it back on in its original form was just such a delight.’ 

Born in Sale, Gray grew up in Wales. He recalls Cartmel from childhood visits but this is his first gig there, a way to play to fans between Lancashire and Scotland after a Manchester date didn’t materialise, and an outdoor location amid a run of arena shows. 

‘It’s a stunning part of the world. I've never been to the racecourse; I imagine it’s going to be carnage… in a good way.’ 

Next year marks another anniversary for Gray, who turns 54 a few days before the Cumbrian gig – 30 years since the release of his first album, A Century Ends. 

He was a “spiky” young man with no plan back in 1993 – ‘I was just putting on foot in front of the other’ – but the success of White Ladder changed everything.  

While Gray has no time for the ‘folktronica’ tag he and his peers acquired, he does see a thread from himself to his successors today. 

‘I think folktronica makes it sound more radical than it is. It's just basically writing songs and using sounds. Some people don't like the impurity of technology, they like to keep the music very, very clean and true to the folk traditions. I don't think there are traditions, I think it's all imagined. 

‘The success of White Ladder didn't just wake people up to the fact that sound and that style could become current again – the technological twist to the songwriter thing – but it also lit the business up to the idea that actually you can sell a lot of these. 

‘And then people like Ed Sheeran have come along and taken it to a whole other level. In terms of the commercial success, it's quite mind boggling. But unquestionably there is a lineage there.’ 

He adds: ‘I was compelled to make music and that's the way I deal with being alive. That's what I do: I make things. If I wasn't making music, I'd be making something else. 

‘That part hasn't changed. I still don't know what the future holds. By now I’ve been doing it long enough that I can imagine I’ll be doing this until I can’t do it any more. 

‘It’s not like it’s the most comfortable thing to do for a living. You basically make yourself vulnerable each time you put yourself back in that position. But that’s part of the process – without risk there’s no reward.’