Show favorite Gregory Darling is back with his new song just in time for Christmas, “Unconditionally!”
More about Gregory Darling
Who made such an impression on George Michael that he offered him a record contract on the spot? And who jammed on stage with Prince for the best part of an hour after His Diminutive Godliness – who’d first encountered our mysterious accomplice at the Whisky A-Go-Go and had pursued him ever since – insisted on helping out on an improv live session in their home town of Los Angeles? And who did Bono see live in Nice, France and then track down at a dinner table so he could tell him he was “The Man With Many Voices”? And is it true that the very same artist (we are struggling to pigeonhole) counts Bryan Adams amongst his Top Five Famous Fans and that that lauded gravel-voiced troubadour insisted he open up for him on a major section of his European tour? And who sold 100,000 copies of his debut album (in an earlier lead-singer-in-band incarnation) in his first week of release? And finally though we’ve barely scratched the surface, who counts Julian Lennon as a close friend – “I’m a big fan and I love your hair” was Julian’s opening gambit! – and played piano (and shared co-writing duties) on Lennon’s critically acclaimed Photograph Smile, as well as providing ivory-tinkling duties and backing vocals on a subsequent world tour? Well, the answer to our conundrum – and The Artist We’ve All Been Waiting For – is Gregory Darling and he’s just conjured up one of the best albums of this or any other year. That record is called Madly and it’s set to mark Darling out as a standard amongst his generation.
Recorded in Rome and produced by Bob Rose, Madly is astonishing in its depth and maturity and so instantly memorable it suggests Darling has wired himself into some kind of illegal song-writing machine. It is also a pure blast of classic, euphoric popular music that has an instant, classic feel, like something you’d had knocking around the house for years. Kicking off with the sanguine grandeur of lead single My Sleeping Heart (about falling asleep at the wheel of a too-cozy relationship), Madly easily morphs into the Bowie-esque Send Me A Message – the song was inspired by the death of his grandfather and a conversation Darling had with his son about the afterlife although the line “send me a message from the stars” surely acknowledges the deaths of Bowie and Prince as much as anyone else – before reveling in the soon-to-be classic balladry of When Rain Washed Away My Love. Sounding not unlike Elton John fronting a particularly reflective Aerosmith, when Darling belts out “If I made myself a better man/Maybe one day I’ll understand” he has never sounded in finer fettle. Having said that, the soulful and Elbow/ELO-influenced So Much To Feel is Darling’s best vocal yet, no doubt the result of Darling having recently worked with acclaimed multi-million selling UK tenor Russell Watson and being reminded “you have to work three hours a day on warm ups for your voice.”
Title track Madly is Darling at his most rock ‘n’ roll, all Pistols/ Clash guitar breaks courtesy of ax-wielder Dani Robinson; you get the idea he may have messed up on a relationship as he screams “it’s a lonely old Saturday night but I’ve got red wine!” After this blast of euphoria, My Name Is Jack – a song influenced by the death of a fan Darling had been receiving letters from – is respite enough before Through The Eyes Of A Child – inspired by Darling’s one year old son spotting a crescent moon in the back garden at 4pm – reminds us what a tremendously gifted singer/songwriter we have in our midst. This is borne out on Element Of Surprise – Bob Rose’s Morricone-influenced strings are a revelation – where Darling embraces the destiny of history (“The kings of yesterday found out the hard way”) and Love Cried highlighting, no doubt, the dry humor of Darling’s ex-girlfriend who once pointed out that she would love him “till the wine dried up!” Finally, appropriately, the album ends with Unconditionally, a beautifully heartfelt, Xmas ballad with a Greg Lake meets Bing and Frank take on the festive period. But how do you pen an Xmas song in June? Simple, says Darling, “You get a bottle of rum and some dancing elves and you’re in business.”
Of course, we’ve been here before and it shouldn’t be a shock to learn that Darling has something of an interesting back-story. Famed for appearing in a choir conducted as a child by Ennio Morricone (Exorcist 2) – whilst studying at the Mitchell School (where his father had also been a student) – Darling initially signed to Polygram as Bowie/Queen-influenced outfit Darling Cruel. At the time Darling was managed by Guns ‘n’ Roses/Poison lynchpin Vicky Hamilton (although it was legendary producer Bob Rose that actually secured the deal) and as their debut album, Passion Crimes, spawned two videos that became Polygram’s most successful MTV videos of the year (according to label boss Dick Asher it was also “the best album I have heard since I signed Pink Floyd”) you could be forgiven for thinking that Darling’s future looked as bright as the decade it was no doubt heralding. Typically, with a distinct lack of serendipity, just as Darling Cruel completed the follow-up – a record called ‘Movies For The Mind’ produced by Tony Visconti in New York – Polygram discovered rap, Asher got fired and all bets were off.
In any event, Bob Rose rediscovered Darling (through some kind of LA osmosis) and frog-marched him into recording several demos at Rockfield Studios in Wales (with Silverhead/Robert Plant guitarist Robby Blunt). Some time later, Darling found himself living in France and co-writing five songs (including the title track) and playing piano on Julian Lennon’s critically acclaimed album Photograph Smile. He subsequently embarked on a world tour with Lennon between 1998 and 2000 where he played piano and provided backing vocals.
In 2005, Darling signed a worldwide publishing and recording deal with Toronto-based FOD Records – set up and run by Dean Manjuris and Bob Rose – releasing his debut album Shell the following year. The record, produced by Bob Rose and featuring ex Blondie-bassist Nigel Harrison, the Prague Jazz Orchestra, the Czech Symphony (conducted and arranged by Rose) and The London Gospel Choir, included the song New Dream, a duet with Lennon. The album received critical acclaim throughout Europe – the record wasn’t released in the US – catapulted Darling into the Top Ten in Italy and Germany and saw him touring with Bryan Adams. Two years later, Darling released Stew Americano featuring Portishead’s Clive Deamer and Alan Parson’s Project bassist Joe Puerta, the record receiving superb reviews: the Sunday Times called it “a wonderful album full of classic 1970s-style piano pop that should delight anyone who loves peak period Elton John or Joe Jackson” whilst the Mail On Sunday suggested it had “a romantic weariness that recalls something of Elton John in his prime.”
In 2012, Darling found a new lease of life and an optimism that ensured his third album, Coloured Life, sounded young and full of beans. Produced by Bob Rose and recorded and mixed in Brussels and Rome, the album could have been Adele or Amy Winehouse as re- imagined by Elvis Costello and it was this album together with Shell and Stew Americano that made up Darling’s compilation, Songs From Under The Hat released in 2016. The anthology, although a perfect way to get acquainted with this uniquely gifted artist, is of course, only a semi-colon in the life of our intrepid hero and it’s a pleasure to report that Madly – a record featuring Manny Elias (Tears For Fears) on drums, Blondie’s Nigel Harrison on bass, the aforementioned Dani Robinson (Billy Cox Band of Gypsies Experience) on guitar and the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia Orchestra (Orchestra of the Vatican) – will be his first official American solo release and that it’s such a blast.
Darling has been quoted as saying “at school, I played in a lot of bands, a black funk act, even at the Southern Baptist Church in Tujunga every Sunday, until they kicked me out for falling asleep under a piano,” but he also attended music school in LA in order to learn to write songs properly. Of course that Church’s loss is our mutual gain and it is this combination of eccentricity and expertise that makes his recordings such a revelation. Naturally, Madly proves to be just as revelatory – and what the world is waiting for.
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