David Gray will release his twelfth studio album, Skellig, via Laugh a Minute Records / AWAL Recordings on February 19, 2021 on digital formats, with CD & vinyl to follow in May. The second LP to be produced by Ben de Vries, the thirteen-track album departs from the shimmering electronics of 2019’s Gold In A Brass Age and embarks on a sparser, communal soundscape with the atmospheric songs centring themselves around six-part vocals with Gray trading his signature gravel for a softer tone.
The news is accompanied by new single ‘Heart And Soul’, the second track to be lifted from the album following title, opening track and gateway song to the album’s theme, ‘Skellig’. Watch the video for ‘Heart & Soul’ here, and for ‘Skellig’ here. Recorded prior to the pandemic, the album sessions took place at Edwyn Collins’ Helmsdale studio on the Sutherland coast, with De Vries and Gray finessing the mix throughout lockdown. The album’s artwork is created by former art school graduate Gray himself.
Skellig takes its name from a formation of precipitous rocky islands off the coast of Co. Kerry, the most westerly point in Ireland. Ravaged by the Atlantic, the seemingly un-inhabitable location of Skellig Michael became an unlikely site of pilgrimage in 600AD for a group of monks, who believed that leading such a merciful existence, they would leave the distraction of the human realm to be ultimately closer to God. Gray asks for no literal translation of the above, nor prescribes any religious allegiance – but the story, told to him by a friend, has haunted his imagination ever since:
“The more I contemplated the idea of a small group of people landing on those rocks and establishing a monastic life there, the more overpowered I became by a dizzying sense of awe. How close to God could you possibly wish to get? Life must have been unbelievably hard for them and trying to fathom the deep spiritual conviction that compelled them to escape the mediaeval world lead me to acknowledge my own deepest longings to be free of all the endless human noise that we now so readily accept as being such an inescapable part of our day to day lives. Dreams of revelation, dreams of a cleansing purity, dreams of escape. Ideas that I think almost any 21st century person shouldn’t find it too hard to relate to!”
The multi-vocal layering weaving across Skellig came to Gray during 2013’s Sounding Out Tour, where he recruited members of his live band – including Caroline Dale, David Kitt and Rob Malone – to experiment on his back-catalogue alongside him. Gathering up Dale, Kitt and Malone, and with the addition of Niamh Farrell, Mossy Noalan and de Vries, Gray ventured up to the Scottish Highlands to live out the creation of the record. Welcomed by the kindness of Edwyn Collins, his wife and son, the small, intimate studio felt a fitting location for a record eager to celebrate its Celtic affinity.
Title track ‘Skellig’ rocks the album into motion, its “circular verses like the sea itself” carried by a singular baritone guitar. Gray, just distinguishable amongst the other voices – a pledge of what’s to come – following the ebb and flow of the chords as they rise and fade much like the lull of the waves. ‘Heart And Soul’ rides on a bed of layered harmonics, the song itself says Gray giving ‘voice to the enchantment that music itself brings’ and to ‘be in heart and soul’ for whatever the imaginary ideas that may entrance you. “I believe in the poetic truth, and it’s value, still – even in this dishevelled culture that we live in. It’s pledging allegiance to the flag.”