Monday, May 27, 2024

The return of the Tall Dark Friend

By Danielle Chinnon

TALL DARK FRIEND returns to the stage tonight as he plays live at Las Iguanas on the Boardwalk in Lakeside. YT sent Danielle Chinnon down to talk to the enigmatic musician.

“Good timing!” said Mr. Gray, when I rang to ask for an interview. He was days away from releasing his fourth music video, More than mates (You and me) which was due for release on Halloween.

Tilbury man Jordan Redford Gray was born in 1989. He showed an early interest in performing, gaining his only Cub Scout badge for Arts and Drama when he was about eight or nine years old. By the age of fifteen, he was lead singer in a heavy metal band, sporting long black hair, top hat, and black and white make-up. The experience taught him how to be a front man and perform. At that time, he was living in the, then, Orsett Cock pub, and the self-managed band played there every month for three years. When his band members left to study music at university, Jordan studied English. He still wanted to make music, so taught himself to play piano. Starting with his little Toys R Us keyboard, he started making ‘theme tuney, poppy music’; then graduated onto a slightly more expensive keyboard bought by a well wisher when he fell ill in 2005. Finally, as his musical ability grew, his father bought him a Yamaha Tyros 2 keyboard which enabled him to progress in his work.

In early 2007, just before turning eighteen, Jordan brought out his first album Beautiful under the pseudonym Tall Dark Friend. This was a play on the old saying: ‘You’ll meet a tall dark stranger’ and Jordan wanted to have an onstage, piano playing Jekyll and Hyde persona. He felt though, that Beautiful didn’t really reflect this, saying of the music, ‘it was all very sweet, very melodramatic, emotional piano music, pop music.’ With this in mind, he then experimented with a more macabre and darker sound in which, lyrically, ghosts and spiders prevailed. The result? The Anti-hero released six months after the first. A spider logo now features on almost everything he does. His third album, The Dark Horse and the Underdog followed in 2008. Here, he experimented with big, anthemic orchestral sounds. Up until now, Jordan’s albums were self-produced and while happy with his song writing, he felt that the quality of the recording was lacking. Things started to change however, when in 2008, he won a local talent competition and caught the interest of the tour manager of a rock band called Muse. Through him, Jordan performed several times at the O2, playing in the V.I.P. Lounge of the Goucho Club – ‘a highlight and a very glamorous affair,’ what with the likes of Paul Weller and Wycliffe Jean in attendance.

In 2009, he brought out a self-titled EP, which had been recorded in John Parr’s (St. Elmo’s Fire) studio working with the singer’s producer. He then started working with a local man, Arthur Walwin, and together they produced a pop-electronic album, which started off as a parody of pop music but then evolved into a serious artistic endeavour which Jordan termed ‘psycho-pop’. Pop Psychology was released in 2012, and featured a re-working of Corridors for which he is best known. The music video of Corridors was filmed in the former Bata shoe factory in East Tilbury.

It’s clear from his music videos that Jordan gives 100% when performing. ‘Yes, euphoria’ he says. ‘…and if you can’t give all with that, then you’re just going through the motions.’ Yet the time came when, in 2012, he realised he was doing just that. He took a year’s sabbatical from live performances in England and went to Scandinavia where he wrote a novel. Winter 2012 saw the release of See my bones, Jordan’s proudest album so far and in which he returned to the theme of the anti-hero with a ‘darker and softer’

Invitations to appear on SKY Living HD’s Sing Date and ITV1’s Britain’s Got Talent brought him a lot more commercial attention. In the latter, he performed Corridors and was given four ‘Yeses’ by the judging panel which included Simon Cowell, Alesha Dixon, David Walliams and Amanda Holden. Such opportunities have helped to further expand his musical coverage and have secured Jordan’s success throughout the UK, Scandinavia and Australia. In fact, to-date, Jordan has won sixteen local music awards, three Thurrock International Film Festival Awards, two Beat100 video awards and, has had over thirty internet radio number ones. Furthermore, he has written his autobiography and has penned his debut novel; and he’s still only twenty-three.
Currently, he is working with a Dublin producer on album number seven which carries the working title: The Baffled King. This is intended to be a double album of half electronic and half acoustic music. At heart though, Jordan’s sound is piano-based and while he wouldn’t want to switch wholly to electronic music, he believes that the two ‘do complement each other quite well if you can get a nice balance.’

I ask Jordan about the song writing process. In short, he replies, ‘I think that the music always has to come before the lyrics. That’s the way that I work”. He likens the act of creating a song to ‘a little gift you’ve given yourself.’ When asked what has been the most successful method of getting his music out to the masses, Jordan replies without hesitation, ‘Music videos…the music videos push the songs.’ He makes great use of social media networks to that end, Twitter occasionally, or, providing free Youtube links on his website and Facebook. With regards to the audio, however, music sharing services such as Spotify perhaps share a little more than he’d like. Still, Jordan does concede that while it takes away a bit of his income, it is a way to get the music out there to everybody ‘and that’s more important than the money.’ Actual income is made from touring and playing live.

Jordan hasn’t performed in England since January, but as his sabbatical reaches its end, he is preparing to continue his residency at Las Iguanas at Thurrock Lakeside from Thursday 19th December.

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