SONGS FROM UNDER THE HAT
Gregory Darling is an enigma. Famed for appearing in a choir conducted as a child by Ennio Morricone (Exorcist 2) and counting his diminutive godliness Prince amongst his die-hard following, Darling initially signed to Polygram as Bowie/Prince/Queen-influenced outfit Darling Cruel and shifted 100,000 copies of his debut album ‘Passion Crimes’ in its first week of release. At the time Gregory was managed by Guns ‘n’ Roses/Poison lynchpin Vicki Hamilton (although it was legendary producer Bob Rose that actually secured the deal) and as the record 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. Indeed around this time Slash conceded that Guns ‘n’ Roses track ‘November Rain’ was their attempt at a Darling Cruel song but typically, 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. At this juncture, you could hardly blame Gregory for cracking up and jumping out of a moving car before disappearing for a full six months.
Eventually, Rose rediscovered Darling (through some kind of LA osmosis), frog-marched him into recording several demos at Rockfield Studios in Wales (with Silverhead/Robert Plant guitarist Robby Blunt) – which is where Darling began swerving deals like someone was out to get him. However, serendipity is a wonderful thing and in 1996 Darling found himself living in France where he became Julian Lennon’s co-writer. Indeed, Darling was all set to sign to Lennon’s Music From Another Room record label before Sony New York made an enormous offer only for FOD Records label boss Dean Manjuris to finally secure his signature. Subsequently, Darling started recording an album at Lennon’s Tree House studio before finishing off the record with sessions at studios in Prague and Air Studios in London. The results (produced by Bob Rose) became Shell, a record that catapulted Darling into the Top Ten in Italy and Germany and saw him touring with Bryan Adams (a huge fan of Gregory) as main support.
Two years later Darling released his second album for FOD Records. Entitled Stew Americano and produced by Bob Rose and recorded at Wisselord Studios, Amsterdam, the record boasted Portishead’s Clive Deamer and Alan Parson’s Project bassist Joe Puerta within its ranks yet it was Darling’s coolly, cruel lyrics and unique vocal delivery that set him apart. The reviews were ecstatic – 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” – and comparisons to Billy Joel or Alan Price emerged but another image also sprung to mind – that of a Punch-The-Clock era Elvis Costello fronting the Beatles. It was enough to make you weak.
In 2012, Darling found a new lease of life and a new optimism meant that his next record, Coloured Life sounded young and full of beans. Produced by Bob Rose and recorded and mixed in Brussels and Rome, the album was so instantly memorable it suggested Darling had wired himself into some illegal song-writing machine. In fact, you could envisage the album as being by Adele or Amy Winehouse as re-imagined by Elvis Costello. It was also a pure blast of classic, euphoric popular music and had an instant, classic feel, like something you’d had knocking around the house for years: ‘Dirty Little Secrets’ was about setting the record straight before you fly headlong into a relationship; ‘The Invitation’ was the (true) story of a rich Monaco heiress who offered Darling “the keys to the city.” ‘Monkey Love’ was inspired by an eye-opening trip to the zoo and was good enough to be in Jungle Book; and ‘With Or Without This Song’ was no doubt the least cynical and most self-effacing tune you were likely to hear this side of the millennium.
Fast forward to 2016 and Darling is releasing his first official album in the US. Entitled, Songs From Under The Hat, the record is a compilation of all three Darling solo albums to date – Shell, Stew Americano and Coloured Life – and it’s a perfect way to get acquainted with this uniquely gifted artist. 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 as it is this combination of eccentricity and expertise that makes his recordings such a revelation. And naturally, Songs From Under The Hat roves to be just as revelatory – and what the world is waiting for.