Welcome to Robin Grey's musical universe, where no unnecessary flourish is needed. If we had to describe the work of this London singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist in just a few words... Simple, but not simplistic, and yet ravishing. But why limit oneself to only a few words? That's certainly not what Robin, as a poet, storyteller and songwriter, would do. And some might say that actions speak louder than words, so have a listen for yourself: a guaranteed delight for your ears! And in the meantime, get to know the man and the artist.
First of all, can you introduce yourself?
Hello, my name is Robin Grey and I am a musician from London. I have been pottering around with music most my life and accidentally made four albums in the process.
Double bass and classical guitar were my two main instruments for many years; recently I started focussing more on singing, song writing and folk music.
I have some lovely and very talented friends who have been lending a hand with recording and performing my songs including a Polish violinist called Basia Bartz, an accordion player from Somerset called Caitlin Roberts and a lass by the name of Candy Parfitt, whose sings like an angel.
When did you start making music? What is your fondest musical memory?
My grandparents will vouch for the fact that I have been singing since I was tiny. Apparently I used to belt out a great version of ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head’ when I was five or six years old.
I have played in bands and written songs from the moment I picked up a guitar which was around age fourteen, although I played oboe and piano when I was ten for a few years.
Singing in choirs also featured heavily in my childhood, I got to perform with Cliff Richard in the Royal Albert Hall in London when I was sixteen and was blown away by how good the tambourine player was – I had no idea that instrument was so versatile in the right pair of hands.
Fondest musical memory – gosh, there are so many. I did a show backed by a full symphony orchestra and choir with a band I was in at university. It was our fourth gig and we played to a huge sold out concert hall. That will certainly stay with me the rest of my life.
Your writing style is very interesting: poetic but also intriguing! What drove you towards songwriting ? What do you mostly write about?
I always wrote songs from the moment I learnt my first few chords. It seemed like a natural thing to do with a guitar. I grew up listening to a lot of Michael Jackson, Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen – all artists who craft fine songs (or pay others to craft fine songs for them!)
I have also always written poetry and had this published long before I worked out how to sing in tune and set any of my words to music in a way that others might choose to listen to.
I mostly write from my own experiences and perspective, often commenting or reacting to events happening around me in the process. I have started to tell stories more in recent years such as the founding of my favourite community food growing project in ‘The Ballad Of Hawkwood’.
Your music is simple yet rich with different –and sometimes unexpected- instruments. How do you come up with all of these sounds?
I have been acquiring and collecting instruments since I was a teenager. I now have a great little studio which is totally rammed full of anything and everything I can get my hands on including a piano, double bass, electric bass, classical guitar, folk guitar, dulcimer, electric guitar, kids organ, harmonium, mandolin, keyboard, ukulele, banjo and many percussion instruments.
When I am arranging a song I’m recording myself, I often just take turns at picking instruments off the walls and jamming along with a recording until I am happy.
More recently I have been arranging and recording songs live with other musicians but getting people all in a room at the same time in London can be really hard and expensive as you need more space and expertise with recording equipment.
'More than today' is your 4th album. Was the creative process different from the 3 previous one?
‘More Than Today’ feels like my first album really – all the others were nice accidents. This is the first time I have set out to make an album knowing what I was doing and being fully happy with the result. It also took me three times as long as my first three albums - I put no pressure on myself to get it done and I feel the end result benefits from this.
Every song was recorded in a different way with a different combinations of musicians in different studios. Some songs came together in less than a day, some took over ten years to write and two years to record. Not that you would know or be able to tell from listening to it!
Is there one song on this album that you prefer? Why?
I genuinely love and am super proud of all of the tracks on this album in such different ways. Some were fun to write, some were fun to record, some are more fun for me to listen to.
‘Joanna’ is a little song that came out really effortlessly as did ‘Stuck On You’ which was only meant to be a demo but it had such a nice vibe I went with it for the final track. People tell me it is the most relaxed I have sounded on recording, which has got to be a good thing.
There is this one song called ‘I Love Leonard Cohen’. What other artists inspire you?
Joanna Newsom blew my mind and I only listened to her debut album for ages. Martin Hayes and Denis Cahill are a violin and guitar instrumental folk duo who I could have on repeat all day and ‘Three Cane Whale’ are trio from Bristol, again making instrumental music, whose music inspires me hugely.
I have recently been working with another folk guitarist and singer/songwriter called Tim Graham and he is inspiring me a lot at the moment – we have been co-writing our first few songs recently and I am really looking forward to recording and performing them.
You make folk music, but do you listen to other genres? What is your favorite tune at the moment?
I love good pop music and listen to a fair amount of rock music. I may be turning into my Dad as I even had a bit of Robert Palmer on recently.
Silence tends to be my default soundtrack though. I live by a river on the edge of a nature reserve and hearing the water flowing by with the birds singing makes me very happy.
My favourite tune – well ‘Taro’ by Alt-J is so good I considered giving up playing music for a few days after hearing it as I felt there was nothing I could do to top that tune... Then a few days passed and I realised that music is not a competition. The song has had a huge impact on me which I still have not really understood.
Any live shows scheduled in the near future?
I have a healthy amount of shows coming up around the south of England. I never quite seem to get too far from home as I miss my own bed and only really like travelling by bike.
I would love to get out to mainland Europe sometime as quite a few people seem to listen to my music in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Poland and France. I nearly did last year but the agent who booked me a month long tour turned out to be a crook and it all got cancelled a month before hand.
For the last question, let’s reverse the roles. If you were interviewing me, what would you ask? And how would you answer?
I would ask you what is inspiring you at the moment (doesn’t need to be music related!)
It is always wonderful to hear people talking about things they are passionate about regardless of the topic.
If I was asked, I would probably want to talk about how much I am enjoying learning about the real people’s history of England. We don’t seem to get taught history properly as a subject at school in England as our empire and collonial past is so dark.
We have still not had cause to face up to this past and learn from it as countries such as Germany have had to and I feel like it is a useful way to spend my time, sharing what I am learning with others.