Magazine article The Spectator

The Invisible Man

Magazine article The Spectator

The Invisible Man

Article excerpt

James Delingpole talks to John Grant, one of the most talented singer-songwriters around. So why isn't he better known?

Besides being one of the most exquisitely melodious, sensitive singersongwriters you're ever likely to hear, John Grant is also one of the most beautiful men you could ever hope to meet.

I'm not the only married man to feel this way about the tortured gay pop star. As he tells me over lunch on London's South Bank, male fans are constantly gushing after his shows about how utterly they worship and adore him. 'Then they'll go and ruin it by saying, "Oh, and by the way, may I introduce my wife?" ' And it's not that the Michigan-born 42-year-old is excessively handsome or exquisitely ephebic or anything like that. In fact, with his woolly hat, bearded, potato-y features, and frayed, haunted, kicked-puppy air, Grant could quite easily be mistaken for a tramp who's wandered out from beneath Waterloo arches rather than the man feted by an audience including Jimmy Page and Ringo Starr as Best Live Act at this year's Mojo awards.

No, what Grant possesses is inner beauty: inner beauty of such extraordinary, weapons-grade potency that, at a special concert the night before we meet, it has reduced the entire auditorium of the Royal Festival Hall - men and women - to a pool of teary mush. Afterwards we all rise as one to give him a massive standing ovation. It has, quite possibly, been the finest, most moving concert we've experienced. Grant feels the same way: 'That night was the happiest of my life.'

If this all sounds like the most appalling sentimental gush - which of course it does - then you clearly haven't been sufficiently exposed to Grant's debut solo album Queen of Denmark. It's a classic, a masterpiece, one of those records you wheel out over dinner so that all your friends go - as they will - 'But this is amazing. Who is this guy? John Grant? Why have I never heard of him?'

Probably the main reason you haven't heard of him is that in music, as in life, there is no justice. Despite his cultish word-ofmouth following, despite the Mojo award, despite all the support he's had from the most unlikely quarters - such as the notnotably-gay-friendly Sun - Grant's album sales remain way below the 100,000 point at which an artiste manages to accrue any degree of fame or money.

But it might also possibly be because - though the tunes are fantastic (think Abba meet the Carpenters meet Lynyrd Skynyrd in a tasteful - no, really - Seventies soft rock hommage), the baritone exquisite, and the mostly piano-led arrangements with backing from the superb Texas folk-rock band Midlake unerringly gorgeous - the lyrics are so self-laceratingly, unremittingly (if comically) bleak they make Morrissey sound like Lady Gaga.

Which last is no more than a reflection of the generally terrible life Grant has had till now. 'I've felt uncomfortable since the day that I was born. Since the day I glimpsed the black abyss in your eyes, ' begins one characteristically cheery ditty. And it's not poetic licence. Try being a gay, rock-music-loving child, born into a family of Southern Baptists (who see homosexuality and music as the devil's work) and being sent to a school of spoilt, rich-kid jocks where almost everyone despises you as a 'lower-middle class nothing' and you're about the only one in school without a Porsche.

'To this very day I'm sure the reason I walk so fast is because I've always been trying to get by people before I could hear what they were saying about me, ' says Grant, in characteristically deep confessional mode. …

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