Portrush-born musician who was hailed as ‘greatest Irish rock story never told’
Tributes have been paid to Portrush-born musician Gregory Gray.
Gregor Gray started a distinguished musical career at the age of 14 supporting ‘Ireland’s Singing Farmer’ John Watt and culminated in being a support act for U2.
He was described by a leading music magazine as being “the greatest Irish rock story never
Born Paul Lerwill in Portrush in May 1959, he grew up on the north coast and worked in amusement arcades and later became a DJ in Kelly’s nightclub.
The son of an RAF serviceman, Paul learned to play guitar during a spell staying in a military camp in Singapore; he was taken to Singapore at the age of ten with his three brothers and one sister and lived on the Changi RAF Camp, where his father was stationed for three years.
The family returned to Northern Ireland, where he completed his basic education.
His guitar skills were first displayed when he came back to County Antrim and accompanied
‘Singing Farmer’ John Watt in the backroom of the Northern Star public house which his father had bought in Ballymoney.
Irish country was not where Lerwill would make his mark, however, as was clear when he tried to introduce a guitar wah-wah pedal to old time waltzes and foxtrots. At the age of 16 years he went to Edinburgh, where he worked six nights a week as a disc jockey until he was 19. He then joined the line-up of the teen group Rosetta Stone. Grey enjoyed two years on the road with the band - which was especially popular in Japan - in the 1970s.
In the early 1980s he returned to Northern Ireland and formed the four-piece group Perfect Crime, with the Dominican convent in Portstewart being used for rehearsal space.
He was frontman for the group, which secured a record deal, releasing several singles and making a number of television appearances.
The band also played as a support group to U2 on their ‘War’ tour, and was also a support band for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) and the Eurythmics.
Lerwill re-invented himself by changing his name to Gregory Gray and moved on to a solo career
following his period with Perfect Crime, his debut album being Think of Swans on the CBS label in 1986.
A second album followed in 1990 on the ATCO label (“Strong at Broken Places”) and EMI released
his third album, Euroflake in Silverlake in 1995.
He continued to write and make music under the name Mary Cigarettes in more recent years.
Although a major commercial hit remained elusive throughout his career, his music was always in demand and he accomplished the distinction of having three major record labels release his albums.
In his later years he turned away from the business side of music, using platforms such as YouTube and SoundCloud to share his music freely online. Living in Hertfordshire with his partner Thomas, he wrote his music under the name of ‘Mary Cigarettes’.
He was acclaimed by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and BBC DJ Tom Robinson, who admired
his ‘pure vocal tones and unflinchingly truthful lyrics’.
Hot Press music magazine published a feature about Gray in the 1990s headlining him as ‘The
greatest Irish rock story never told’.
Music journalist Stuart Clarke said in a tribute that Gray had been ‘warm and witty as well as
supremely talented’ as well as having an endlessly fascinating career.
Gray said in a regular blog that: “My life story must read as a manual in how not to become
successful. But it all turned out pretty great in the end.”