Grand Drive are one of my favourite bands of the 2000s. You could call them Americana, country rock, a combination of the Byrds, Neil Young, Crowded House and Teenage Fanclub with a hint of Bruce Springsteen. Or you could just say that they made some damn’ fine records! You’d think they were from America, but in fact they were from South London, with their singer Danny George Williams and brother Julian originally hailing from Australia.
I was first put on to their debut album, “Road Music”, released in 1998, by a friend, Keith, who made a tape for me – yes a cassette tape! On the other side was a compilation which included the wonderful Jayhawks, another band with similar roots to Grand Drive. More of them another day. I remember listening to “Road Music” in the car, thinking, what a voice. So fragile, so perfect for the music. Those lovely melodies, tender and uplifting. Full of hurt, but also the love of rock’n’roll.
The opening tune was “Tell It Like It Is”. A great piece of road music.
There were some other great tracks on that first album, not least “Falling Out”.
The second album, “True Love and High Adventure” came out in 2000, and had even more wistful melodies and lush arrangements. The first track, “Wheels” is a real favourite of mine.
And “Nobody’s Song In Particular” is heart-rending and has some searing guitar.
The third album, “See The Morning In”, from 2002, kept up the standard. “Firefly” was one of the loveliest tunes.
I saw the band play at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in May 2003. They were brilliant. The harmonies, the guitars and the sheer joyousness of the music, shone through. There was a real humility about the band too. After the gig they circulated, just delighted to be there, having people enjoy their music. We talked to Danny, who came across as a really humble, decent guy.
It was one of those weeks. I had one of those concert surges. Like the proverbial buses. Three in close succession after none for ages. Bruce at Crystal Palace. Neil Young at Hammersmith Apollo, playing “Greendale”. And Grand Drive. All three were brilliant, but, you know, I think Grand Drive gave me the warmest glow. It was the intimacy of the small venue, the fact that I was still discovering the music and, just meeting the band, I guess. But they were that good.
Two more albums followed. In 2004, “The Lights In This Town Are Too many To Count”. The best track was the opener, “Love and the Truth”.
And truth be told, it wasn’t as consistently good as the first three albums. “Everyone” in 2007 dipped a little further… except it had possibly my favourite Grand Drive track ever, “Talking In Your Sleep”. I remember a period, walking to work from Green Park station, when I just couldn’t take the track off my iPod. Just a beautiful, simple, moving tune.
The band broke up after that. Danny has a new band, Danny and the Champions of the World. They are good, and have more than a touch of Springsteen. But there’s not quite the majesty of Grand Drive’s best songs. Not yet.
If this post interests you, I’d say start with the first two albums. There is so much to enjoy on them. If you agree, then move on to the rest. You won’t regret it!