how we met; Phil Hartnoll; &; David Gray

Laurence Phelan
Sunday 09 May 1999 00:02 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Phil Hartnoll was born in Kent in 1965. He worked as a bricklayer and barman until 1989, when he formed the techno group Orbital (named after the M25) with his brother Paul. They have been at the forefront of dance music ever since; their fourth album, 'The Middle of Nowhere', is now in the charts. Phil lives in Brighton with his wife, Rachel, and their three children

The singer and songwriter David Gray was born in Wales in 1969 and moved to London at the age of 20. His fourth album, 'White Ladder', was released in March. He recently made his acting debut playing alongside Kathy Burke in the film 'This Year's Love', for which he also wrote and performed the title track. He lives in north London with his wife, Olivia

PHIL HARTNOLL: I got to know Dave through various paths - mainly through him marrying Olivia, my wife's sister, but originally through Rob, our manager. In 1989 we'd just had our first hit and were the only act on Rob's books. He told us about a band he'd seen in St Helens who had an amazing lead singer - David - who he wanted to manage, and arranged for us to do a gig together. I didn't say much to him that time. He was very quiet - just this boy who'd come down from Wales with a guitar. But I thought he was amazing, he had a really powerful voice.

Rob found him a flat at a mutual friend's and that's when he was introduced to Olivia, my sister-in-law, and I began to get to know him. He was very shy, and quite young. I think Rob had this idea of moulding him into a new talent. And actually Olivia is very into designer clothes and labels, and she did a bit of moulding of her own to get him out of his Aran sweater and green wellies. He loves it though. It's funny that we're wearing the same shirt today.

Dave and Olivia went out to LA to get married in 1992. Rachel and Olivia, our two wives, are very close, so that's how I got to know Dave properly. It's hard to know at what stage we became very close mates. He's part of my extended family, and now we spend Christmases, birthdays and Bar Mitzvahs together.

The thing I love most about Dave is his passion. He's very emotional - he oozes it, in his gestures and in his singing. His passion rubs off on you - when you're talking he can get you really fired up and he's great to bounce ideas off. He's like a Jack Russell in the way you can wind him up and get him more and more excitable. For example, I'm not a football fan, I don't really get it, but it's incredible to watch Dave watching football. When Manchester United play you could be holding a gun to his head and he wouldn't notice.

His songs are very emotional and deep. All that heart-wrenching, you're- not-there-and-I-need-you sort of thing. Offstage, he tries to be guarded about his personal life, but he can't ever hide his emotions.

One of the other great things about Dave is that when he gets drunk, he always gets really squidgy. Some people can get a bit aggressive but Dave goes the other way and gets squashy. We go to a lot of the same parties, and I might not talk to him all night, but then I'll catch his eye across a crowded room and he'll jump up, shouting, "Phil, Phil!" and run across for a hug. He's very good at the male-bonding thing. At least when he's pissed. He's got this football, blokey side to him, then he's got this romance that comes out in his lyrics and the way he wants to hug everyone when he's drunk. Dave can't help himself - he couldn't suppress it if he wanted to.

I see him more than any of my other friends outside of work. Quite often he comes down to Brighton and stays for the weekend. He's very good with my children. My eldest boy is into football and I think Dave loves that relationship - kicking the ball around and having a kid to show a trick or two. But sometimes he might get carried away and do a sliding tackle. He's very competitive in sport and he'll play to win, even if it's just with a 10-year-old.

DAVID GRAY: The first time I met Phil was in 1989 when I came down to London to do a gig. Rob, Orbital's manager, had this weird idea of doing a sort of folk/techno crossover gig. I didn't really talk to him that time, but we met on the stairs. The first thing I noticed about him was that he was bald. There are a lot of bald dance music producers actually, a lot of Phil-alikes. But I think he was the progenitor of all that. He was one of the first bald people to be really cool.

After that first gig I saw Phil a few more times, usually at Orbital gigs. And then I got to know his sister-in-law Olivia. We married and I became part of the family.

Phil is very practical and fantastic at building things. We were having a big barbeque one time and it started to rain, and Phil just ran around picking up bits to make this big shelter. He would make a good prehistoric man.

He's very good at giving form to his ideas and he puts things into practice straight away. I think you hear that in his music, his way of using and manipulating technology to get the sounds out of his head. We complement each other because I'm all airy fairy, and he's really connected to the world.

Sometimes he can be a bit blunt. Once or twice I've gone round to the studio when Phil and Paul are working, and felt as if I was intruding.When they're making their music, Phil and Paul have this weird, almost telepathic link. It's the brother thing, and also because they're so tuned in to what they're doing. They don't seem to have to use words to talk to each other. Musically, I find Phil intriguing - he doesn't give much away. He's not very verbose, whereas if I was into something, a new track, I'd be telling him all about it. So it's a complete mystery to me how he makes his music.

There's always been this mysterious split between Phil the man, the down- to-earth-bloke, and Phil the Mr Techno who knows how all this electronic stuff works and who's got all these funny little noises bleeping away in his head. I think partly it comes from a very childlike enthusiasm he has for toys and cartoons and computers. It's an unknown galaxy for him to explore. We've talked about collaborating in our music but have never got round to it. Maybe that will happen one day.

Underneath any gruffness, he's so soft. He's a teddy bear - perfect to have hugs in kitchens with. Phil's brilliant to talk stupid with. I love to just chat nonsense and it's probably me who starts it, but we can spend ages just being really silly and talking about nothing. I guess in the future things between us will be pretty much the same as they are now. I'm getting to the age when I'm thinking about kids. Phil's great with his children, so I'll be ringing him up a lot, checking whether it's OK to drop them on their heads, things like that.

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