PURSUING a career as the front man of a band might not seem like the obvious choice for someone who describes himself as shy and softly spoken.

But Greg Gilbert, who has enjoyed top 30 hits such as Long Time Coming and Nearer Than Heaven, with his band Delays, had their music featured in films and on adverts, toured globally and played to huge crowds at festivals like the Isle of Wight, explains that there’s a logic to it.

“The reason why I’ve ever got on stage and gigged is because otherwise the band would just have been a hobby,” explains the 36-year-old from Bitterne Park.

“I had to get on the stage out of necessity. I found it terrifying. I still do find it terrifying but I realised that when you get over that, it’s one of those things that you’ll be forever glad you did.”

Greg is the first person to admit that he spends a lot of time in his head but his music has been a way of breaking that barrier down and communicating with the world.

And now he is doing that in another way, and exposing more of his private world, by launching himself as an artist.

He has always loved art.

His first memory is of drawing a picture of a bird and presenting it to his mother.

He went to Winchester School of Art for a year and had planned on pursuing a career as an artist but when he was 18, music and the success of Delays took over and art remained a private thing.

But it has been a constant in his life.

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Jubilee '77

“My parents still have drawers in their house full of my pictures and I’m carrying round a bag of my drawings right now,” he laughs as we chat over a pot of tea at Southampton’s Art House gallery cafe.

But it is only this year that he has decided to share his artwork with the public and attempt to pursue it as a parallel career alongside music.

His first ever exhibition was at Harbour Lights Picture House earlier this year, he is currently exhibiting at the Everyman Cinema in Winchester and has a further exhibition at a Winchester gallery lined up for December.

He also had two pieces accepted into the annual St Barbe Open Exhibition in Lymington and won the Beaulieu Fine Arts Award with Affinities 1.

“The thing is, it’s easy to stay in your bedroom and tell yourself ‘I could have done this,’” he says.

“It’s far riskier to put your self-image on the line and put yourself out there.

“I think without my family and my girlfriend pushing me, I could quite easily retreat and not interact much with the world.

“I almost compensate for that instinct with grand gestures like the band and the art.”

Greg says that a number of factors have led to him focusing more on art. One is that with two members of Delays recently becoming fathers and he and his girlfriend expecting their first child in November, the band has slowed down lately, giving him time to devote to art.

And the death of his grandfather earlier this year was a major catalyst.

His grandad was always a greater fan of his artwork than his music.

“It didn’t matter what I did with the band, every time I did a drawing and showed him, he’d say, ‘you’re wasting your life!’,” he laughs. He adds that preparing for his first exhibition helped him to get through the time following his grandfather’s death, offering both a comfort and focus.

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Treloar, a family tree drawn for Greg's grandfather 

Much of his current work is intricate ink drawings of old family photos and there is a sense that Greg is trying to capture and preserve his family and collective memories of them, before they are lost.

“I feel like a butterfly collector. I’m trying to pin those things down before they drift off, because everything’s changing so much.”

Many of Greg’s current pieces are incredibly detailed miniatures drawn in Biro that are a collage of photos, linked with string – “creating visual equations”.

He began drawing with Biro while on tour with the band.

“Biros are always there – you pick them up and scribble with them.

“Also, I think it’s interesting, the clash between something so disposable and these old family photos that are to me precious historic source material.”

Greg’s work is heavily influenced not only by his family but also by Southampton itself – in fact the two seem intertwined.

He still lives in Bitterne Park, the area of the city where he grew up and finds inspiration all around him.

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Greg at work in his studio at home in Bitterne Park

“When we started going away with the band, there was a certain amount of talk about getting away from the city but as soon as I did, I just missed it. Southampton is so important to me. Most of the last album is really about the city and in a roundabout way, all of my artwork is.

“It’s about the relationship between the people and the place and what happens to memories when the place changes.

“When I walk around certain places in Southampton I get a real sense of the brickwork being steeped in personal mythology.

“I have quite vivid references for places in the city.

“I’m trying to create my own vision or evidence of my personal mythology, I guess.”

Having created work that was so intensely personal, Greg admits that he hasn’t felt completely comfortable with putting it on display, and even less so with selling it.

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Affinities 1

“It was quite nerve-wracking, putting it on show,” he says. “The artwork and the process have always been quite personal and by opening yourself up, you risk damaging that, if people say it’s rubbish! It’s different to the music because that has a big machine around it – this is more personal. But people have been really supportive of it.”

Greg was delighted but also a bit disconcerted when two of his pictures sold at his first exhibition.

“In a way, I found it really hard to part with the drawings. It’s so physical, it’s like you’re giving away a little bit of yourself. It’s not the same as with the records, because they’re duplicated.

“But then it’s quite a privilege to think that you’ve got a piece of art hanging in someone else’s home. I don’t take it for granted for one second that anyone would want to buy one.”

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Delays have their regular Christmas gig at The Brook in Portswood booked for December and are planning on releasing some new material and booking some more dates next year.

But it’s clear that it is his art that Greg is really excited about at the moment.

“I’m insanely serious about the art, without losing the joyfulness and fun that should be there,” he says.

“The most important thing for me is to be able to look at it and see evolution in my work. It’s really exciting.”

  • For more information, search for Greg Gilbert – Artist on Facebook or contact info@greggilbert.co.uk for information about commissions and prints. Greg’s exhibition, Affinities, runs at the Everyman Cinema in Winchester until August 30.

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