Orcadian Column, 29 February 2024

27 Feb 2024

All credit to the team at Radio Orkney for their fine tribute to Dave Gray last Friday morning, following his sudden and untimely death earlier in the week. I’m really not sure how they managed to hold it together while recording. I certainly struggled, as I’m sure many did, just listening.

Amidst the tears, of course, there were plenty of smiles and even the occasional snottery guffaw. The clip of Dave describing the old fellow turning up at the Council offices on the hunt for more bin bags, who then left the woman on reception speechless by claiming he was looking for ‘rubbish secks’ had hilarious echoes of the Two Ronnies’ ‘fork handles’ sketch.

Listening to John Fergusson and Robbie Fraser reminisce about their years working with Dave, I couldn’t get over how much of it rang true, from the description of him arriving at the studios on Castle Street in the early 1990s like a much-needed ‘breath of fresh air’ to John’s admission that Dave could sometimes be a bit of a challenge to manage. I’ll bet!

It was also suggested that recording with Dave rarely went to time, a phenomenon with which I became comfortably familiar over the years. While there were occasionally interviews lasting three or four minutes, by and large Dave was after a 30 second clip from me for the news headlines. I’m not sure if I ever managed to get out of the studio or off the phone within half an hour, as we caught up on the latest goings on in politics or simply local gossip. Whatever the subject, time spent in Dave’s company was interesting, stimulating and invariably highly entertaining.

He loved discussing politics, from the global to the very local, and seldom struggled for an opinion. Recent changes in the leadership at School Place had him very excited and I’m sure he would have taken a great deal of satisfaction in seeing Heather Woodbridge elected as the first woman leader of OIC and the youngest council leader in Scotland; an achievement of which she can be justifiably proud.

Dave would also have relished chewing the fat over events at Holyrood this week, where MSPs will vote on a Scottish Government budget that threatens painful cuts to local services as well as plans to centralise social care in Scotland. Both will have serious repercussions for our island community and both would have provided fertile territory for a trademark dissection of the whys and wherefores.

Getting his thoughts too on recent goings-on at Westminster would have been well worth the risk of turning up late at my next meeting. The extraordinary spectacle of a debate on the need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza descending into a full-blown ‘rammy’ about arcane parliamentary procedure was as astonishing as it was unedifying. In a similar vein, I’m sure Dave would have had some choice words to describe the latest imbecilic and frankly racist comments from disgraced former Tory Party Deputy Chairman, Lee Anderson MP about the Labour Mayor of London.

Yet, as much as he loved talking politics, Dave’s real skill was in shining a light on the people, places and culture of his native islands. It could be argued that he had the most recognisable voice in Orkney. What was beyond dispute was that his was very much a voice of our community and his interviews with folks from all walks of life were characterised by warmth, understanding and humour.

Indeed, escaping that voice was not always easy. Boarding a ferry to the isles, more often than not it was Dave Gray’s dulcet tones that calmly explained what you needed to do in the ‘unlikely event’ of the boat sinking. On the off-chance Scottish Ministers ever get round to helping fund replacement ferries, I hope Dave’s safety announcements can be adapted to fit the new vessels.

For now, as the shock of Dave Gray’s passing slowly sinks in, I offer my heartfelt condolences to his family, particularly his four children. Hopefully they can take some comfort from the outpouring of affection across our community and beyond for a man rightly described by John Fergusson as “engaging, funny and uncompromisingly Orcadian.”