TRIBUTES have been paid to the singer and musician Gregory Gray, AKA Mary Cigarettes, who has died at his home in Herfordshire in England, just shy of his 60th birthday.
Born Paul Lerwill, the flamboyant frontman enjoyed a long and successful career in the music industry, which began when he supported 'The Singing Farmer,' John Watt, on stage at his parents' pub in Ballymoney at the tender age of 15.
He got his big break in the 1970s when he joined Young City Stars, the band talent spotted by Bay City Rollers manager Tom Paton, who promptly changed their name to Rosetta Stone.
Big in Japan, the band failed to achieve the breakthrough their record company expected back in the UK and Lerwill, who promptly changed his name to Gregory Gray, returned home in 1981.
Undeterred by his experiences, he set about forming a new band, recruiting three young lads from Portstewart to form Perfect Crime.
Drummer Peter Kerr, guitarist Donal Boyle and bass player George Nelson, together with Gray, enjoyed much success, signing a record deal with a major label and supporting the likes of U2 and OMD. The band failed to build on their early promise and eventually went their separate ways.
Gray struck out on his own, his 1995 release Euroflake In Silverlake finally achieving the commercial success he craved.
More recently, Gregory Gray reinvented himself as Mary Cigarettes whose celebrity fan club included Jimmy Page and the BBC Six Radio presenter Tom Robinson.
A unique and talented artist, his passing has been mourned by many in the music business.
"Warm and witty as well as supremely talented, we're glad we got to make his acquaintance," said Hot Press magazine, describing Gray as an 'influential Irish post punk pioneer.'
Perfect Crime colleague Peter Kerr remembers the early eighties with great affection and says the singer did too.
"Paul wrote to me shortly before he passed away, saying that those days rehearsing and playing in Portstewart were some of the happiest memories of his musical career," said the drummer.
Another friend, Stuart Clark, said the 59-year-old deserves his place in the lexicon of great Irish artists.
"If Van Morrison is the most critically celebrated Irish music artist, Gregory Gray, in occupying an adjacent space, merits a place in the history of Northern Irish, Irish and British popular music," he said.
For full tribute, see this week's Chronicle.