After a period in the US, Craig David is back in the UK, his career reinvigorated and on a major tour. Duncan Seaman reports.
Craig David is reflecting on a hectic 18 months during which the former king of the UK garage scene staged one of the most musical successful comebacks of recent times.
“Do you know what? It’s been an incredible year and a half,” the Southampton-born singer says, looking back on a period in which he scored his first top 10 single in a decade – with When The Bass Line Drops – and his first Number One album since his multi-million selling debut back in 2000. This month he’ll be touring the UK arenas, including Leeds.
Key to the remarkable turnaround in the 35-year-old’s fortunes seems to have been a move back to the UK after a sojourn in Miami.
“It wasn’t a place that was really conducive to the music that I’d grown up making,” he says of an American city where house and electronic dance music (EDM) was king and “elitism” ruled in clubs.
“Being back in the UK, and working with all these young, up-and-coming producers and song writers was like a game-changer for me and I started to create music in a way that I used to, without it being for any cause. It was just like I’m having fun making the music and enjoying it.”
Fusing that with what he calls “the TS5 element” – conceived while throwing house parties in his Miami penthouse, Tower Suite Five, where he would MC, DJ and sing over dance tracks to entertain friends – and, he says: “It’s all led to this point of doing the arena shows which have the live band and the TS5 element. It’s been crazy.”
The fanfare that David has received since the release of his latest album, Following My Intuition, is in stark contrast to the muted reaction that greeted its covers-heavy predecessor, Signed Sealed Delivered, in 2010. Though he says he “enjoyed the process” of making that record he realised his career had blown off course.
“When I listened back to the first album and songs like Rewind, Fill Me In, Seven Days and Walking Away I thought I was so entrenched in the culture and the scene and what was going on – at the time I was DJ-ing and MC-ing on the South Coast – I felt like I was speaking directly to my age group and talking to people about things that are inspiring to do and become. By the time I got to making a Motown record – and I was 26 or 27 at the time – I felt like I was off the path from what I’d got into music for.”
It took the word-of-mouth excitement that began to surround his TS5 parties in Miami then London to give David his mojo back. “It just empowered me and I just felt like I wanted to make new music again and I want to create situations that people can enjoy again. I never expected it to connect with the younger generation as much as it did. For it to connect with two generations was probably the most exciting thing about it.”
After the house parties friends began to ask David for a memento of the night so he began to post mixed on Soundcloud. “Then the next thing from Soundcloud my manager took it in a couple of radio stations and the next thing it gets played there. Then all of a sudden something that started with ‘I want to do the right thing because I’m not feeling this going to the club situation in Miami’ turned into ‘Let’s do a show in a hipster area of London to 200 people and see if this house party that works so well works to strangers in a club in this place that was at the forefront of where music was happening at the time’. When it went off the same way and the same reaction happened fast forward – boom – we were then doing the Silver Hayes stage at Glastonbury and I’m seeing 20,000 people come to it and I was like, ‘This is crazy, something is happening here’.”
Suddenly he says he could appreciate that “whenever you do the thing that you love it reacts and it plays out in reality”.
David is quick to credit his manager, Colin Lester, with helping through the ups and downs in his career (that notoriously included him once becoming the butt of Leeds-born comedian Leigh Francis’ jokes).
“I’ve been able to see what management is and what it takes to be a manager,” he says. “Colin’s been with me for many years and his mentality has always been ‘do the right thing and the right will follow’. So in a period of time when I was off the radar...Colin was like, ‘Life’s been crazy since you were a teenager, go and be a man for a minute. Go into the studio when you feel like going into the studio. I’ll protect you, I’ll keep things bubbling along because there’s always shows happening, there’s always writing music’. What it did show was that he never put me in any compromising situations that I would’ve regretted in the long run. He never got me to do anything now to make some money quickly, something that was integrally wrong. That’s the one thing that I have the most amount of respect and love for.
“Colin’s one of my best friends outside of being a manager. It’s that integrity and respect in the artist and creating an environment just to do what I do. He can only manage something if I go into the studio and create music and I’m in the right frame of mind. So it’s a real marriage between the two of us and I’m so grateful to see him announcing an arena tour and seeing sold-out dates and being nominated for Brits and having a Number One album. It’s as much a triumph for him because he’s worked as hard as I have. I write the songs, yeah, but what goes on behind the scenes is incredible.”
Ask David about his high points of the last 18 months and he points to Following My Intuition reaching Number One – “I didn’t expect it – I was just like, ‘Do you know what? I’m just happy to be releasing new music” – and announcing an arena tour. “To see the tickets sell so fast as well I’ve been overly grateful, it’s just an amazing moment,” he says.
Craig David plays at the First Direct Arena, Leeds on March 31. For details visit www.firstdirectarena.com.