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Craig's bid for a serious comeback

Interview: Craig David

    Suits him: David in concert
    Suits him: David in concert

    You have to feel a bit sorry for Craig David. At just 19 years old, he burst onto the scene in 2000 with his chart-topping debut Born To Do It, pioneering UK garage. The album went multi-platinum, making him a global star.

    But two years, nine BRIT Award nominations, two Grammy nods and three Ivor Novellos later, as he released his second album, comedian Leigh Francis's rubber-masked mockery of David on cult show Bo Selecta! made him a laughing stock. Three healthy-selling albums followed, but the damage to his brand had been done. Could anyone really take David seriously?

    His last release, in 2010, was an album of Motown covers, after which the singer was dropped by his record label. "I wasn't in the lane that I really wanted to be," he reflects. "I just wanted to be writing new music." He sold his Hampstead house and disappeared to Miami, where he threw pool parties at his penthouse, did some DJing for friends, obsessively body-built and drove around in his sports car. He also recorded music that he never released.

    Now he is behind one of the most anticipated albums of the year. The old Craig David is back with his sixth studio album, Following My Intuition, out today, and he has an arena tour booked for the spring.

    His comeback started two years ago when he performed a track on MistaJam's 1Xtra radio show. It went viral and led to his first single in six years, When the Bassline Drops, which reached 10 in the UK singles chart. Then he performed on X Factor, duetted with Katy B and Major Lazer, and added guest vocals on Blonde's Nothing Like This.

    David left behind his party lifestyle in Miami and returned to London, the city that inspires him musically. "I've got this renewed love for music and being back in that melting pot," he enthuses. "The UK is so where it's at, you can't help but feed off all the different styles."

    Not that he sees his time in Miami as a waste. Those pool parties led to his hit TS5 DJ shows that became a radio show on Capital XTRA. "It's become something a lot bigger than just a party for friends," he smiles. "It's the time which was spent under the radar that allowed me time to get back to what makes me happy which is creating songs in the studio and performing."

    Fans can rest assured that the new album is a return to his roots, blending David's R'n'B garage sound and club hits, while keeping it contemporary with the help of up-and-coming artists such as producer White N3rd and singer songwriter Lauren Faith.

    David and his manager visit the Western Wall
    David and his manager visit the Western Wall

    2016 is proving a busy year for David. In April he joined his manager Colin Lester for a performance in Tel Aviv and his first trip to Jerusalem, where they visited the Kotel and Yad Vashem. Lester was struck by Craig's interest in the tunnels beneath the Kotel, reflecting his favourite subject at school - history.

    For Lester, David's performance was a coup for the charitable organisation Creative Community for Peace that promotes the arts in Israel, countering the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement that encourages stars to refuse to perform in Israel. Famous BDS supporters include Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel.

    "We get in touch with the artists and explain to them both sides of the story," explains Lester, who together with the charity has had success persuading artists such as Alicia Keys, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck to go ahead with their tours.

    "It's very important that we stop this cultural boycott of Israel and it allowed me and Craig to voice that concern and give it some exposure."

    "It was amazing," recalls David, whose dual heritage, born to a Grenadian father and a British Jewish mother, has shaped his identity. "I wanted to immerse myself in the culture and everything that was going on. Seeing all the different religions and cultures mixed together was really interesting. It was very contrary to the belief of what was going on."

    It's not often an artist's manager requests to be interviewed too. But Lester keeps a protective eye on David, having signed him to his record label as a teenager before becoming his manager, He also introduced the singer to traditional Friday night dinners, chopped liver and chicken soup.

    "I took him into some kosher delis on his first US tour and he loved chicken soup from the first day I took him into Carnegie," recalls Lester. "He got into the Friday night experience years later when he started joining us for Friday night dinners."

    Those dinners are highlights for David. "It's lovely to feel part of a community. I have a lot of Jewish connections: my managers are Jewish, my accountant is Jewish, my lawyer is Jewish - and then the fact that my mother's mother was Reform and her husband was an Orthodox Jew. There's definitely a connection that started to formulate around me."

    Does he still wear a Star of David? No, he says, but "having the name David and feeling the way I do, it's very close to my chest without me necessarily wearing it."

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