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Craig David first burst onto the UK garage scene in 1999, appearing on the Artful Dodger hit Re-Rewind. Since then he’s seen huge chart success, with his debut album Born to Do It topping the charts in 2000, followed by a string of five success studio albums.
He took a hiatus from the industry before returning with new material in 2011, launching DJ show TS5 and collaborating with the likes of August Rigo, Big Narstie, Hardwell and Bastille’s Dan Smith.
Now he’s about to co-headline two very special shows alongside pop princess Rita Ora, so we caught up with him to find out more.
How are you feeling about the shows with Rita Ora?
Do you know what, I’m really looking forward to it; it’s going to be the first time we’re going to be performing in this capacity, which is strange because I remember Rita Ora before people knew about Rita Ora, and we’ve worked on songs together before – there’s a song called Where’s Your Love? that we collaborated on, another song called Awkward, which is on my Trust Me album – so there’s always been this relationship that stems back from before Rita had blown up into the Rita that everybody knows. I think it’s just a really nice story and I can’t wait for it to play out.
And she obviously rose to fame during the period you were out of the limelight.
Yeah, it was kind of like one of those sliding doors moments. But now we’re both back and can do something together, so for people who do know about the collaborations and stuff, they’re excited to see us come back together.
And so will you be performing tracks like Awkward at these shows?
It’s funny because I was thinking about that and I’d love to put it together, but I don’t want to put Rita under pressure to have to say yes to something that I presented. So I think it will be more kind of, when we’re there, if it feels right, we’ll just do it more spontaneously than pre-empt it. But let’s see.
What is your favourite Rita Ora song to listen to?
Do you know what, I’m going to have to be slightly biased because of the songs we’ve written together, but honestly Awkward would 100% be up there. It just showcases Rita’s singing in a different way, I mean there are certain songs that are just dance-pop songs that are all about the production and not the voice, but with a song like Awkward, which is a really stripped down, almost-ballad, the voice had to carry it. For me it’s just one of my favourites of hers because it was early Rita and everyone was just like “Wow, who is that? What is that voice?”
Obviously a lot has changed in the industry since you first started out – how is it being back and what’s changed for you?
So much has changed, but if there’s one thing that’s stayed the same it’s the quality of the song. When you’ve got a three-minute song that can change someone’s life at any point that’s amazing and that never goes away. If you’re a songwriter especially, you have the ability to create something than can literally open up every door, be current, be relevant, and can bring all the people who have been with you from the start to a whole new place. I don’t think that ever changes.
I think the things that are different now are how people consume music and how fast people now expect music to be delivered… So I think that it really does beg the question of making sure the level of the music you put out stays the same, because it would be very easy to get caught up in the trap of “I’ve got to keep releasing music” – but the point is, if the quality of that music declines, then what’s the point?
And how are you finding the evolution of your fans, because presumably your original fans have grown up but are still out there and listening, and then there’s a whole new generation of fans to listen to your music too?
It’s funny because I’m seeing the same cyclical thing happen with different styles of music, so it makes sense that fans who listened to my sound originally are still listening. Now, it may be called something different, it may have a couple of different production elements that make it sound a little different – a bit fresher – but it’s the same progression, so it’s almost as if you were there the first time around, you can experience a fresher sound all over again.
So early reggae – say UB40, Chaka Demus & Pliers, Shaggy – those kinds of records that were having pop success, you’re starting to see that happen with Afrobeat music, which predominately is dancehall. You’re seeing the grime scene, which is now evolving in the same way the UK garage scene evolved, it’s gone from being grime to where a lot of the artists are moving into a hip hop/RnB place. So what you’re then going to see is that we fall into the RnB phase, then that possibly links more into dance music, which will have a huge moment again. Then it will go into another Adele or Ed Sheeran, singer songwriter-led phase, and then we’ll back into rock bands and we’ll see the cycle come back around again. So if you can see that coming, it’s such a nice vibe both for an artist and for the fans.
And I guess that cycle of music has been around forever, so if you look back at disco and Motown and all of that era, those iconic records are still present today…
Absolutely! I mean, for example, I’ll play Music Sounds Better With You in my TS5 set, and I’ll do new vocal over it; so I might sing Wild Thoughts from Rhianna and DJ Khaled over it, but the new generation are hearing that as “wow, what is that beat you’ve got going on?”, and the people from before know it, and recognise it as such a tune. The weird thing is there was a time where if you played that record – so, essentially, at the wrong time – it would’ve been missed and you’ve really got to be on the pulse.
And so is that challenging for you as a songwriter, to keep ahead of that curve and know when it’s right?
On one hand it is, but that’s why it’s important to be on the pulse and be a part of it and feel it, and don’t be reactive, because you can tell; and that’s where you can be just at the right point.
Finally, if people haven’t already got tickets for the shows with Rita why should they buy them?
To be honest, when I come with my full band we bring everything: 110%. And the one thing that I’ve always been a fan of in listening to music is to respect the song. That’s what we’ll be doing – giving fans all the hits they expect, but then playing the new stuff that has received so well, and so hopefully everyone will be hearing exactly what they want.
And to be there with Rita, I’m just so grateful to see the full circle come all the way around and for her to be there with so many hit songs now – people are going to be in for a fest of hits.
Craig David and Rita Ora play Kent Event Centre on 31 August 2018 and Northamptonshire The County Ground on 1 September 2018. Get your tickets now via Ticketmaster.co.uk