Craig David

Last summer, the Indian Motorcycle Café‚ in Toronto was jam packed with industry people and special guests. Fans surrounded the security-heavy stage for U.K. phenom Craig David’s first showcase on Canadian soil.

Accompanied only by acoustic guitarist Fraser T. Hill, the smooth-voiced Brit sang a handful of songs from his full-length debut, Born To Do It. Although the album had been out for only a week, the crowd knew the songs well enough to sing along. Females screamed, holding out their hands in hopes of being touched by the 20-year-old David.

After 4.5 million copies of the record were sold in other parts of the world, word seeped across the Atlantic about the U.K.’s newest star. The showcase reinforced that David was also destined for stardom on this side of the pond.

Even though his album is a slickly produced R&B/pop recording, he enjoyed proving himself in the intimate setting.

“It’s just the vocal and guitar and I was always up for that because I thought, well, dance acts can sometimes be looked upon as if you’re hiding behind the beats or the production,” David told POLLSTAR. “I felt it was important for me to show that I was an artist and a performer, that I can go out with just a guitarist and cut these songs live.”

Flash ahead to a recent sold-out performance at Toronto’s 2,400-capacity Kool Haus.

David had a full band but was certainly not hiding behind its talents. His presence was undeniable as he worked the stage, chatted to the crowd and dazzled with his rapid-fire rap skills that border on toasting.

Typically, the crowd sang along, females screamed and various teen-age couples made out for entire songs as if his music was aural ecstasy. The venue was obviously not the only thing popping at the seams.

David’s manager, Colin Lester, who initially signed the young artist to his label, Wildstar, in March 1999, picked him up for management a year ago. Lester explained the crucial tour strategy for David was to create premium value in owning a ticket to one of his shows.

“The policy for Craig has been to play in places that aren’t sized for his current stature,” Lester said. “Therefore, you’re creating a wall-to-wall excitement, like a pressure cooker-type effect. And there comes a point where you have to play venues that accommodate all the people that want to buy a ticket and, thankfully, that time is fast approaching. We look forward to doing that both in America and in the U.K.”

David has risen to superstardom in just over a year, surpassing sales of 7 million copies of Born To Do It worldwide. Still, no matter what question was posed to him, four times during his interview, the modest musician wrapped up his answer with variations on how this can all “be taken away” as quickly as it came.

“I’m just one lucky guy who has been given this opportunity,” David explained matter-of- factly.

Born in Southampton, England, on May 5, 1981, Craig Ashley David grew up an only child (he has an 11-year-old half-sister from his dad’s remarriage), living with his mom in government-assisted council houses. He sang in the school choir and acted in music-related pantomimes in his early teens, but his passion was deejaying.

Craig David

He began spinning discs on local pirate radio station PCRS (People’s Choice Radio Station) at 14, then ventured into the club circuit under the guidance of DJ Flash, a friend of David’s musician father.

David would emcee over backing tracks if a record was skipping or he was changing vinyl. It wasn’t until he won a songwriting competition in 1996 with an original track, “I’m Ready,” that he decided to give this singer/songwriter thing a go.

He took first prize: the opportunity to have his song recorded by R&B quintet Damage. The track became the b-side of a No. 3 hit, “Wonderful Tonight.”

Through that exposure and his remix of Human League’s “Human,” he hooked up with Artful Dodger’s Mark Hill and the two set about working together in 1997. Mixing David’s penchant for American R&B and hip-hop with Hill’s faculty for two-step and garage, they fashioned a smooth, dance floor R&B-pop sound.

The first single, “Rewind”, originally credited to Artful Dodger and now on Born To Do It, became a British garage club anthem and crossed over to the U.K. pop chart, rising to No. 2.

When “Fill Me In” dropped in the summer of 2000, it shot to No. 1 and led to a deal with independent label Wildstar. David and Hill then finished up the rest of the debut album.

Long before North America knew about David, the album racked up gold, platinum and multiplatinum awards in more than two dozen countries including Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Singapore, not to mention all over Europe where he completed a sold-out, 32-date arena tour.

“Those things blow my mind,” David said. “I really felt that when I did the arena tour, especially at (London’s) Wembley Arena, I was up onstage and I thought, ‘These people can’t be here for me!’ It was really hard to comprehend that all these thousands of people bought tickets to see me perform.”

By the time Atlantic Records licensed the album for North America for a July 2001 release, David was a star. He performed some one-offs and did press in North America, but didn’t tour until recently. The result was indeed pressure-cooker sales.

For the next few months, Craig will work on his followup album, slated for release later this year.