Feb 15

CRAIG DAVID – “Fill Me In”

Popular89 comments • 4,234 views

#855, 15th April 2000

craig david fill As UK Garage hit its end of the century peak, three things became clear. It could ring up the hits, like no underground dance scene since hardcore rave. It was exceptionally flexible – the strains in the charts became more melodic and soulful, while elsewhere the music was getting darker, dubbier and more bass-led or more minimal and MC-driven. That was a bit like rave, too. But the third aspect of garage was not like rave at all: vocalists and rappers were central to this music, and the fans knew who they were.

An eager record industry put these three things together and saw stars. New, marketable stars, addressing the business’ long-running (and aesthetically myopic) beef with dance music – its notorious “facelessness”. The question of what to do with UK Garage and its inheritors is a subplot that plays out across this whole decade. The outcomes are mostly frustrating – potential missed or misused, bright careers fizzling out, and an overall sense of an industry that liked the idea of young, black British stars more than it supported the reality.

But that’s a story for later, as are Craig David’s own run-ins with the media. “Fill Me In” strolls into the charts with the aura of a major talent on the point of being realised. Craig David is the new decade’s first new chart-topper, but he almost wasn’t: he’d made his name as on the Artful Dodger’s “Re-Rewind”, the quintessential garage hit. “Re-Rewind” bumped beguilingly between slinky on the verses and lurching on the chorus: a hit that sounded like nothing before it. Across it all Craig David danced in and out of the rhythm, a hypeman in the process of becoming a soulboy, reconciling the odd geometries of the Artful Dodger’s future with the smooth moves of an audience out for a good time.

Smoothness was the angle David mined for his solo career. “Fill Me In” uses 2-step beats as a way to accelerate the song into its chorus, but the heart of the single is in its slowly unwinding verses, produced with the filigree delicacy of current R&B, golden nets of finely plucked strings enmeshing with the beat’s discreet stutter and David’s voice. Which is a gentle instrument, never really moving beyond ‘fond’ or ‘rueful’ even when describing parental anger. “Fill Me In” is a precise song, living or dying on its web of details – “Wearing a jacket, whose property / Said you’d been queueing for a taxi / But you left all your money on the TV” – which all feel real enough to build the mood. It’s as committed to painting a situation as Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name”, if not nearly as dramatic.

But that gentility works in its favour, too. “Fill Me In” doesn’t capture the urgency of its chosen scenario – trying to get it on under the shadow of the parental panopticon – but it ends up somewhere just as resonant: looking back on those stolen moments later, a pinch of resentment mixed with nostalgia. Parents may not understand – well, no, in this case they understand all too well – but they’re almost as sympathetic a set of players here as Craig David and his girl. Antagonists, sure, but not villains, just obstacles with their own objectives in the game. And that basic sympathy is a sign of what makes “Fill Me In” work. Even at this point you can hear David being seduced by himself, keen to play the loverman role, but it’s kept in balance by his humane, keen eye. This and “Re-Rewind” together are a fine statement of talent and intent. They were also his peak, but we didn’t know that. For now, welcome to the 00s, again.



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  1. 76
    Cumbrian on 2 Mar 2015 #

    #72: Jason Lee is probably my generation’s Gus Caeser, re: the relevant chapter in Fever Pitch. Obviously, to make it to the Premier League to start with, you have to be the best footballer, not just in your school, but your area and probably your county, as well as one of the 2 or 3 best guys in your “class” at the club you’ve signed on with. Then, once you get there, you’re surrounded by everyone who is at least as good and the gulfs in class suddenly become really enormous – the difference between being in the top 1% of the population at football and being in the top 0.5% of the population gives rise to this idea that players are “rubbish”. Of course they’re not, they’re just being compared to a ridiculously high standard, then the brickbats start flying. I have no real idea how that relates to Craig David though, to be honest. It perhaps doesn’t. I still think that there’s something in the slating of both of them and their reaction to it though, as a point of comparison.

  2. 77
    Izzy on 2 Mar 2015 #

    It’s extraordinary how often that Gus Caesar chapter comes up. I heard someone talking about it on the radio a couple of weeks back. Hornby really tapped into a universal there.

  3. 78
    Cumbrian on 2 Mar 2015 #

    I think there’s something about the way it’s articulated that gives the Gus Caesar chapter resonance – it’s something that it’s possible to see in yourself or in others from your life. I’ve had several Gus moments in my life – where I took the step from the defined area in which I could be perceived as good out into a wider pool where you think “oh right, I’m not *that* good at this. This far and no further for me, more than likely”. Recognising that it doesn’t mean you’re rubbish is the trick I think – difficult to do sometimes though.

  4. 79
    Shiny Dave on 4 Mar 2015 #

    The pattern described in #76 sounds awfully similar to the established pattern of mental health issues in Oxbridge students from them suddenly being surrounded by peers of comparable ability and not being “the best” anymore.

    It’s funny we come across it in discussion of something from the first half of 2000, because (as I’ve mentioned on here before) it was through illness at this point that I went from a top-5% student (and top-1% in at least a couple of areas, and I’d been spending my entire school career up until 1997 at a school for students with learning difficulties and as such skewed still further from my level) to a top-20% student at best. That illness is now less than halfway through my life, and I’ve arguably suffered from (almost entirely undiagnosed) depression pretty much ever since, almost certainly derived from that loss of identity.

    (The writing of music, a hobby I mostly love, is an area this inadequacy comes into sharp focus these days, my lack of instrumental ability making me feel pretty much unable to finish the ideas I start. That was something I never felt around this time when I was mucking about with eJay and Music 2000 mashing small sets of samples into generic dance bangers, and it’s interesting how much that changed when I started writing vocal music. I suspect this is a theme that will keep recurring in my comments as we work through the 2000s indie bunnies and doubtless discuss the post-Britpop “real music” entitlement around that scene.)

  5. 80
    Cumbrian on 5 Mar 2015 #

    79: Well, Hornby went to Cambridge, I think, so there may well be something in that analysis.

    Sorry to hear of your own struggles in this respect too.

  6. 81
    Mark G on 5 Mar 2015 #

    Guys, what was the ‘relevant Gus Caesar chapter’, remind me? I did read the book..

    aye, ‘would you fill me in’ lol.

  7. 82
    Cumbrian on 5 Mar 2015 #

    It’s the short chapter in Fever Pitch talking about Gus Caesar, who played centre half for Arsenal under George Graham in the late 80s. Hornby gives a short biography. When Caesar was breaking into the team, he was quite young and was going through what could be expected of a young player making his way into top level football – variable performances principally but had obviously been seen to have something to warrant promotion into the first team. Unfortunately, he also had a habit of making high profile errors – the most prominent of which caused Arsenal to concede a lead in the League Cup Final against Luton Town, a game they went on to lose. Consequently, the crowd at Highbury started to get on his back and his performances started to spiral downwards, as his confidence drained. Graham bought in Steve Bould and Andy Linighan, further limiting his chances to play at a high level and find his feet/improve/rectify his errors. He’s regularly described as one of the worst players to ever play for Arsenal.

    Hornby then talks about the abuse that Caesar got, essentially talking through in more detail what must have happened to him in his youth, following the format of the short post I put up at 76 and the fact that, despite what everyone was telling him, he clearly was not rubbish. He had fallen short of the highest of standards but he was still better than basically everyone in the country when it came to football but being able to translate that into performance when you’re surrounded by players just as good, if not better than you is the challenge, both physically and mentally. I can’t remember whether he goes into the psychological impact that this may have had on Caesar (it’s some years since I read Fever Pitch and don’t own a copy in any case) but it’s definitely something that happens time and again in football – Jason Lee being my generation’s Gus Caesar, he also kept making errors that cost Forest games (though at the other end of the pitch – I think I remember several bad misses in a UEFA cup tie (though it might have been some other cup competition) that cost Forest an opportunity to progress) and eventually got hounded out of the top league – not helped by the aforementioned FFL/Pineapple On Head sketches.

  8. 83
    Cumbrian on 5 Mar 2015 #

    I think pretty much the whole Gus Caesar chapter is here:


    No mention of the abuse from the crowd. My faulty memory probably. I think Caesar himself has gone on record about that though.

  9. 84
    Tommy Mack on 7 Mar 2015 #

    #79/80: Also sorry to hear about Shiny Dave’s struggles. I do think we have an attitude in the UK that if you’re not #1 you’re a failure. As a teacher, I’ve seen this sort of pressure make countless kids’ lives a misery. Something I always tried to teach them was that most successful people have a string of ‘failures’ behind them, their main shared attribute being the confidence to fail and try again. This really isn’t stressed enough in education.

    Going to Imperial College later in 2000 was a huge slap in the face. I’d been comfortably in the top five students at my comprehensive school but then spent my gap year letting my brain atrophy in a terrible gap year job in a factory in Macclesfield to fund my band’s self released record (smoking too much skunk probably didn’t help either) To find myself up against bright students fresh from the best schools and in a very competitive, male-dominated environment was somewhat intimidating. Actually, that’s not entirely true, it was only really in second year that I started to feel ‘I may not be cut out for this’. Anyway, more on my fraught, sporadically brilliant, often unhappy college years in Populars to come.

    In terms of feelings of inadequacy as a musician, I’ve always felt I’ll never be top drawer technically so I better do something about bit maverick that will stand out for other reasons. When I was learning to play, even the guitar mags were full of britpoppers and alt-rockers deriding the over technical widdlers. I’ve had some *very* modest success since but I do feel frustrated as I often hear music in my head that I lack the chops to transcribe or play and I wonder what sort of music i would be making if I’d set myself a more rigorous practice regime.

  10. 85
    ciaran on 14 Apr 2015 #

    There’s a lot to cover with this one.

    CD made as good a start as you could possibly wish for with Re-wind and FMI. The former especially could be classed in the same bracket as Common People v Unchained Melody. A number 2 perceived to be vastly superior to what stopped it getting to the top. The Avid Merrion controversy has harmed its legacy but it’s still as fresh and joyful as it was when it was released.Would have been a 9 if it was Number 1.

    FMI is perhaps not as stunning but a solid follow up and there’s a touch of the unexpected and pleasant about it that just pushes the right buttons. R ‘n’ B was not something that was high on my musical agenda but David seemed a bit rough around the edges at this point to appeal more than the smooth laid back exponents of the genre.

    A 7 or an 8.

    The bunny has gone back to the shadows for now but whilst the first 4 singles were bang on by the time of his next visit we saw what the future would hold of CD’s musical output which wasn’t the best strategy. Undoubtedly Merrion painted him in a somewhat negative manner but if David had a ‘Fill Me In’ style ace up his sleeve it wouldnt have been anywhere near as bad.The mention of Craig David in almost every song was also highly annoying and a bit damaging in the long term.

    Jason Lee is the obvious football comparison but maybe a better musical one would be Roddy Frame.

    Some immense stuff in the top 10 at this time too.

    Flowers was’nt all that played on the radio at the time except for one pirate station as I recall but even now I cant help but be impressed.The standout single from the time.

    I cant help but enjoy the Bad Touch either. A kind of record for the final exam generation or to be sniggered at by Beavis and Butthead if they were around in 2000 (He said nuts he he he he!). It’s understandable if people roll their eyes to the sky at the mere mention of it now but the beat never fails to please.

    A Song for the Lovers. Well I have to admit that I enjoyed it greatly at the time and even now I could sing along to it regardless of Ashcroft’s fall from grace afterwards. A top gear compilation type song to my ears but worlds apart from what followed.

  11. 86
    Tommy Mack on 14 Apr 2015 #

    “Have you heard Craig David’s retiring from music?”
    “Yeah, he’s joining the Olympic archery team.”
    “No way!”
    “Yeah. He’s not going to compete. He’s going to be a bow selector.”

    – Joke told to me by Nick Lees, then aged 18. This was as far as the CD-mockery got round are (sic) way.

  12. 87
    Steve Mannion on 14 Apr 2015 #

    #70 Re the ‘white guitarist’ story, here’s the BBC report on it from late 2002: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/2480365.stm

    Notable and depressing in several ways. I always remembered the story but it was only in later years that the guitarist himself Fraser T Smith rose to prominence as a pop producer/writer occupying a halfway-house between Calvin Harris and Paul Epworth.

    Most of his work leaves me cold to the point where I am stunned to find he produced Quadron’s marvellous ‘Hey Love’ a couple of years ago.

  13. 88
    weej on 14 Sep 2015 #

    If anyone didn’t see Craig turning up at a 1Xtra live studio event and freestyling Fill Me In then go check it out, it’s a treat.

  14. 89
    Izzy on 15 Sep 2015 #

    That’s brightened up a slow afternoon, thank you.

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