CRAIG DAVID : The great lost Dickens novel

Very few people know that Craig David was the name of Charles Dickens’ first ever novel. Unsurprising since it was never published. This was due to a couple of problems: the first being that Dickens felt that having a character with the same initials may paint it as too obviously autobiographical (like reversing the initials for David Copperfield made this impossible to guess). Mainly the problem was that Craig David, much like his musical namesake, really wasn’t much cop. Still vestiges of the novel remain in manuscript form for the enlightened commentator (or in this case me) to pour over. Note how many of Dickens regular themes are already apparent, plus the appearance of favourite later characters in a nascent form.

Craig David is a young stable-lad from South London. A confident if brash eighteen year old he is happy working hard knowing that he will reap his rewards in a later life and maybe meet a nice lady. However David falls upon Hard Times and is forced to make a living using his meagre talents and honey smooth singing voice. It is not long before he is destitute.

Enter The Artful Dodger. Yet to turn into the cheeky young scamp we see later in Oliver Twist, this prototype version is a pair of grandfathers peddling lollipops and other things “The Kids Like”. Soon to spot both vocal potential and a complete lack of business acumen in Mr David they drag him off to start singing at late night mummers plays and such like in the UK stable scene. David is a natural Mumming Champion (MC) and soon becomes a sensation. As Dickens says, Craig David is all over your – ahem – boink, and it really is at this part of the book which Dickens usual air of earthy verisimilitude really lets him down. David shacks up with girl after girl (though always careful not to go too far on the first week) and generally getting a little bit big headed.

What follows is a split from the Coffin Dodgers (as Craig wittily puts it) and a solo career. Picking on autobiographical tales such as Fill Me In – about the cess pit outside his youthful dwelling, and Seven Days – about not going too far with the nice young ladies in that all important first week, he wows the country. He then signs a very big deal with an American publisher, at which point we get the classic reversal of fortune British literature is so fond of. David travels to America where they do not understand his yokel voice and the appeal of a dance which only has two steps. They rightly note that this is no different to walking, which they can happily do without the repetitive metronomic beat Craig attached to his chats. Even David’s amusing way of saying his own name no longer appeals, despite guest slots saying his name on Smashing Pumpkin and U2 records (who were both around back then) no-one buys them.

So David returns to his land of birth, gets a job in a stable in Upper Norwood and shovels shit for the rest of his life. The Artful Dodger dies few years later, the old chaps succumbing to the low mortality rate of Victorian England.

Craig David is by no means a good book, being hackneyed and falling for many of the standard rise and fall plots of the day. As a historical document it is rewarding to note that both Bono and Billy Corgan were as insufferable in the 1850’s than they are now. Nevertheless it is instructive to see the roots of a great artist – and in many ways it is possible to see A Tale Of Two Cities, or Nicholas Nickleby in Craig David. Much like in Re-Rewind you can see a man, shovelling shit.