Re-rewind! The odd tale of how UK garage legends Artful Dodger became Original Dodger

The DJs who made Craig David a household name have returned, though – having signed away their own name – they never really went away

Pete Devereux and Mark Hill seem to be perpetually surprised by their popularity. When their 1999 Artful Dodger track Re-Rewind with Craig David took them from “struggling to pay the rent” to “doing Top of the Pops every other week” it caught them completely off-guard. Indeed, for the entirety of their 18-month flash of mega-success as figureheads of the UK garage movement, they never got used to it. Then last summer, when a selfie of the pair together emerged from their personal Facebook pages, they were staggered that people still cared enough to make it go viral.

They certainly hadn’t intended to cause such a reaction. Instead, they were simply convening to vent their frustration that a completely separate duo were touring the DJ circuit under the name Artful Dodger. Devereux and Hill were partly to blame: in 2002, and under somewhat unclear circumstances, they had signed the name away. But they were aggrieved that promoters had been advertising the new duo using photos of them. Worse, the new “Artful Dodger” had been answering interview questions as if they had made the original records. Devereux and Hill, both still working DJ-producers, say this was making it difficult for them to get bookings. “We had no idea what to do,” says Hill. “We just met thinking we might put out a statement, or maybe do a DJ gig or two, to set the record straight.”

But when the selfie blew up, Devereux says he thought: “Blimey, maybe people might want to hear something new from us.” They started contacting young grime MCs and vocalists to collaborate on new material, and found them thrilled to be asked, rating Artful Dodger as godfathers of underground music. “Everyone’s got a Dodger story,” says Devereux, “of raving or hearing their dad DJing our tracks or something.” Even grime godfather Wiley ran up to the pair at a party, hugged and kissed them and called them “fucking legends”.

Artful Dodger Craig David
Re-Rewind … the duo with Craig David. Photograph: Sal Idriss/Redferns

All of which has led to a rich productive streak. In six months, Original Dodger – as they must now call themselves – cooked up at least two albums’ worth of material, featuring names such as Shakka, Nadia Rose, P Money and Big Narstie. And there is a buzz of excitement online, not from nostalgic old fans but from a young generation who see UK garage as unfinished business. The likes of Ed Sheeran and Disclosure have been celebrating the Dodgers’ return, with Sheeran telling them that Craig David’s Fill Me In, which Hill produced, was his favourite song to do as a busker. Now Devereux and Hill - both family men in their 40s - say they are ready, as Hill puts it, “to do it properly, and really enjoy it, this time”. An 11-track mixtape of new songs called Soundtrack is due this summer, and an album proper not long after.

It has been some journey. The pair first met in Southampton in 1993. Both were seasoned musicians: south Wales-born Hill was playing in acid jazz bands while at the university, while Devereux was an accomplished violinist as a child, but had his head turned by club culture and was a working DJ playing soulful US house. He came to do a session at the recording studio Hill had set up (“At rip-off prices!” he laughs), the two hit it off and started working on their own tracks and material for a variety of local vocalists, including Craig David, who was barely into his teens when they met via a Southampton FC youth project.

Artful Dodger were perfectly placed to catch the mid-90s wave of UK garage, which added heavy British bass to the funky shuffle of US house. Though the scene was very London-centric, Devereux was running a club and would book the big names from the capital “then slip them copies of our latest tracks with their fee at the end of the night”, and one by one, Artful Dodger tracks became anthems on the circuit. Their ambitions never extended beyond clubland (“We never wanted to make high art, just create some good vibes and make a living,” says Hill). But Re-Rewind, along with Shanks & Bigfoot’s Sweet Like Chocolate, marked the tipping point for UKG: for the next three or so years, the sound was a chart fixture, and Devereux and Hill unwittingly became pop stars.

Click here to listen to Millionaire, a new tune by Original Dodger ft Daecolm, P Money and DaVinChe.

It nearly killed them. Hill smiles, but is not joking when he says “I’m just happy we got through it with all our limbs”. The pair had assumed that the mainstream would operate in the same ad-hoc, mates-in-it-together way that kept the underground just about functional, but the industry had other ideas. So, while they went about signing different tracks to different labels, and took every booking going - to the point they were often doing eight sets a week around the party towns on the Mediterranean from Ibiza to Ayia Napa - they found themselves royally ripped off left, right and centre.

They say that they lost all the publishing money for their infernally catchy hit Moving Too Fast – 4m streams on Spotify – because they lost the printout of a fax from the Italian company that owned the rights, promising them a percentage. Likewise, the duo’s 12-inch singles would sell in the tens of thousands, but they suspected certain pressing plants or labels might only account for a third of what they produced and sold, again doing the pair out of royalties (it is an open secret on the UK garage scene that such shady practices were commonplace for successful releases). By the time they both reached burn-out point early in 2001, they were so frazzled that they ended up signing away the name “for peanuts”. But they were not alone: UK garage, which for a precious couple of years promised to create an entirely new blueprint for British pop, collapsed in on itself among similar mismanagement and dodginess, while the young kids on the scene took it back underground into grime and dubstep.

But that younger generation never lost their love for the sound they grew up with. Though UK garage became relegated to over-25s “No hats, no hoods, ladies free before 11pm” club nights through the 00s, it stayed part of the background of club culture right into the 2010s. And, as another generation grew into musical maturity, it gained a newfound popularity; when they came back together, the Original Dodger could count international stars such as Sheeran and Drake as fans.

They were lucky: both kept just enough of their royalties and sanity to keep their heads above water. But their comeback still makes them both happy. “I love it,” says Devereux. “I’m proud of the fact we’ve come through it. And now we’re older, wiser, working with good people that we like and trust, and our kids are old enough to see what we’re doing.”

This time around, they plan to travel at their own pace and enjoy the ride, even if they are still baffled by the fact it’s happening at all.


Joe Muggs

The GuardianTramp

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