Artful Dodger (duo)
Artful Dodger are a UK garage duo, originally based in the city of Southampton, which became famous for its 2-step hits, and gave Craig David's career a boost after he appeared on their 1999 number two hit, "Re-Rewind". They scored seven consecutive UK top 20 hit singles from 1999 to 2001. The band is named after a character in the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, because of the many bootlegs they made in the early days. They are referred to in the Streets' single, "Let's Push Things Forward". Many Artful Dodger tracks can be found on the UK garage compilation album series Pure Garage, mixed by DJ EZ.
The band originally consisted of producers Mark Hill (born 22 December 1972 in Cwmbran, Wales) and Pete Devereux. What began as a handle for the release of underground bootleg recordings quickly blossomed into a musical project creating original material for mainstream release, and culminated in the release of It's All About the Stragglers, after the duo went on to work with an array of up-and-coming vocalists. This version of "Artful Dodger" became defunct as of 2001. The "Artful Dodger" name is currently the property of Blessed Records, also known as Public Demand Records, and is represented on the live circuit by DJ Dave Low and MC Alistair. When the original two producers, Mark Hill and Pete Devereux, formally announced the reestablishment of their creative partnership in 2017, they reunited under the name "Original Dodger".
Mark Hill was admitted to the school of music at the University of Southampton as a percussionist as a teenager. Prior to Artful Dodger, he had performed with the Welsh Philharmonic Orchestra as a percussionist, and played in jazz bands. He had also worked as a session musician.
During the second year of his three-year program at the University of Southampton, Hill joined a jazz-funk band. Few contact hours meant that Hill had plenty of time on his hands, so he started a recording studio with fellow student and bandmate from the jazz-funk band, Neil Kerr. Kerr's father provided seed capital, and the two business partners were able to secure a £20,000 bank loan, for which Kerr's father was listed as guarantor. After a few years of trading, the business attracted further capital investment from 3MV. This studio was described by The Guardian as being a 'soundproofed room next to a radio station in Southampton'; a location which that publication credits as having influenced the 'commercial vibe' of their musical output.
As Artful Dodger
The origins of Artful Dodger lie in an R&B remix crew of producers, which included Mark Hill and Pete Devereux, known as Back to the Future. This group disbanded due to a lack of financial success. In 1997, Hill and Devereux joined forces to create bootleg editions of tracks including "Dreams" by Gabrielle, "You're Not Alone" by Olive, and "If You Love Me" by Brownstone, releasing these under the Artful Dodger moniker, under Fagin Records.
Both Artful Dodger and Fagin were intended to be disposable aliases adopted to protect their identities and shield them from potential lawsuits from record companies, which might be inclined to pursue them for their unauthorised sampling of other artists' work. The name Artful Dodger was decided on over coffee, at a meeting between Mark Hill and Pete Devereux in Southampton. Names such as Dick Turpin and Robin Hood were also under consideration, but Artful Dodger held greater appeal due its association with the city of London; regarded by many as the capital of the garage sound.
Speaking of their use of 2-step rhythms, Hill commented that it emerged from the fact that he was bored with the four to the floor structure of house music, while also being influenced by R&B, and the work of Ramsey & Fen, as well as Tina Moore's "Never Gonna Let You Go". He described the sound as one that 'wasn't trying to be house music, wasn't trying to be R&B...was just a...natural blend of the two'. Devereux commented that he was excited by the emergence of the garage sound, citing that he was particularly inspired by Double 99's "RipGroove", which had helped to bring the sound to mainstream audiences.
Association with Craig David
Mark Hill was first introduced to Craig David when a friend was working on a project associated with a youth centre linked to the Southampton football club, using Mark Hill and business associate, Neil Kerrs' studio. Craig was a soloist on the project, and Hill noted him for his talent. Hill next encountered Craig David in a club 'years later'; finding that he was already familiar with the bootleg vinyl releases he had completed with Devereux as Artful Dodger, and with Artful Dodger being in need of a vocalist to contribute to their original instrumental tracks, Mark invited Craig back to his studio. This led to a series of vinyl releases, via Artful Dodger's own label for the release of their original tracks, Centric Records, including "Something", "What Ya Gonna Do" and, most notably, "Re-Rewind". Following an initial 'white label' release, these were then licensed on to any interested record label/s. The original plan was for Craig David to be the frontman for Artful Dodger. Plans changed once Craig David signed to a different record label and hired professional artist management; Craig was to use Artful Dodger to launch his solo career, thus leaving Hill and Devereux to become "unwitting popstars" as the frontmen of Artful Dodger.
It's All About the Stragglers
On 20 November 2000 Artful Dodger released an album, It's All About the Stragglers, on FFRR Records. With tracks featuring mostly unknown vocalists, the album was largely a compilation of their previous vinyl releases and CD singles. FFRR had acquired the rights to a large number of Artful Dodger tracks that had previously been released via other labels. FFRR were therefore in the advantageous position of being able to present the duo with a fait accompli, whereby they did not genuinely have the choice to release the album under any other label.
Personnel changes, transfer of name and associated confusion
It was announced on 10 July 2001 that Pete Devereux was leaving Artful Dodger. The official statement emphasised that the parting of ways was 'amicable'. This news came immediately prior to the release of the single "TwentyFourSeven", featuring Melanie Blatt [different version to that which appears on It's All About the Stragglers], and Hill continued from then on to produce "TwentyFourSeven" by himself under the same moniker. Fatigued from a hectic tour schedule, having 'strained' relationships with certain colleagues, wanting to focus more on a behind-the-scenes music industry role as producer, and with a view towards doing more work with Craig David, Mark Hill left Artful Dodger, and Devereux returned, before leaving once again. It was in the midst of all of this that the Artful Dodger name was sold, or otherwise changed hands.
The transfer of the 'Artful Dodger' moniker has been the source of a great deal of speculation and critical commentary, expressed on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and has been explained by Hill and Devereux variously across numerous interviews. The common theme articulated in these interviews is that the duo express their anger and frustration over the fact that two different people, only one of which had any, albeit limited and 'guest status' involvement in the creation of the Artful Dodger music, were seemingly able to achieve exclusive control over the Artful Dodger name, play at events, participate in interviews with journalists who were apparently unaware that the constitution of the group had changed, and most disconcertingly, appeared to take credit for the music that had made the original duo famous. Whenever the opportunity presented itself in the natural course of the conversation however, DJ Dave Low has been known to pay homage to Mark Hill when being interviewed. That promoters would at times use photos of the original duo to advertise events featuring the new duo heightened the prevailing confusion. According to public records provided by the Intellectual Property Office - UK [IPO], there was no trademark of the terms 'The Artful Dodger' under the stipulated classes 9, 16, 25, 28, 41 prior to it being assigned to Mark Hill, as a consequence of a process initiated on 7 July 2001.
In a 2019 interview, Mark Hill described complex details regarding the transfer of the Artful Dodger name, consisting of the claim that as part of his departure from Artful Dodger, he had entered into a pact with Pete Devereux, part of which involved Devereux acquiring ownership of the Artful Dodger name; Public Demand subsequently acquired the name from Pete Devereux and have retained it to the present day. This version of events is somewhat substantiated by public records provided by the Intellectual Property Office - UK, which show that the 'Artful Dodger' name was transferred from Mark Hill to Pete Devereux on 27 January 2003. Pete Devereux transferred it to Public Demand Records on 1 May 2003. The trademark was transferred once again on 22 May 2008, from Public Demand Records to Blessed Records. Discogs lists Blessed Records as a 'sublabel' of Public Demand Records.
The Wayback Machine internet archive offers some evidence that Artful Dodger may have been a trio at some stage, with Pete Devereux appearing alongside DJ Dave Low and an unknown man on the main page of the group's website. It is unclear whether this had any practical significance that extended beyond the online marketing of the group. This representation of Artful Dodger as a trio is archived by the Wayback Machine as having been displayed from 25 October 2001 to 8 October 2010.
Once the Artful Dodger name came under the direct control of Public Demand Records, the duo which ultimately emerged and stands as the current incarnation of Artful Dodger has come to consist of MC Alistair, who had been a featured artist on tracks by the original Artful Dodger, and was now upgraded to the status of being a permanent member of the group; in addition to newcomer, DJ Dave Low. Both have toured the brand extensively and internationally over subsequent years as a DJ and MC duo; frequently being billed to appear alongside period genre peers including DJ Luck and MC Neat, and successors such as So Solid Crew. In addition to playing garage tracks, their repertoire has expanded to include tracks from the dubstep, deep funky house, soulful house, bassline, electro, jungle, drum and bass, and rare groove genres, curated to fit with the atmosphere at the event. Mark Hill has emphasised that he does not endorse this incarnation of Artful Dodger, and has communicated that he is leery of the inclusion of MC Alistair, dismissing it as an attempt by 'the label' to 'add legitimacy'.
Potential second album
In the immediate aftermath of the departure of Pete Devereux in July 2001, Billboard reported that it was anticipated that Mark Hill would complete a sophomore Artful Dodger album for release in the summer of 2002; this however never eventuated.
In a 2009 interview with TimeOut Dubai, DJ Dave Low mentioned that he was involved in the recording of a second Artful Dodger album. He stated that this upcoming album would cover an array of genres, including down-tempo, R&B, broken beat, funky house and bassline, in addition to garage. This alleged album has not been released to date, yet a track titled "One More Chance", featuring Mark Asare, surfaced on a Ministry of Sound compilation album around this time.
In August 2016, a 'selfie' entered circulation on Facebook showing Mark Hill and Pete Devereux, fingers to their lips, with the hashtag #mumstheword. The pair were 'convening' for the purpose of thinking of solutions to problems stemming from the fact that they had lost control of the Artful Dodger name, including the issue that those who had established themselves in their stead were answering interview questions as though they were responsible for the creation of the Artful Dodger music, which was making it difficult for them to get bookings. As a consequence of the unexpected positive response to the possibility of a reunion of the original duo, in 2017, Mark Hill and Pete Devereux formally announced the reestablishment of their creative partnership, reuniting as Original Dodger. Leading the charge was the 2017 single, "Millionaire". News indicated that an '11 track release' was due to emerge, titled Soundtrack, and a tracklist was published. Soundtrack was to take the form of a 'mixtape', and was to serve as the precursor to an album release. Later in 2017, the single "Find Space", featuring Shakka, was released, which was followed in 2018 by a 4-track EP titled Momentum, led by the single "Bubblin", featuring Daniel Bedingfield. Disappointing sales of these early releases meant that a record deal with Warner Music Group was terminated in late 2018. Mark Hill indicated that as a consequence of this, any further Original Dodger material would be released independently. As neither Soundtrack nor the promised following album have been released to date, it is safe to say that both projects have been abandoned.
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions||Certifications|
|It's All About the Stragglers||18|
Vocalists featured on 'It's All About the Stragglers'
- Craig David
- Lifford Shillingford
- Lyn Eden
- MC Alistair
- Michelle Escoffery
- MZ May
- Robbie Craig
- Romina Johnson
DJ mix albums
- Rewind The Sound of UK Garage (March 2000) (Mix CD) number one UK
- Re-Rewind Back by Public Demand (August 2000) (Mix CD) number 6 UK
- Rewind 2001 – Lessons from the Underground (July 2001) (Mix CD) number 12 UK
- BBMak – Still on Your Side
- Brownstone – If You Love Me
- Craig David – Fill Me In
- Gabrielle – Dreams
- Gabrielle – Rise
- Lynden David Hall - Forgive Me [Dark Dub]
- Lynden David Hall - Forgive Me [Vocal Mix]
- Olive – You're Not Alone
- Sisqo – Thong Song
- Sisqo – Incomplete
|Title||Year||Peak chart positions||Certifications||Album|
|"The Revenge of Popeye"||1997||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||—||Non-album singles|
(featuring Craig David)
|"If You Love Me"||1998||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||—|
|"What Ya Gonna Do"
(featuring Craig David)
|–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||—||It's All About the Stragglers|
(featuring Craig David)
|"Movin' Too Fast"
(featuring Romina Johnson)
(featuring Robbie Craig and Craig David)
|"Please Don't Turn Me On"
|"Think About Me"
(featuring Michelle Escoffery)
|"It Ain't Enough"
(vs. Dreem Teem, featuring MZ May and MC Alistair)
(featuring Melanie Blatt)
|6||–||66||–||41||–||–||–||16||—||It's All About the Stragglers /|
All Hits (All Saints album)
(featuring General Levy and Roachie)
|"Ruff Neck Sound"
(featuring Richie Dan and Sevi G)
|"One More Chance"
(featuring Mark Asare)
|2009||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||—||Ministry of Sound: Addicted to Bass 2009|
|"Laydeez [UKG Mix]"
(featuring Roachie and General Levy)
|–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||—||Ministry of Sound: Addicted to Bass Winter 2009|
|"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.|
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