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David Aldo: Homecoming

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David Aldo

Words Paul Watson

Newcastle-born singer-songwriter, David Aldo, is hoping that a long and successful solo career in South Africa (seven number one singles) will be the catalyst to a successful British chart entry later this month, as he prepares for the release of his first ever UK single, Just You, on November 25, with a self-titled album also planned for late February. It's never easy breaking into a new territory, but if Rod Stewart thinks he's got what it takes, then who are we to argue?

What has brought you back to the UK, and how much of a challenge is it going to be starting from scratch?
You're right, it is from scratch. I am an unknown here, for the most part, and that's going to be a big challenge. A lot of unfortunate incidents happened to me in the late '90s, that sadly were commonplace in South Africa at the time; I had a home invasion, I was held hostage in another scenario, and I realised this was par for the course in that part of the world back then. I had some very scary moments. Also, it was a very small market for what I was doing, as I was up against international artists; if I had been doing local Afrikaans music, I definitely would have stayed, but I was an English guy kind of doing Elton John style music in South Africa, so it wasn't straightforward, and after all this awful stuff happened, I feared for my life every single day, so I just had to get out.

And headed Stateside, right?
Yes. It seemed the right move for me at the time, and it was. I'd been over a couple of times prior; I was brought over by my label, Electra Records, in '97, and had done some writing sessions with some guys in Nashville, then I decided that Los Angeles would be the best place, both industry wise and climate wise. I came for opportunity, and for at least five or six years, it was a case of survival, and my career went into a lull, you could say. Then I got a deal with Sony in South Africa, and everything started up again; that's when I started having successes, including a world tour supporting Lionel Richie, which was fantastic. Then last year I decided I really had to release my material in Europe. I thought, 'what the hell', you know? And here we are...

You've been to hell and back in many ways, and credit to you for coming through it all with such flying colours. Is it also scary – although a different kind of scary, of course – releasing something in your homeland for the first time, where you must be out of your comfort zone?
[smiles] Yes! But it makes me feel proud of my accomplishments, as everything has been driven by myself. I feel good that I have kept kicking the ball further down the field, and I'm very pleased to bring it home to the UK. I really do think the UK people are going to get what I do.

How do you replicate that South African success here in the UK, or in any new territory for that matter?
It's hard... and the only thing I have is some credibility and some backing from the success I've had, but nobody really cares about that. I am only as good as the song I'm about to sing, and the way I'm singing it. The fact it's been successful somewhere else does lead me to believe it's going to do well in the UK... I actually released one of the songs in the US about three weeks ago that was tested in Idaho, which is kind of farm country, and it was tested at 97% on the radio, which was just amazing. These are people that don't know me from a bar of soap, and they're getting exposed to this music from out of nowhere, so that's very encouraging. Also, that's the audience talking, not the industry talking.

Very impressive... What's your take on today's industry as a whole?
Oh, they don't have a clue what's going on! They've been scrambling for such a long time, and people now know this. I know I have huge challenges coming my way, but I have to let people know that I'm here by talking to people like yourself, and try to make some headway on radio; it's hard, as you've got guys like Robbie Williams, and many more international artists bringing out new records, and guess what – radio is gonna jump on their stuff way before mine! So, you have to work harder, and you have to really jump up and down... higher! [laughs]

BBC Radio 3 has been playing your music, which is also encouraging. How would you position yourself in the UK market?
It's so hard to know how to answer that, but I think it's more on the mature level. Saying that, I did an event recently in Houston [Texas] which went really well, and there were kids of around 23 to folks in their mid-50s, and they all seemed to be digging it just the same. It's not a teenage market, that's for sure, and I think the more mature market is still connected with radio and so on, whereas the really young ones are more likely to download it on their mobiles and forget about what they downloaded five minutes later [smiles].

23-55 is a pretty encouraging demographic, in my book!
Yeah, it is, but I don't think the record industry is even attacking that market; I think they're going for the 12-year-old, really, and these kids don't want to own music, they just want to consume it. And that's the problem when you're trying to succeed in this industry. My mission is to expose myself to these new markets, hopefully make some sales, but more importantly come to the UK and have some sort of a fan-base that I can then come out and perform to, as that's where I blow the rest of the guys out of the water... I actually know how to sing and play!

You must be encouraged by the success of artists like Ed Sheeran, who's just had a record-breaking climb to the number one spot in the UK singles chart...
Yes, I think that's fantastic, and the fact that it took such a long time to get to the top is even better. Record companies can get things to the top of the charts by almost bypassing the public, and just using their connections, but if your record is climbing that ladder slowly, it means the people wanted to hear it. I wish the industry would listen to the people, I really do.

You're not the only one... What's the plan when you arrive in London, then?
I am going to have to see how it goes, and hopefully that plan will unfold organically. I'll be doing radio, and as much press as I can, and then I'm going to come and do some select shows and build on that, hopefully with some good reviews, then do that groundwork and build it up. Hopefully I am successful, and it all goes quicker than I think it will, but you know, it's not that easy...

The fact that you understand the industry, and have already stood the test of time, must be looked at as a positive though, surely?
Yes, I think so, and the thing is, I love what I do. I am a real musician and I am a soul singer, and that's why I also love the Sam Smith stuff. He's another huge talent. People can relate to him, too, perhaps in a similar way to me: I am not going through the mechanics, I am bearing my soul, and people are feeling it. I am changing people's emotions when I perform, because I am giving everything of me. It's almost a spiritual thing... yes, I want to be successful, and want people to like me, but I have been put on this earth to bring pleasure to people, and that's why I'm really here.

And let's not forget your celebrity fan-base...
[laughs] Well, yes, I grew up with Michael Bolton, and have been trying to sing as well as him all my life, so when he says he thinks I can really sing, I take that as a big compliment! And I did get a message from Rod Stewart about a week ago, actually, saying he and Penny [Lancaster] really enjoyed the new video, and thought the single was catchy, so that's another positive [smiles]. We'll have to wait and see, won't we?

We will... Headliner wishes David all the best with his new single, released November 25.