As the Bath winger stars on X Factor Celebrity, here’s a reminder of the interview Rugby World did with him earlier this year
My Day Off… Singing with Levi Davis
Moments before they go on stage, Levi Davis and his band come together in a huddle. It’s probably the only thing that happens during the gig that bears any resemblance to rugby.
Yes, people have come to watch the Bath winger perform, but in an entirely different context. The field of grass at the Rec has been replaced by a raised platform at Walcot House. Rather than run out via the tunnel in the middle of the Thatchers Stand, these performers emerge from behind the black curtains that seal off the ‘green room’ to the side of the stage. Instead of a rugby ball in his hands, Davis has a microphone. In lieu of fancy footwork and speed, it is vocal talents that impress the audience. And in this instance he is not positioned out wide on the wing but taking centre stage, the main attraction.
There are nerves but it is clear he enjoys the performance element, finding his groove during the first song and at one point overcoming a faulty mic problem with ease. He interacts with members of his band and the audience during a set that includes covers as well as three of his own songs. Most of the songs are of a slower pace than he would show on the rugby pitch but they are just as powerful – and the reaction of those watching shows that they are impressed.
Despite the differences between sport and music, whether performing on the pitch or on stage Davis says: “The buzz is exactly the same.” Music has long been a passion for the 21-year-old, from singing around the house as a child and enjoying gospel music when going to church to being part of the choir and performing in school musicals like Bugsy Malone and Les Misérables (he played Javert) at school.
A couple of years ago he decided to focus on it more as a career prospect – alongside rugby – and he’s two years into a three-year course in professional musicianship at Bristol’s British & Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM). As well as learning about the business – agents, record deals, etc – students work on developing as artists and sing in front of their peers every week to become more comfortable with the performance side.
Davis is influenced by many types of music and names Leon Bridges, Samm Henshaw, Childish Gambino and Chris Stapleton among the artists he currently likes. He was previously in a band called Majesti but has now gone solo and when asked about his own style, he says: “That’s a tough one. Funk, R‘n’B, all modern music… it’s a big mash-up. It’s taking bits you enjoy and putting together a vocal line over the top.”
He enjoyed writing poetry at school and he’ll record voice memos on his phone when he has an idea, then work with other musicians to see what chords would work best with the lyrics.
“I’ve got the theory knowledge but I’m not good enough to put an arrangement to music yet,” he explains. “I could make a song but it wouldn’t be the song I want. I work with a producer in Newcastle – he sends me stuff to work on.
“My mind works in weird ways and I’ll sing ideas into my phone. I like to portray past experiences that people can relate to, the feelings I had at that point.
“I’ll put an idea down and the guys will say, ‘This is good, this is bad, this is what you need here’. Then we’ll put things together and write all the lyrics. It’s a long process. It’s amazing how people help each other out – it’s very rare in the world for people to do that.”
He has plans to release music later in the year that will be available on Spotify, Apple Music and social media. The goal is to increase his profile and fanbase – no doubt appearing on X Factor Celebrity as part of Try Star with Thom Evans and Ben Foden will help with that – with the ultimate aim to secure a record deal.
“That’s the dream,” he says. “I want to be an artist and put my music out there. When you have a crowd and emotionally affect them with the music you’re making, it’s quite an intimate feeling and is not one that can be replicated easily.”
He recognises that music is an extremely hard business to crack but he is an extremely driven human being. It is that drive that helped him secure a rugby contract at Bath in the first place.
Football was his first sport growing up. He went to the same school, The Friary in Lichfield, as Daniel Sturridge and was involved in the Wolverhampton Wanderers Academy, but he was ‘scouted’ for rugby aged 12 when spotted chasing someone who had stolen his cap.
His speed stood out, he started playing for Burton RFC and when he went to Denstone College at 14 his progress accelerated. “I was quite an aggressive kid and I took to rugby – I enjoyed the physicality,” he recalls.
Davis was involved in the Leicester Tigers Academy but came to Bath to study sports performance and “fell in love with the city and the club”. It took him a while to get signed, playing for Hartpury and the University of Bath, as well as making the odd A League appearance for Bath while a fresher before getting a contract.
His perseverance paid off as he’s now a full-time senior academy player, training with the first team, and played in the Premiership Rugby Cup last season.
His pathway includes playing for England U18 with Joe Cokanasiga and while his progress hasn’t been as rapid as his fellow Bath wing, he has high hopes for the future, for club and country.
“Running out at the Rec is very hard to describe. It’s an unbelievable experience. There’s so much history and heritage at the club, you don’t want to let the shirt down and the boys around you down.
“I’ve made very good friends and we want to be in a place where we’re getting trophies in the future. If you look at Saracens and Exeter and the culture they’re trying to build, that’s where we are moving and we’re definitely on the right track.
“I’d love to be more involved in the senior squad and make Premiership appearances and I’ll push for that. I just want to try to help the club move forward. I like beating defenders, running hard. I want to make an impact and that manifests itself differently with different players. Everyone wants to be a player that when you catch the ball people’s eyes are on you.
“Anyone who plays rugby wants to play for their nation and I certainly want to push for more. I’m hardly ever satisfied and hopefully that will come to fruition.”
Grand ambitions in rugby and music, then, but Davis believes the dual focus helps him both as a player and a singer. Time management is key, juggling training and lectures, but the schedule marries up well in that a lot of BIMM classes are held late afternoon once training is over and on Wednesdays, which is generally the club’s day off.
“Bath are really good with it,” he says. “They understand people have a life outside rugby and that can make you a better rugby player. If your mind is stuck in one thing, it quickly becomes very intense. This helps my whole character.”
For one so young, Davis has a lot of life experiences and while they are not all positive – far from it – he has found a way to move forward.
When he was just two years old, his father tried to drown him and was subsequently sent to prison. At seven, he was taken into foster care because his mother couldn’t cope – he has two older brothers, a younger brother and two younger sisters. He lived with a foster family until he was 17 and then moved in with family friends who became his guardians; he jokes that it is “expensive at Christmas”.
Then there was the “culture shock” of going from a state school to a private boarding school on a sport scholarship while in care, not only in terms of education but socially. “It was a massive change being around people I hadn’t necessarily had the opportunity to be around before. And you’re with people all the time like you wouldn’t be at a normal school – lessons, study periods, after school. It was pretty intense at first.”
All those experiences have helped shape Davis into the man he is now. He’s ambitious but has the work ethic to match it; he’s talented but humble; he’s determined but not forceful. Things are still far from perfect now family-wise, but rugby and music provide an escape.
“I don’t look back, I’ve got to move forward,” he says. “I don’t remember being drowned, so it’s like it never happened to me.
“A lot of people have their own battles and I was quite angry when I was younger, but I wouldn’t be where I am now without that. My guardian family and my foster family before that are all great and have all massively helped me to be where I am. The people around me growing up were all important and there are way too many people I’d like to thank to name.
“When I was younger, I knew if I worked hard enough I’d be able to achieve and that just made me keep working. That’s been my driving force.”
A remarkable young man with a hugely impressive attitude – it would be no surprise if he has successful careers in both rugby and music.
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This article originally appeared in the August 2019 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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