Paolo Nutini is probably the most unlikely pop star on the planet. Despite being just 23, he is blessed with the voice of a middle-aged, weathered soul singer living in ’70s America. And while Amy Winehouse, the last blue-eyed soul singer to make it huge in the UK, bolted her out-of-time, out-of-place voice onto rich brass accompaniments and chart-friendly riffs, Paolo is quite happy to mine other, stranger seams. This is particularly true of his second album, Sunny Side Up¸ which ditches the faux-Jack Johnson MOR vibe from his first LP and embraces a richer musical heritage.
Listen to his latest single, ‘10/10’, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a forgotten ska classic unearthed after 40 years collecting dust on a studio shelf. Pick up ‘Candy’, meanwhile, and it’s like listening to some old country-rock master laying his heart on the table for everyone to gawk at. And yet, despite this defiantly un-commercial bent, Nutini’s second album has gone triple-platinum in the UK and clocked up several top-20 and top-40 positions in charts across Europe. So where does this bold soul come from? Here’s what makes the man.
1 Rebellious youth
Paolo left school at 15, a year earlier than the UK’s official school leaving age, to work as a roadie and merchandise seller for one-album wonders Speedway and as a tape operator in a Glasgow studio. We wouldn’t advise our readers to do the same (Speedway split years ago, for a start), but it worked out well for him…
Paolo’s big break came in 2003, at the age of 17. Then-pop-star David Sneddon had been delayed on his way to a gig and, as the winner of a recent pop competition, Paolo was invited on stage to fill the gap. In the appreciative crowd was one Brendan Moon, who offered to manage Paolo. It turned out to be a pretty good offer – Paolo was signed to Atlantic Records soon afterwards.
3 Classic UK food
If his music career hadn’t taken off, Paolo would most likely be serving fish and chips in the family takeaway right now. It had previously been run by grandfather Giovanni and father Alfredo (Paolo’s family moved to the UK from Italy after WWI). There’s a pun about Grease in there somewhere, but we can’t find it.
4 Keeping it real
Paolo has a suitably Scottish aversion to glamming up. ‘Image is something I’m not too fussed about, to be honest,’ he told The Scotsman newspaper. ‘I just don’t like other people putting forward a direct statement of who I am [when they] really don’t have a clue. You’d go to photoshoots and people would bring along a rack of clothes, get you to try them on and take a couple of photos. They’d end up being the ones they use and you’d look stupid in this f****** thing that you would never wear in a million years. But then, you know, it all gets attached [to me] and it means absolutely nothing.’
5 Internalised tuneage
Paolo is many things, but a Freddie Mercury-style showman he’s not. ‘I don’t look at the audience, I don’t even know why,’ he explained to Movmnt magazine. ‘When I first started gigging, people said, “Find a girl in the audience, pick her out and sing to her – let her be the focus of the song.” I did it once and that was the last time, because later a guy came up to me and said, “So I saw you looking at me in that song…” And
I said, “I’m sorry man, I think there was a girl right beside you.” And he said, “Aw, it wasn’t me?” I said, “No.” It was the most awkward moment.’
Paolo Nutini plays the Irish Village on March 12.