Nutini's humour almost as compelling as his music
Paolo Nutini tells this story against himself. Recently, the gravel-throated Scottish soul-boy (equal parts Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and Jeff Buckley; The Telegraph hailed him as a male Amy Winehouse) saw two men doing their utmost, without obvious success, to physically carry an old washing-machine from a second-hand shop.
"I took my headphones off and grabbed a corner," he recalls. Then, he adds, "one of the guys turns around and goes, 'Hang on...are you that Paolo guy?' I said, Yes, nice to meet you. He said, 'See half your songs? They're f***ing brilliant. See the other half? They're f***ing shite'."
His laceratingly self-deprecating Scottish humour is almost as compelling as his music: his second record, 2010's Sunny Side Up (which won the Ivor Novello 'Best Album' gong) borders on genius. Paolo's sublime new album, Caustic Love, shows an artistic maturity and depth from a man who is still only 27. Most of the songs, to paraphrase his new friends with the second-hand washing machine , are f***ing brilliant. His voice on the dark beauty of One Day and Iron Sky from Caustic Love remind me of the soulful humanity of a Luke Kelly or a Bob Dylan on one of those dark nights of the soul. It has that same spark - a spark that has long been there in Paolo.
Reviewing Paolo's show at New York's Bowery Ballroom in 2007, Jon Pareles of the New York Times noted, insightfully, of the singer, who had just turned 20: "He sings about what matters most to a teenage boy: romance and lust, with an occasional glimpse of a young man's growing pains. He doesn't sound as if he's wheedling or complaining, even when he is; in Jenny Don't Be Hasty, he tries to persuade an older woman not to 'treat me like a baby.' Instead, the songs take on a precocious gravity."
You can see why Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records, gave Paolo his first big break (Nutini was signed to Atlantic in May, 2005, barely out of school, at the age of just 18); Mojo magazine wisely pinpointed that the legendary Mr Ertegun saw Paolo as "a great soul singer and kid in touch with the legacy of Atlantic and Stax artists."
You can also see why The Rolling Stones got Paolo to support them in 2006. The 19-year-old probably had the indescribable spark that they had when they first started off in the 60s. Paolo recalls Jagger coming into the dressing room one night and asking: "Where's the Italian? What? You're f***ing Scottish? If I'd known that I wouldn't have booked you!"
None other than Tom Jones, who is one of the great British soul voices along with the aforementioned Mr Jagger, said two years ago that when he watched Paolo on The Jay Leno Show his immediate reaction - like most of us to Paolo - was: "'Wow, this is a good band'. It was like the Kings of Leon, southern rock. I thought 'I wonder where this kid's from, he must be from the South somewhere'. And then when Jay Leno says 'That was great', Paolo says 'Thank you very much.' and I thought 'he's f***ing Scottish!' So it's great."
Paolo's youth in Paisley, Scotland, where his father had a chip shop, gave him a grounding that has obviously stood to him. "It was grey, but Santa always came. My parents worked very hard for me and my sister. I think we were quite ignorant about la dolce vita, what life might have been like in Italy. I remember I wanted to be Zorro, but I also wanted to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I obviously had ideas above my station."
As Joe Dolce once sang in the truly awful, cod-Italian, Shaddap You Face