If you think you know Paolo Nutini, think again. His 2.3 million selling 2006 debut album, ‘These Streets’, established the young Scotsman as a leading light of singer-songwriters. Paolo was the biggest selling male artist in 2009. His extraordinary follow-up album ‘Sunny Side Up’ has been a long-standing member of the Top 10 since its release in June 2009 and has already sold 2 million copies around the worldwide. It’s currently the second biggest selling album of 2010 and it’s been at No.1 three times already.
‘Sunny Side Up’ collected the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for Best Album 2010. Paolo was nominated for Best Album and Best Male at the 2010 BRIT Awards. And, at the Irish Meteor Awards, ‘Sunny Side Up’ was also the winner of Best International Album and Paolo was nominated for Best International Male. Paolo has also played two Royal Albert Hall shows in Spring 2010, the BBC Radio 1 BIG Weekend and has a European Summer Tour, including the major UK Festivals.
'Sunny Side Up', written by Paolo and produced by Paolo and Ethan Johns, is a richly idiosyncratic, passionate and uplifting musical journey that sounds so organic and timeless it could have been hewn from the hills. From the exuberant ragtime of 'Pencil Full Of Lead' to the rolling soul of 'Coming Up Easy', the heart-tearing Stax balladeering of first single 'Candy' to the joyous folky singalong 'Simple Things'; it marks Paolo's emergence as a truly individual artist, following his own wayward yet inspirationally musical path.
Paolo's musical journey has been quite unique. He recalls hearing The Drifters 'When My Little Girl Is Smiling' aged five: "I was just looking at the CD player, and I'm so happy. Nobody's tickling me, nobody's making me laugh, I'm just happy." It was all downhill from there. "I latched onto singing as the one thing I could do." He dropped out of school at 16, singing, roadieing and working as a studio engineer. He moved to London and signed to Atlantic Records in 2005, shortly after his 18th birthday.
Paolo's debut was recorded on the hoof. "We were overdubbing the last guitar part 20 minutes before we had the first gig of the tour. I felt privileged to be there but I didn't really know what kind of album I was making." After two years on the road, he really wanted to focus. So he started last year by moving into a residential studio with his band for two months of exploratory sessions, which then led onto another six months of recording.
Paolo's musical confidence had grown, particularly with the support of the late Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, who took Paolo under his wing. Paolo was invited to be a part of charity and tribute shows in honour of Ahmet, supporting Led Zepplin in the O2 Arena and appearing at Carnegie Hall in New York and The Montreaux Jazz Festival, and singing with many of his childhood idols. "I found myself onstage with George Duke, Buddy Williams was playing the kit, Cornell Dupree on lead electric, singing Ray Charles 'What'd I Say' with Les McCann, Soloman Burke and Ben E King. To be welcomed into this circle, that was amazing. I was never made to feel like a kid who was getting into something but that I was part of what Atlantic was. I got to share a stage with Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock. I got to do 'Strawberry Letter' and Lee Retenour was playing the solo, just like he did on the Brothers Johnson version. It was bizarre. Nobody ever sat me down and gave me a lesson but I learned so much just watching these guys. They're legends, who have made such a wealth of important music. You think you know who they are and you've got it all nailed but you meet them and they are all human. And you get to see there is no blueprint for anything."
Paolo had sung with The Rolling Stones at the Isle of Wight in 2007, duetting with Mick Jagger on the Robert Johnson classic 'Love In Vain'. "At the rehearsal, Mick was like, 'I hope we can remember it, it’s been years since we played that tune.' They had a Travel Lodge onsite as their rehearsal space, the Stones were all there in this little room and I get given a mike. Keith plays the E when he was supposed to go to the A and Ronnie goes, '... Not in front of Paolo!' It was good vibes."
Paolo's growing confidence and deep love of music is reflected in ‘Sunny Side Up’, an album that is almost unfashionably eclectic, reaching deep into the roots of modern music. It is strange to hear a 23 year old, 21st century pop star raving about Cab Calloway, Wynonie Harris and Louis Armstrong. "If I could lay it down and give you my favourite vocalists, it’s those old ragtime swing crazy mad cats. These old songs are nice and sweet but scratch them and you get a different perspective. That's what I wanted."
“I find it easier to communicate emotions while singing, ‘cos I feel I go out of myself, I've not got a guard up. I feel music is a great vehicle for any man, whether he's making it or just listening to it, to portray his vulnerable side. I found an honesty in me, that I like, ‘cos I feel like I owe it to myself a little bit to say what I feel. It's OK to be wrong. In the end, it's just a song."
One song particularly close to his heart is 'Simple Things', a cheery paean to his father that sounds like it could have been written and recorded anytime in the last hundred years. "My dad lives a pretty simple life. Since he was sixteen, he's worked in a chip shop, all day, every day, 40 odd years in front of the same mirror, the same fryer. But then to see the joy he gets out of coming home to see us, of just sitting on the couch with my mum on a Sunday afternoon, after he gets to go and ride his motorbike. He's helped me really appreciate what can be perceived as happiness, just out of sheer consistency. He's never changed. You grow up and everybody's trying to be cool and to me that word cool is totally misconstrued. My dad is the coolest guy I know, simply because it’s the last thing he reckons himself to be. It’s a big time ode to my father, and owed in both senses of the word. The feeling I get knowing that he listens to it, and loves it, to me that's what the whole idea of making music in the first place starts spiralling from."
He says the songs of 'Sunny Side Up' are already changing the way he performs. "It's like: 'Get it going, you're at the front of those guys for a reason! Get the band feeling what you're feeling, and then the audience will all feel it, and that's where I'm getting.’ This record's called 'Sunny Side Up' for a reason. I want to keep it positive, ‘cos for me music is more than just music ... It's a power!"