T in the Park: Paolo Nutini
- Mark Robertson
- 9 July 2009
Paolo Nutini is a star in charge of his own destiny, arriving at this year’s T, flying high on his success. Mark Robertson gets an insight into life behind the scenes of an errant pop star.
Backstage, just before show time, a bevvy of women in their finery, a room littered with booze; a couple of hairy young men are hunched on a couch rocking out on a pair of unplugged guitars. It’s a Monday night.
So far so rock’n’roll, right? Well almost. Turns out the bevvy of women, are not quite wanton Motley Crüe groupies but actually Paolo Nutini’s PR person Mandy, Nutini’s long time girlfriend Teri, his mother and his aunt. To be fair, the gents sprawled on the couch are proper musos, sometime Nutini songwriting foils and Vipers guitarists Donny Little and Dave Nelson, who sit quietly warming up before the show. The booze? There’s some. At the news that the tonic water has finished, Mandy hastily creates a gin and ginger ale ‘cocktail’ as a substitute and passes them round.
There’s one thing missing here. Paolo Nutini. He’s in the next room, pressing flesh, signing competition goodies, doing meet and greets set up for this, the day his second album hits the shelves and browsers of a waiting world.
Around a dozen people are shoehorned into a room that would have made a perfectly serviceable hall cupboard; they part as the star of the show arrives, having finished his commitments for ten minutes. The conversation quickly turns to domestic adventures, the whole crew have returned from Italy and everyone is in high spirits. Also, there’s the small matter of the free concert that’s just about to happen.
1200 people are now ready to go inside the HMV Picture House, many of whom queued up outside HMV on Princes Street for up to 18 hours in advance of tickets being made available for this free show and signing session. The band depart the cupboard-y dressing room and we retire to the Picture House balcony to see them rattle through a furious, energised 60 minutes that showcases the new and reminds us of the ample charms of his gruff, but warm debut. The band’s elastic, driven sound is all simpering brass toots and harmonica wails over the rattling blues-rock heart. And then there’s that voice, putting the ‘ooooooo’ in crooooooon, Nutini is a singular vocal talent: part Al Green, part werewolf, and all good. This is an outfit that knows it’s past but puts it to good use.
Four weeks later, Nutini is on the phone from the middle of Glastonbury, he’s backstage trying to assemble a tent, with little success. ‘Its brand new but a bit bigger than I thought it would be, actually its huge.’
He goes on to tell of the month since we met last: mostly festivals, some good some bad, he declines to name names, ever the gentleman but froths (as much as the eternally laidback man can) about how nice Fleet Foxes were and how good their set was at an Italian event he played.
Nutini gets most animated still when he talks about the processes, how the songs on Sunny Side Up came together.
‘You’re constantly learning,’ he says of the writing and recording processes. ‘I learned a lot from Ken Nelson and putting together These Streets. What I’ve learned from Ethan [Johns, producer of Sunny Side Up], I can go and take onto another record and maybe use myself in the studio with someone else. The one thing that blew me away with Ethan Johns was he seems to be able to get something really special out of his vocalists. I mean listen to the stuff he’s done with say Kings of Leon and Ryan Adams, there’s technical skills in there but he just knows how to get you fired up to get the best out of you.’
This is the start of what will inevitably be two years of non-stop touring and promotion for Nutini and the Vipers. The Edinburgh show was the first of a dozen meet and greets that week, TV, radio, webchats – an international schedule that starts here only to fan out across the globe for the next two years.
This brings us back to something Donny LIttle said. ‘It’s easy for us [the band], we can just turn up, plug in and play, we’ll do whatever’s demanded of us, he [Nutini] has got the real work. It’s him that’s carrying the can.’
And he does it like a pro. His graft and front belie his tender years – he’s still only 22 – its been two hours already when I take my leave of the Picture House, and in that time, Nutini has been signing T Shirts, CDs, posters (but surprisingly few body parts), posing for pictures and chatting to the lucky 350 special wristband holders, who, aside from one suggesting she’d like to indulge in sexual congress with Nutini and Rod Stewart simultaneously, are all very well behaved. Word was he was still there 90 minutes later. Carrying the can. Something he sums up simply with ‘its all part of it. Its gotta be done. No one can do it for you.’
Its Nutini’s show, he’s the star, the focal point, th object of everyone’s attention, but he remains contentedly part of the gang, a crew, a surrogate family as tight as his own paternal group. A group respectful of him, amused, charmed and protective of him.
The subsequent Glastonbury shows where many and fruitful, bringing his music to a bigger audience than ever. And after all his talk of tents, the Glastonbury organisers gave him a tipi anyway. It’s not crazy to think that given Nutini’s current trajectory, that tent might not get much use any time soon.
Paolo Nutini plays the Main Stage, Sat 11 Jul.