Forest Live 2019: Jack Savoretti talks ahead of Cannock Chase show
He’ll be on the Graham Norton show tomorrow – actually, by the time you read this, he’ll already have been on. And he’s delighted to be talking once more to the lynchpin of TV and radio chat shows, given that Graham Norton helped Jack Savoretti break through to the mainstream.
It was a TV show for Savoretti’s fourth album, Written In Scars, that brought him to a wider audience and helped propel his record to Gold status.
Savoretti has only fond memories of that. “I remember it well,” he says. “We got a Graham Norton TV show for Written In Scars. After that, a year-and-a-half after its release, it went back into the Top 10. It was so nice to have so much attention, so we kept it going. The next record, Sleep No More, came very soon after and they are two very similar bodies of work.”
But before tomorrow’s radio broadcast to the nation with the bearded Mr Norton, there’s the small matter of a chat with Weekend. And there’s much to discuss.
Savoretti is back with his eagerly-awaited sixth studio album, Singing To Strangers, which was released yesterday, having been recorded in Rome at Ennio Morricone’s studio in mid-2018 with producer Cam Blackwood. Alongside writing with Kylie Minogue, Savoretti co-wrote a track with Bob Dylan, titled Touchy Situation.
It’ll be followed by a run of big gigs later this year, including a headline at Forest Live, at Cannock Chase, on July 7.
The Forest Live gigs will see Savoretti and his band play material from his new album including latest single and BBC Radio 2’s Record Of The Week Candlelight, alongside classic Savoretti tracks.
Savoretti can’t yet think that far ahead. The release of his record has been his leading priority and with the whirlwind of media commitments he’s not had time to consider his summer diary.
“Right now that seems very hard to picture, though I’m looking forward to festival season. Last year we bowed out of festival season because we’d done five years in a row. I’m glad we did that.
“And I’m looking forward to Forest Live because it’s always more fun when it’s our show. Every show is pressure, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just so nice to be getting headline slots. It’s nice that they trust us enough to do that and hopefully people show up and enjoy it.”
Savoretti’s life has changed profoundly since he started playing guitar. The singer-songwriter was born to an Italian father and half-German, half-Polish mother. He grew up in London, before moving to Switzerland and moving around Europe as a child.
As a teenager, he developed an interest in poetry and would sit beneath a tree and write, his head ever in the clouds. His mother encouraged him to make the most of that interest and presented him with a guitar so that he could set his words to music. And then the floodgates opened and he’s not stopped writing since. He views his music and lyrics as a form of communion with the world; it’s the way he interacts.
He duetted with Shelly Poole on her album, Hard Time for the Dreamer, in 2005, before releasing his debut single a year later. Far from being a major breakthrough, it was simply the start of a long, hard road.
That single barely scratched the chart, reaching number 90 before disappearing without trace. The follow-up, Dreamers, was less successful, reaching 123 then sinking like a stone. It was, however, spotted by Corinne Bailey Rae, who invited Savoretti to perform with her on her European tour. And gradually word spread of the talented singer-songwriter. His debut album, Between the Minds, was released in 2007 and soon Savoretti was making waves.
It wasn’t until Written In Scars – his fourth record – that Savoretti broke through in a meaningful way.
“I did five or six years on the road with Written In Scars and Sleep No More. And after that I needed a change. I left London, my second child was born and I decided to do something different. I moved to the English countryside where I was suddenly the guy from out of town.”
Relocating to the countryside had the unexpected effect of reminding Savoretti of his Italian heritage.
“I became very attached to a lot of things in my roots. I started to get in touch with my Italian side as I realised where I was from. This is my life now, my children and wife are English, but I am proud of my heritage. I want to show people the side that I think is the best part of my heritage.”
His new record, Singing To Strangers, does just that. “The title, Singing to Strangers, is a reminder of what I do. But the reason I do that is more important than the fact of doing it. I sing to strangers because I hope they feel something and connect. If I’m playing live, we meet as strangers and leave as friends. That’s what I do.”
Savoretti’s career has been tough. He’s put in the hard yards, spending years on the road when he could barely get arrested. He’s played to half-empty clubs then returned the following year, watching as the rooms have gradually filled.
“I think resilience, patience and experience are really important. That’s just what we’ve been forced to do. I’d have loved it to be easier at times. But I wouldn’t really change anything. I’m surrounded by many people I love and it takes time to find them.”
The concept of #TeamSavoretti is enormously important to the performer. He’s not merely on the road with people who play or sing well – he’s on the road with people who have his back, people who are supportive and people who will put themselves on the line.
“I think once you start picking the right people you create that strong community. Others protect you and everyone looks out for each other. It’s not you against them, it’s about people looking out for each other. When we’re away from home, touring, we tell each other how we feel, whether things aren’t so good or whether things are amazing. You have to learn to listen and be able to take it. Building that team is one success I’m very proud of.”
Savoretti returned to our radios, TVs and streaming devices last year with his Kylie duet, Music’s Too Sad Without You, which featured on her well-received Golden album. And he also found himself working with Bob Dylan, when the icon emailed unfinished lyrics for their collaboration, Touchy Situation.
Savoretti felt intimidated to receive the email from Dylan. He turned to his wife, Jemma Powell, to share the moment. “I was with my wife in the kitchen and she said: ‘Don’t f*** this up.’
“She said, ‘Yeah, not everyone gets Bob Dylan lyrics in their email, you better make this good.’
“And then I felt really pressured as, whatever I was doing to it, it sounded like a Dylan track, and I thought, ‘This is silly’, so I decided not to listen to anyone and make it my song.”
That took place in Oxfordshire, a place that Savoretti has made his home. “It’s beautiful. It’s 90 minutes from London at the feet of the Cotswolds. Being there has made me fall in love with England all over again and see a side I didn’t know before.
“I do feel different so in terms of the way I interact with people, my political views or even just what I like to eat and drink, it’s different. It’s funny. I’ll do something and people will comment and it seems weird because there is that slight difference. But I find that fun and my Italianness makes me proud. All the things they are pointing out that are different are characteristics that I’m very proud of. I’m not planning to change.”
Savoretti has led a remarkable life – as did his grandparents. They hid in the mountains near Genoa, Italy during the Second World War. His grandfather was posthumously recognised by the city as being the head of the partisan movement that freed Genoa and that area of Italy from fascism. Subsequently a street in Genoa has been named in his memory. Savoretti remains staunchly European and has a house on Formentera in the Balearic Islands. He is married to British actress Jemma Powell, best known for a range of TV and theatre work, from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to Foyle’s War and The Cherry Orchard. Understandably, he misses the domestic bliss he shares with Powell and their two kids when touring takes him away.
“Live work and writing are two very different worlds. I love being with my kids and being at home. It’s tough to go away. But I never really think about that. I love being with my boys but I love touring too. Then again, I hate being away from my kids. The key is to find the right balance. I don’t like to over-tour, I don’t like to over-write.
“Working like this is pretty relentless but it’s good relentless. Hey, I’m not complaining. As long as I work hard I’ll never have a proper job.”
While Savoretti’s biggest audience is in the UK, he’s become increasingly popular across Europe, particularly in Switzerland and Italy. He’s thrilled that his reputation has developed in Italy and enjoys playing there as often as possible.
“We work a lot in Italy and that’s blossomed. I’ve learned a lot about the country by doing that. There’s many things I’d love to change about Italy but there’s also so much to fall in love with.
“The people, not to sound cheesy and cliché, demand a good quality of life. That’s what’s important to them. Sometimes, the way people are looks crazy and way out of order. But that’s what people do. They will put food and love first, or friendship, work is way in the back. It’s very different to the UK. Not every culture prioritises quality of life the way the Italians do. There, everybody works hard but their priority is wellbeing and a good life. Life has to be beautiful and wonderful and lived to the full. I love that and admire the Italians’ stubbornness in not letting go.”
Unsurprisingly, Savoretti would like to spend more time in Italy. He’s keen not to simply work there, but to take time out and travel across different parts of the country. That, however, isn’t likely to happen any time soon. With a new record in the offing, a series of summer dates and more besides, he’s too busy to think about downtime.
“I’d love to spend more time in Italy and introduce my kids to that way of life a lot more.” One day, one day.
Savoretti has come a long way from the barren years of playing to poorly-attended venues and being lazily touted as ‘the new Paolo Nutini’. He’s firmly established and looking forward to his third big chart hit with the release of his latest album. While summer promises much as he heads around the UK to play to tens of thousands of fans. The man who once supported Ed Sheeran on tour looks set to enjoy a slice of Sheeran-sized success. 2019 may well belong to him.
Savoretti’s not thinking that way, however. He’s switched off from his present record and is keen to make the most of time with his family before hitting the road once more.
“I’ve definitely switched off and closed the box after Singing To Strangers. This is the closest I’ve come to a concept album. Now I really want to live these songs and I’m looking forward to the live stuff. But it won’t be long until I’m on to the next thing.”
Lucky us. Lucky, lucky us.