When he was winning over the nation’s housewives with Last Request (misnomer much?), bonny lad Paolo Nutini was merely 19 years of age. His voice belied his sprightly age, and yet no doubt what hooked young and not-so-young girls alike was his youthful good looks. This led to a succession of radio-friendly songs that had a bit of soul – well, he did open his mouth after all – but knew that the most financially viable route was, of course, pop. A potentially risky move then that Paolo 2.0, into his third decade at last, has gone the unpredictable route and opted to work with Ethan Johns, the man behind Kings of Leon and Ryan Adam’s best records.
Still looking like a heartthrob and drawing catcalls from the largely female crowd, it is clear within moments of Paolo taking to the Wulfrun stage that, despite looking like he’s stumbled here from a modelling agency, there’s a new maturity that refuses to go the easy ‘squeaky clean’ route. Backed by a band that, when all members are playing, is seven men busy, Paolo proceeds to knock it out of the park, delivering a set that is not afraid to showcase its killer weapon: that voice which always had so much potential, but is now delivered with a newfound rawness and, in choosing to revel in his Scottish brogue, is full of character.
The ballads are still present of course, and Last Request predictably sees the backing players leave so Paolo can go for gold. The night is best though when said backing players return and, harmonica and sax a-go-go, we get to hear this new Paolo sound off over songs that match the voice. In between sipping on beers as freely as Winehouse, he gurns mercilessly – and fantastically – along to Stax-worthy tracks from new album Sunny Side Up that show off Paolo’s timeless influences. He’s quick to ask the audience if anyone saw him on Jools Holland last week, obviously proud to be performing new songs like Coming Up Easy and 10 Out of 10 that bear the hallmark of that show’s high quality.
Although his transformation may win new fans and the steadfast will remain charmed, for now he’s still caught between two different worlds, as evidenced by the choice to close with his love song to trainers, New Shoes, and Jenny Don’t Be Hasty (which, of course, my own dear mother demands by shouting ‘JENNY!’ at the top of her lungs). Although it’s a fun ending, it’s a world away from the bluesy overtones and ska-tinged celebrations of what has come before. After demonstrating his own old-skool soul credentials, James Morrison might have to have a rethink when Sunny Side Up lands on June 1. Heck, Ray LaMontagne is safe for now but better be wary of this young pretender and his brand of yummy Candy.