Arts

Jack Savoretti: 'I don't think about freedom any more – I think about staying alive'

Guitar-wielding troubadour Jack Savoretti has been a stalwart of the pub and cafe circuit for nearly 15 years. But recent times have seen the Londoner of Italian heritage rediscovering his European roots in music and playing the largest gig of his career

Jack Savoretti scored his first number one album with Singing to Strangers this year
Alex Green

GIOVANNI 'Jack' Savoretti's career has been marked by towering highs and seemingly impassable lows. At 20 he earned a deal with Natalie Imbruglia's manager and a seat in front of some of the industry's most high-powered music executives, who labelled him the "next big thing".

But within five years he had split from his label, deciding that there was too great a gap between what they wanted him to sound like and the dreamy folk music he wanted to create. The result was a lawsuit and spiralling financial woes.

At the same time his wife, actress Jemma Powell, was expecting their first baby.

It was a dark time and Savoretti was only 25.

2019, however, has been kinder. Savoretti scored his first number one album with Singing to Strangers, collaborated with Kylie and Bob Dylan and played to 12,500 at Wembley Arena.

He finally began to explore his Italian heritage – his family hails from Genoa – in his music and relinquished his rakish troubadour image in favour of something more befitting a man in his 30s with two children, living a quiet life in an Oxfordshire village.

"I hope it wasn't a once in a lifetime moment," he says in warm, deep voice.

"But it definitely was something – the old cliche – that I wouldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams.

"It was interesting to see the crowd at Wembley. When I walked on to the stage I remember it being quite terrifying, I remember being quite overwhelmed by the whole thing, and then when I walked on I felt like the audience felt exactly the same way.

"I felt like our crowd was looking around thinking: 'How did we get here?'

"That immediately settled me in and made me realise that we had all gotten there together.

"It became this intimate setting of basically myself and a lot of our audience, who have been with us for a long time. It was a moment of 'Looks like we are doing alright'.

"You got to some shows, especially at Wembley, and people are there for one song. It was really that everybody here was invested."

Savoretti speaks in long, winding sentences, is humorous and thoughtful, often pausing for thought.

Singing to Strangers, his sixth album, evokes the tobacco-soaked sound of Europe's crooners: Charles Aznavour, Serge Gainsbourg and Jacques Brel.

It marks a major shift. After 15 years of grind he has a fanbase large enough to fill Wembley Arena and funding great enough to record in Ennio Morricone's Rome studio.

It wasn't always like this. Savoretti built his reputation on the toilet circuit, playing bars, cafes and pubs across the UK, sometimes to a small crowd, sometimes to an empty room.

He believes those years were instrumental in his development as both a live performer and a song-writer – but wouldn't want to return to them.

"I wouldn't change it for the world but I hope to god I never have to do it again. Put it that way," he says with a throaty chuckle.

"It taught me everything I know but it was gruelling, man, it's not glamorous. It's hard work. I used to come back from tour with less money than before I left. It wasn't good. Those circuits were gruelling, they were trying. You're not doing it the way you fantasise about doing it."

Savoretti started young. By 16, he had caught the attention of labels, and by 18 he was signed to De-angelis Records, a small independent label set up by Anne Barrett and Eric Ramon.

Despite his own fortunes, he fears for today's stars (Ariana Grande or Billie Eilish for example) who are thrust into the limelight at ever-younger ages.

"I think getting into music and becoming famous are two different things," he says after a lengthy pause.

"There is never a right age for fame, if you ask me. I don't think you are ever ready for fame – unless that is something you really want.

"That's a whole different game."

"But getting into music, I would say, and I say this to my kids, whatever industry it is, whether it is music of banking, get in as quick as you can and make as many mistakes as you can."

At 35, Savoretti is by no means old. But he feels he is edging close enough to middle-age that his priorities have changed – along with his taste in music.

Instead of the folk-rock and flag-waving songs of the Summer of Love, he is turning to the European crooners of his parent's generation. These voices influenced his most recent album, as well as a peppy collaboration with Mika called Youth & Love.

"Most of the music I discovered as a teenager was 60s American music," he explains.

"But I don't know if it's with age or with me changing too and not being a young kid writing poetry under a tree, getting stoned, but now things have changed I identify more listening to a Charles Aznavour album than I do listening to the Eagles right now.

"I feel like I got that out of my system. Those were different times. I lived my dream of the troubadour and the guitar, looking for freedom and all that. I feel like I got there. I feel like I found my freedom.

"Now I've found my freedom I feel like I have to come to terms with what that means, and what being a man these days means – what being an adult these days means.

"Where I find a lot of comfort and a lot of answers to these questions is in the music of Jacques Borels, Charles Aznavour.

"These incredibly honest depictions of struggle and love and life and death. These are all the things I think about now.

"I don't think about freedom anymore. I think about staying alive... and being a good father and a good husband."

:: Singing to Strangers is out now.

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