Late 2019, and Jack Savoretti finds himself marvelling at a marvellous year. Months of rapturously received shows across the world; a triumphant, sold-out Wembley Arena homecoming; collaborations with artists as diverse as Kylie, Mika and Sigma; and an album that, since its March release, has sold in old-fashioned numbers – Singing to Strangers has shifted over 120,000 copies, making it emphatically one of the break-out albums of the year.
And now, such is the joyful momentum – not to mention his full-flowing creativity – that Savoretti is releasing a new version of his sixth record. But this is no three-b-sides-and-a-Live-in-Pompeii-version-of-the-big-single cash-in repackage rip-off. Singing To Strangers: Special Edition features fully 10 new tracks, including smart collaborations, innovative reimaginings, a brand new single – and a Christmas song to boot.
“I didn’t want this to feel like another album, nor just some outtakes,” insists Savoretti. “It has to feel like its own thing, and also be a step along the way to the next album. So that gives you some creative liberties. I want people to go: ‘Wait, what? He’s doing what with who now?’”
Eighteen months ago, Jack Savoretti was in a similar mindset, albeit one that didn’t have a rapturous Wembley Arena show in its rearview mirror. Pondering his next move, he figured the only way was… if not up, then sideways with a smile, a twinkle and a flourish.
After all, the English-Italian singer-songwriter had released a fourth album, Written In Scars (2015), that reached the Top Ten a full year after its release, a performance of "Catapult" on The Graham Norton Show, well, catapulting the record into the upper reaches of the charts.
Then it was straight into fifth album, Sleep No More (2016), which “kept us on the road for three to four years, including a John Legend European support tour.
“It was a very bonding time,” Savoretti recalls. “We were a support band again, and it brought us all back down to earth. And we thought: this is fun! We were done by nine every night, so we had dinner, a few bottles of wine, no stress, not much promo. Only for half an hour a day were we important!” he laughs.
“And it made me decide one key thing: I want to make an album with all these guys on stage.”
As he began writing, this artist raised in Europe by parents with multinational roots had cause to give thanks to his heritage.
“I started listening to lot of Charles Aznavour,” he says of the French legend who died last year. Savoretti also began digging in les crates for the French,
Spanish and Italian music from the Fifties and Sixties – and with which, on tour, he regularly entertains his band.
“Back then there was proper European music, and that has always inspired me. And the main thing about it was these massive orchestral productions meeting rock’n’roll from the UK and America. You’d have an Italian crooner – who predated Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin – backed by incredible orchestras, but also with these incredible rock’n’roll-era drummers and bass players. And that gives you Serge Gainsbourg doing Melody Nelson, and Patty Bravo and Ennio Morricone in Italy.”
And so a thought came: “Why aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t we mixing these different styles of music?”
“So I bought a piano and I wrote a song called "Going Home". I figured out what I wanted to talk about: where I am now. I’ve grown up. That doesn’t meant to say I don’t have demons, or that it’s easy. But it’s no longer me against the world. Now it’s me in the world – and how do I mould it to how I want?”
Writing "Going Home", an explosive piano-man song tracing a resonant line from Gainsbourg to Newman (Randy) to Joel (Billy), did something else, too.
“It made me realise I miss romantic music. And starting writing with the piano took me more to that world – and helped me be more theatrical, melodic and, yeah, romantic. And a bit back to the old-fashioned sense of the word: songwriter.”
So, to Rome – where else? – and to the studio of Sr. Morricone himself, located in the basement of a huge church. But in terms of atmosphere, they took nothing for granted, with Savoretti and his band adopting a dress code that might be best described as jazz-formal.
“Look at all these pictures of Chet Baker and Miles Davis and those musicians,” he marvels. “They’re not in jeans and T-shirts. No matter how hot it was, I guarantee they turned up to work in a suit and tie, then maybe ended up in shirt sleeves. So, when in Rome, let’s think about Marcello Mastroianni and Fellini. Let’s show up, dressed with all that in mind.”
That feeling – classy yet relaxed, classic and modern – was captured in "Candlelight", which Savoretti describes as “the calling card of the album”.
"Candlelight" – co-written with Joel Potts (Athlete, Ezra) and which opens Singing To Strangers – is an intoxicating, swooning rhapsody of strings, choral harmonies, sinuous bass and guitar, and Savoretti’s woody, heartfelt rasp.
It’s followed by the elegant sashay of "Love Is On The Line", Savoretti skewing his writing round string parts scored by Davide Rosso (Coldplay, Goldfrapp).
“I thought that was a cool idea: to write over string parts rather than the other way round,” Savoretti explains. “Also, melodically strings can give you the courage to go somewhere vocally you might not otherwise go. They give it gravitas.”
Rosso also helped create "What More Can I Do?" - a coolly funky cri de coeur which Savoretti, unabashed, describes as “the song I’ve always wanted to write. The main melody was taken by the power of these strings. It was the same philosophy and approach for 'Love Is On The Line' – and 'Singing To Strangers'.”
The title track, “a very simple song on the guitar”, luxuriates in an echoey space, and acts as an interlude, or sorbet, at the heart of an album of sense-tingling richness. And that title, he adds, is a nod to the realpolitik aspect of his life as a musician.
“That’s my job: I sing to strangers. That is what I’ve spent most of my life doing. And I think that was my way of validating my career, saying: this is how we got here. And also to anyone else out there: you want to do this? Go sing to strangers!”
Doing that, of course, requires more intimacy. Singing to friends and family and fans: they’re already onside, so you can, to some extent, sing anything. Strangers need convincing, touching, connection.
That’s a challenge fully met on the album’s two “star” collaborations. "Touchy Situation" is a co-write with Bob Dylan – coincidentally, Savoretti’s first gig was Dylan in a half empty hockey stadium in Zurich in 1999, aged 15. Via management connections, he was sent an unused Dylan lyric and invited to write accompanying music.
“As excited as I was, I was terrified,” he laughs. “I sat at the piano and my wife was like: ‘Don’t fuck this up. Don’t cheese this up! Just don’t think about it – sit at the piano and just play.’”
It was good advice. As soon as he snag the word “touchy” his fingers instinctively stabbed at the keys. “I thought, let’s musically take this literally.”
From the sublime to the… more sublime. The beauteous duet "Music’s Too Sad Without You" was originally written for Kylie Minogue’s Golden album, was given new life on the original extended version of Singing With Strangers – and lives anew once more on this edition of the album.
“She sing-whispers the song,” he beams, still transported by the experience, “having taken it by the cojones and made it her own. I fell in love with that side of Kylie on her duet with Nick Cave on 'Where The Wild Roses Grow'.”
There’s more movie lore, and movie love, in "Youth In Love", a glorious throwback disco homage to the Oscar-winning Call Me By Your Name.
“One of the most romantic stories I’ve seen in a long time,” sighs Savoretti, “and a film that reminded me how wonderful romance is. This director, Luca Guadagnino, has brought back what Roberto Benigni did with Life Is Beautiful. Romance is not just depressing; it’s happy, it’s good. It’s not just a broken rose and blood.
“But also: that film’s setting was the Italy I grew up in, having holidays there every year in the Eighties. I had those tiny shorts! And the Superga shoes!
For the Special Edition, Savoretti turns up the disco excitement by inviting old friend Mika to duet with him on a new version of "Youth In Love" – a favour he returned on Mika’s own 2019 album.
“Mika and I have similar cultural backgrounds, a similar cocktail of European influences,” he explains, “so knew he would understand exactly where I was coming from.”
There’s an equally innate, if more unlikely, understanding on new track "You And Me As One". It’s a propulsive yet soulful collaboration with dance producers Sigma. They and the singer-songwriter immediately hit it off, and started writing on the spot. Savoretti grabbed his classical guitar, the duo had a beat in their head, “and within three hours we had this song. And I think it shows the best of both of us.”
Just released as a single, it will be followed in the new year by sparkling pop song "Closer". Savoretti wrote it with hitmaker Steve Mac (Ed Sheeran, Ina Wroldsen) three years ago, but it didn’t fit on the cohesive mood Savoretti sought for Singing To Strangers.
“But the repack is the perfect moment to get out this song about the struggle of the touring musician, about being far from home. That’s the same with Christmas Morning,” he continues of yet another new track, a poignant, strings-laden ballad “which I wrote for my children. I wanted to reassure them that, even if I’m far away, I’ll be there on Christmas morning. I wanted them to have this song they could listen to every Christmas.”
As 2019 draws to a close, Jack Savoretti is, once more, headed out on tour: 22 UK dates, one month, all sold out. Pressed to explain why his sixth album has struck such a wide, warm, winning chord, he thinks it comes to that original idea: romance.
“I wanted to write and record an atmospheric album, that had a certain, sound, smell, feel to it. Which is the main reason we went to Rome. And in doing that, we tapped into something that people were lacking: romance. People listen to this album in the way, say, they’d go for one night in Paris. It allows an escape – which is especially important in the times we’re living in. You watch the news for five minutes and you want to get the hell out!”
Here, then, again, anew, is Jack Savoretti’s masterpiece, offering love and warmth and togetherness in cold and fractious times. He began the year singing to strangers. He’s ending it singing to friends, hundreds of thousands of them.
The special edition of Singing To Strangers is released December 6th on BMG