Jack Savoretti takes us on a guided tour of his new musical genre, Europiana

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

  • Published
Jack SavorettiImage source, Chris Floyd
Image caption,
The star's latest album is based on memories of childhood holidays in Portofino

"I'm a Mediterranean boy at heart," says singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti. "It's where I feel happiest."

But, stuck inside over the last year, he didn't have many chances to indulge that passion. So he started to daydream.

"Looking out the window wasn't enough anymore. So I had to create this kind of escapism - a holiday, a getaway, in my head."

As his mind drifted back to childhood memories of sun-kissed beaches and swimming off the Italian coast, he started to imagine a soundtrack - full of the sounds of Demis Roussos, Julio Iglesias, Gipsy Kings, Jacques Brel and Italian disco.

They're all artists he thinks the UK, with its strange aversion to foreign language music, has missed out on.

"Jacques Brel's Song Of Old Lovers - La Chanson Des Vieux Amants - to me it's the greatest love song ever. It's untouchable," he says. "And I've spent numerous nights after too many bottles of wine, translating it word for word for my friends.

"I got so sick and tired of doing that I decided to write my own versions of these French, Spanish, German, and Italian songs and make them in English."

The result is Europiana, the star's seventh album and the follow-up to his first UK number one, Singing To Strangers. He claims, rather boldly, that Europiana is an entirely new genre, drawing on his Swiss-Italian-British-American upbringing to create something unique.

"It's the music of my childhood summers, remade for today," he explains.

The album was created with his band in his Oxfordshire home last summer with the windows wide open. "The sun and fun seeped into the songs," he recalls.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Many of the album's songs were inspired by spending lockdown with his wife, Jemma Powell, and their children

The sonic palette will be familiar to anyone who's ever taken a package holiday or watched Eurovision - albeit with a touch more class. But, whatever you do, don't expect Savoretti to throw his name in the ring for next year's Song Contest.

"No, because Eurovision doesn't represent what's happening in Europe musically," he says. "It represents what's happening in Europe on television.

"It really highlights how every country does showbusiness - but not music."

With that out of the way, we settle down to go through his new album, track-by-track, exploring the influences and experiences that make up Europiana.

1) I Remember Us

The album starts with the sound of Savoretti's wife and daughter singing a simple, naïve melody - setting up the album's themes of reconnecting with family.

"I would never have written this song, if we hadn't been forced to be at home together. For me, last year was really about rediscovering my wife and myself, as a couple and as lovers, as friends, as partners, as parents." (It must have gone well - the couple had a new baby daughter two months ago).

"Lockdown was suddenly this moment of 'Oh, I remember us','" he says. "And that was the seed for the rest of the album - because I already knew the sound and the setting. I just didn't know the characters in the film."

2) Secret Life

Image source, Chris Floyd
Image caption,
The singer says European music often has an innocence and naïveté that's missing from English-language songs

"The song is essentially about coming to terms with yourself, warts and all. Everybody has this little secret life. That doesn't mean it's riddled with sin - although it usually is!

With echoes of the Pet Shop Boys' It's A Sin, the song has a spoken word interlude where Savoretti and his wife, actress and painter Jemma Powell, whisper to each other: "I won't tell if you don't tell."

"That really threw my band," the singer laughs. "They were like 'Is that Jemma? Aren't you talking about your secret life?'. And I said 'why wouldn't she be a part of my secret life?'.

"Sometimes your lover might be your secret life. In my case, we have a shared experience we like to keep private. It doesn't necessarily mean you're hiding stuff."

3) Who's Hurting Who (ft Nile Rodgers)

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"Having Nile on board was so important, because he is the godfather of Europiana - and he didn't even know it.

"With Chic, Nile took disco-funk music, which was a quintessentially underground, African-American style in black clubs and gay club and made it mainstream in America.

"Then it was embraced by European artists - who didn't face the same struggles he faced. For them, it was glamorous, it was like a luxury item. It wasn't an underground thing, it was aspirational, and it created what I call Europiana. And without that, we wouldn't have had Daft Punk and Phoenix."

4) When You're Lonely

A song about missing someone when they're gone, and reminiscing about falling in love - with vocals from 80s pop legend John Oates, a squiggly synth solo and a splash of accordion for that continental touch.

"I don't know if I should say this, but in our relationship, distance has always made the heart grow fonder," says Savoretti. "We're so used to being apart, that we love coming back together. It's such a part of our relationship that not having that this year was interesting.

"Homeschooling was particularly tough. I did try to put my two cents in at the beginning - and then very quickly both my children and my wife realised that I was distracting more than anything.

"I was told to leave the room, basically."

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5) More Than Ever

Image source, Jack Savoretti
Image caption,
The singer was born in England, raised in Switzerland and Italy and partly educated in the US

"I literally say in the song, 'Looking back on all my memories with so much joy / Summers spent in Italy when I was a boy'. It's like the instruction manual of the album.

"I really love that concept of the narrator turning to the audience and explaining why they're listening."

A stripped-back ballad, the song consists solely of Savoretti's raspy voice and a sweeping grand piano. Does he feel any pressure when he has to sing with such sparse accompaniment?

"Not at all, I get off on that pressure, especially live. I enjoy the intimacy of that moment. It is terrifying, but when it works it's magic."

6) Too Much History

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"I did think of this album as a vinyl record, and this is the side two, the second half of the show. You're at a party in the south of France, on some yacht by some sea. You're a little bit sunburned, the salt's still on your skin, and you're having a first cocktail in the evening, and it's going to be a great night."

The lyrics are about spending time with the people who know you best, who have "seen the good and bad" and "remind me from where I came".

"Leaving London was really good for that," says the singer. "Because in London I knew a lot of people but I didn't have a lot of friends. I think in my 20s I was like 'Would you be my friend? Would you be my friend?'. You're a bit desperate - you're just trying to feel like you belong.

"Whereas, out here in the countryside, I realised I'm at an age where I've got a pretty damn good group already. I've got a pretty solid band of brothers."

7) Dancing In the Living Room

"Very early during lockdown, I realised that Covid was scaring my wife and scaring my kids. It was very macabre sitting every evening, watching how many people died. So I created this thing called Fabulous Fridays, which was a party every Friday night.

"We came up with a theme every week - so we had Italian night, we had Spanish night, we had French night, we had Mexican night. It was usually pretty cultural, but sometimes it was, like, The Greatest Showman night, and we went crazy. We literally had proper dance-offs in the living room.

"That's when I started rediscovering Europiana. because I started playing a lot of Gipsy kings, a lot of Boney M, a lot of Diana Ross, a lot of Chic. And my daughter called me out and said, 'Papa, why don't you make music like this?'."

8) Each And Every Moment

"The day before writing this, I learned to play Dreams by Fleetwood Mac - and that whole song only has two chords. So the next day I woke up and I was like, 'I'm gonna write a song with two chords, too.'

"I did it kind of as a joke - but I sent it to my manager and he was like 'this is possibly the best song you've ever written'."

9) The Way You Say Goodbye

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"This is the song I've always wanted to write, I can't hide it.

"I've always wanted to have a song where I could sit at a piano with a glass of wine and a cigarette and sing conversationally - almost like it's being made up as you go.

"It's my Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour moment. It's the olive in the martini glass. When you leave the club and you walk through the hotel lobby, this is what's playing."

10) Calling Me Back To You

"This was written with my old friend Gizmo Varillas. He's from the north of Spain, which is on the Atlantic, and I'm from the Mediterranean - and it's funny because all we do is talk about the sea.

"And so we wrote this song about a lighthouse, about the thing that draws us back. As someone who has travelled a lot, even though I was born in England, I sometimes feel like a foreigner.

"But the one place I do feel at home is by the sea. That gives me a sense of belonging, and so we wrote a song about that."

11) War Of Words

Image source, Getty Images
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The star plans to go on tour in September

"This is a bit of a lullaby - a song from a father to his children. What's that great line Thumper says in Bambi? If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.

"We are in a time right now where everybody is pretty vicious. All the hard work we've put into the last 100 years about becoming more civil has gone out the window, because we're able to comment on the internet without any repercussions, or seeing how it makes other people feel.

"So the song is saying be kind, a war of words is not the answer. After the year we've had, I wanted to end the album on something hopeful."

Bringing things full circle, the album closes with Savoretti's children singing the refrain: "Maybe love is still the answer."

"I was worried it would sound cheesy," he says, "but you can't be cynical when you hear them singing it."

"I just knew, this is how I want to end the album, this is how I want to end my career! If this is the last thing I do, I'm good.

"I genuinely get choked up every time I hear it."

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