Jack Savoretti’s latest album is the essence of European holidays
May 17, 2022
Jack Savoretti tried to inspire his children through music (Image: GloucestershireLive)
“It was all written in lockdown,” London-born Jack, 38, tells me. “I was going crazy! I realised how much I missed travelling and also that I couldn’t give my children the memories I’d had as a kid, travelling around the Med; so I tried to bring that into their lives through music. “I wanted to create the perfect soundtrack for the best holiday we couldn’t go on.”
It worked. Savoretti’s sunny songs send you on a musical magic carpet to Italy’s white sand beaches. It’s more than just an album for raspy-voiced Jack – it’s a mission statement.
“The European style of music is never really respected,” the singer says. “There is no Grammy for European music.”
“There’s Eurovision…That’s more about TV than music. Europiana is our answer to Americana. I set out to retain the elegance and charm of our music and the feelings it invokes.”
Born Giovanni Galletto-Savoretti in Westminster to an Italian father and a half-German, half-Polish mother, Jack left England aged seven and grew up in Lugano, in the Italian part of Switzerland, where all kinds of music floated his gondola.
He namechecks Luca Barbarossa, Sam Cooke, Charles Aznavour, Marvin Gaye and Crosby, Stills & Nash. “The music I listened to never defined me,” he says. “My friends took the way they dressed from their music. Not me. For me, it was cool to listen to everything.”
Jack wrote poetry before learning guitar at 15. “I still don’t consider myself a musician,” he says. “I can’t read or write music but I use music to tell a story.”
Europiana Encore is out now (Image: Jack Savoretti)
His first song was also the first poem he wrote – My Favourite Season, “About Autumn; I wrote about a carpet of red leaves…it was homework. I wrote it on the way to school and got a good grade for it – okay, a B, which was good for me. Then my mum said, ‘Why don’t you try putting it to music?’.”
Ingrid’s advice changed Jack’s life.
Europiana is his fourth top ten album, and the second to reach Number One. His first “pinch me” moment came in July 2018 when he performed Music Too Sad’s Without You in the beautiful Teatro La Fenice in Venice.
“I was on stage with Kylie Minogue singing a song we’d written together in this stunning theatre; my wife and father were in the royal box…it was magical.
“If you’d told the teenage me that one day I’d be doing that. I would never have believed you.”
An earlier song-writing collaboration with Bob Dylan was less glamorous.
“I’d love to say we’d met in a café in Marrakesh but it was a management thing. His manager told my manager that Bob had written unused lyrics and asked if I’d be interested in setting them to music.
Jack performs during The Big Feastival (Image: PA)
“To my surprise two poems arrived. One [which became Nobody ’Cept You] felt as if Bob had been reading my mind.
“I played around with it on guitar for a few days and my wife said, ‘It sounds too much like Dylan, try it on the piano’ and that’s when it became my song. Then I had to wait two weeks for him to give him the okay.”
It’s on Jack’s fourth album, Written In Scars. “On the label it says ‘Bob Dylan/Jack Savoretti’,” he beams.
He drafted in Nile Rodgers for Europiana’s Who’s Helping Who. “Nile singlehandedly changed the sound of European music,” he says. “He lived in Rome in the 70s and played their equivalent of Studio 54 – all the Italian bands wanted to learn to play disco, funk and soul; and the Spanish bands, even Julio Iglesias.
“Disco was different here. In the US, disco was part of the counter culture – the gay bar scene or the Afro-American scene. Here it was all about the glamour and about celebrating life.
“Niles said disco even sounded different played in the south of France than it did played in New York.
“I talked to him about the project. I wanted his blessing. He said, ‘You have a purpose, just do it!’.”
Jack performs on stage at Queen Margaret’s Union (Image: Getty)
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Jack lives in Oxfordshire with his wife, actress and artist Jemma Powell, and their three children; they also own a house in Formentera.
“We met at a place called The Station,” he says, his brown eyes sparkling. “It sounds romantic, but it was actually a pub in Latimer Road, west London. I was leaving, she came in – she was amazing…I thought I’d stay for one more… That was 17 years ago.”
For Jemma, her husband’s worst quality is his “identity crisis”.
“When I’m in England I feel very Italian – and in Italy I feel very English,” Jack admits. “I always feel like the guy from out of town. For her it’s frustrating; she says in Italy I become like Hugh Grant and in England I’m every Italian cliché going.
“She doesn’t speak as many languages as me so there’s part of me that she’ll never know – my secret life.”
Family is important to Jack. His father Guido, a shipping broker from Genoa, died just before Christmas.
“I got choked up on stage,” Jack says, momentarily quiet. “His dream was to be an actor – he played a Mexican in Zorro [the swashbuckling 1975 film] and had one line, ‘Where is the key?’, which became a family in-joke. He lived vicariously through my adventures.”
Jack’s grandfather Giovanni was the head of the local partisans fighting Mussolini’s fascists in World War II. “He was a war hero; he has roads named after him in Genoa,” he says proudly.
Young Jack spent two months a year in nearby Portofino, a picturesque fishing village. “I remember the music spilling out of piano bars while my sister and I waited for our parents…”
He talks fondly of singers like Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg and Patty Pravo.
Before mining his Continental roots, rakish Jack played dreamy folk, cutting his teeth in bars like The Cluny in Newcastle. “Most people play it once, I played it twenty times,” he says.
In contrast, his next gig is at the 3,000-seater Hampton Court Palace where there’s every chance his deep, warm voice – “a blend of honey and sandpaper” – romantic lyrics and matinee idol looks will trigger marriage proposals.
“It happens a lot,” he says. “I asked one guy why he’d proposed at my show and he said he’d wanted to take his girlfriend to Rome but this was cheaper.”
Jack poses in New York in 2010 (Image: Getty)
Falling out with his first label at 25 nearly ended his career but now his fanbase is growing faster than inflation.
Jack spent lockdown honing his skills on his Bechstein baby grand piano. “When I bought it was like buying a tuxedo that’s too small for you and you have to make it fit, my goal was to make the piano fit me; so, I learned a cover a day and played it over Instagram. I did 65, that’s how I got good. I’m still learning.
“I was going to write a poetry book but I had an affair with the piano instead. The piano seduced me.”
Europiana topped the charts last year. This month’s Encore re-boot adds six songs. “I wanted to give the album a second life because lockdown meant we couldn’t tour. We’d built the ship but we were stuck in port. Now we’re setting sail again.”
His 2022 UK dates sold out, but British festivals and European shows abound. Despite critical acclaim Jack suffers from imposter syndrome.
“I feel like somebody’s going to figure me out,” he says. “The only time I believe is when we play live.
“The only reason we get to do this is because of the people who buy tickets. I never forget that.”