Music reviews: Paolo Nutini & Paisley the Untold Story at Paisley Abbey

Paisley's annual multi-arts festival, The Spree, has gone big this year as part of the town's bid to become UK City of Culture in 2021. And it doesn't get much more epic than one of Paisley's most famous sons filling its awesome abbey with his devotional soul pop.

Paolo Nutini at Paisley Abbey as part of the Spree Festival
Paolo Nutini at Paisley Abbey as part of the Spree Festival

Paolo Nutini ****

Paisley the Untold Story ****

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Paisley Abbey

Paolo Nutini is an enthusiastic and articulate supporter of the bid. The night before this special show for 550 fans, raising funds for local projects, he supported his local record shop Feel the Groove with an even more intimate instore gig for an audience of 60, but the abbey environment gave him the spectacular canvas his music now deserves, painting the stone walls with a spellbinding lava lamp lightshow.

The one-time pop prodigy opened with a song by another former prodigy – Aztec Camera’s Somewhere in my Heart was delivered with sweetness and charisma on acoustic guitar before he was joined by his band, swollen with a horn section and string quartet who elevated this performance to the realms of the sacred.

Although the church acoustic didn’t favour a full band onslaught, Nutini still succeeded in taking us to church with the likes of Coming up Easy, the sultry Diana, a ravishing cover of Nature Boy and the impassioned soul sway of One Day.

Hometown and heritage were celebrated in a touching solo acoustic interlude, which encompassed the homesick sentiments of These Streets, the Robert Tannahill-inspired Wild Mountain Thyme and Italian ballad Guarda Che Luna performed in memory of Nutini’s grandfather, with mournful mariachi trumpet, as well as a new song, Radio, delivered as a simple plea with string accompaniment.

Nutini communed with the crowd during a freewheeling Pencil Full of Lead, testified “I’m home” during No Other Way, soared during a triumphant Iron Sky and went out as simply and disarmingly as he began, with a solo, acoustic bossa nova-flavoured Last Request.

The following night the abbey was full once again for Paisley the Untold Story, a thoughtful variety tribute to the town curated by Love and Money frontman James Grant, who delivered a classy pop tribute to the Paisley pattern called Twisted Tears.

Karen Matheson explored the Gaelic tradition among the Paisley bards, an excerpt from John Byrne’s Cuttin’ a Rug recalled the town’s recent gallus past, and assured young local singer-songwriter Jordan Stewart represented its future.

But the emotional highlights were Grant’s Hear the Children Sing, a new song inspired by the Glen Cinema disaster of 1929, with haunting contribution from the PACE youth theatre choir, and Paisley Abbey Choir’s performance of the oldest piece of

polyphonic music in Scotland, which was discovered on a slate in a vaulted drain below the abbey. Grant’s arrangement was ghostly and beautiful with a definite Celtic lilt to the melody.

The evening ended with the comforting glow of Gerry Rafferty’s music. Paisley singer-songwriter Carol Laula led gracefully on the lesser known Benjamin Day, a bittersweet Baker Street replaced the sax solo with weeping strings and Stuck in the Middle with You provided the party finish to an uplifting weekend of celebrations to cherish, whichever way the bid goes.