Nerina Pallot lights the Fires

EMMA LEE Singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot, who is tipped for great things with her new album Fires, plays an intimate show at Norwich Arts Centre at the end of May. She told EMMA LEE about her visits to west Norfolk.


When I asked up and coming singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot whether she had ever visited Norwich, the response was insant and just what I like to hear. “I love coming to Norfolk,” she assured me.

“I haven't been to Norwich, but my mum's best friend used to live in Swaffham and now lives in King's Lynn and we'd come up and visit her. I love Sandringham and we'd go up to Hunstanton - and Thetford Forest is beautiful,” she enthused.

Nerina's new single, Everyone's Gone to War, is released in just under a month's time and it's already getting lots of radio airplay.

Scott Mills chose it as his record of the week during a stint filling in for Chris Moyles on the Radio 1 breakfast show - and signs are if you haven't heard of Nerina Pallot yet you soon will do.

Her album Fires was originally released last year on her own DIY record label called Idaho. It sold 10,000 copies on little more than word of mouth.

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It made the iTunes top 10 and led to the Guardian tipping her as one of 2006's hottest acts. Yesterday it was re-released.

As she explained, it's actually her second stab at hitting the big time.

Born in London to a half-French father and Indian-born mother, she spent part of her childhood in India before settling in Jersey.

“I wrote my first song when I was 12 or 13 and they weren't very good songs. I was writing about love and things I couldn't possibly have known about.

“They were really rubbish - but you have to start somewhere,” she laughs.

And who were her formative musical influences?

“Michael Jackson was my absolute favourite - I thought he was god. I loved A-ha. And I had a crush on George Michael - big mistake,” she giggled.

“My mum and dad are very musical and they just really encouraged me - not in a pushy way. When I was four or five I would pick notes out on the piano and they got me one at an auction and I was attached to it like a limpet.”

Nerina, who also plays violin, went to art college followed by music college and knew she wanted to turn her passion into a career.

“It's hard to make a living from music,” she says. “I worked in a bank, I nannied and I worked for a record company.

“I worked for Mute, which Goldfrapp and Depeche Mode are signed to. And I learned a lot from being on the other side and seeing how it all worked. It was good to have that experience.

“Even when I moved to London and to college I knew I wanted to get a record deal. I made a demo tape and it fell into the hands of a friend of mine who knew someone who was looking for a singer for a dance record.

“I went in and had made another demo tape and he said, 'You're a proper artist, you write your own songs! I thought you were just some bird who sings. I'd really like to help you out.”

About five years ago Nerina was signed to a major label and released an album. But when it didn't sell as well as expected she was, in her words, “let go”.

“I put my first record out and it was a hard slog up until that point. And when it didn't do well it was a hard slog again,” she says.

Nerina decided to go back to university to study English (“I thought I was best off doing something sensible”), but was kept on by her publishing company, which helped her record Fires.

“If you are a singer you do a record deal and a publishing deal with two different companies and the publishing company stuck with me and helped me make my second record. I did it over quite a long period of time. I was doing my uni work part time,” she explained.

“The uni course is 20 hours a week and I was doing all sorts of little things like session singing, bits and bobs here and there. A lot of the record was made in America and I'd go over there during reading weeks. I had done music so intensively for such a long time and I started to do things like cooking and have hobbies,” she said.

Nerina worked with Wendy Melvoin, who used to collaborate with Prince and has also worked with Gwen Stefani; Eric Rosse, who has worked with Tori Amos; and Smashing Pumpkins producer Howard Willing, to whom she got engaged at the start of the year.

The record teams Nerina's classical musical training with her love of country, folk and rock music - with influences including Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Carole King and Rufus Wainwright. And surely a bit of Michael Jackson hidden in the mix somewhere?

She was under strict instructions that it should be a hit - Wendy wrote to her warning: “You'd best have a hit girlfriend, cause Momma needs some new shoes!”

It's probably safe to say Wendy won't be going barefoot - Nerina recently supported James Blunt across Europe and has played shows with Suzanne Vega and Sheryl Crow.

But, showing that she's not getting carried away with the excitement of it all, she's got other things on her mind.

“Actually, next week I have to go into uni and beg them to let me defer for another year,” she said.

Nerina Pallot plays Norwich Arts Centre on Wednesday May 31. Box office: 01603 660352; website: www.norwicharts

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