There’s nothing better than chips on the road home after a night out – and broadcaster Nicola Meighan rounds off her adventure in Paisley with a visit to legendary chip shop Castelvecchi, owned by the family of a certain Paolo Nutini.
Here, Nicola looks at the singer-songwriter’s rise to hero status in his hometown.
In 2006, a Paisley singer-songwriter released his debut single. The song was called ‘Last Request’, the artist was Paolo Nutini, and along with putting his name on the map, it drew attention to another beloved Paisley landmark: Castelvecchi, his family’s legendary chip shop, where the pop star worked shifts in his teens.
It’s a warm, nostalgic gem of a place – minutes on foot from Paisley Gilmour Street train station in the town centre – with a friendly welcome, superb fish and chips (extensive research was undertaken), and walls bedecked with café memorabilia, including an old-school pinball machine. And, often, Paolo’s charming dad behind the counter.
Nutini’s apprenticeship wasn’t just served in Castelvecchi: as a youngster, he attended Paisley’s PACE Youth Theatre, whose alumni also includes actors Richard Madden and James McAvoy and singer-songwriter David Sneddon, who has latterly written for Will Young, Olly Murs and Lana Del Rey.
Sneddon won reality TV competition Fame Academy in 2002, but he wasn’t the first performer from Paisley to top the UK charts on the back of a telly talent show: that accolade went to Kelly Marie, who appeared on Opportunity Knocks in the mid-70s, and subsequently had a disco smash with a track written by Ray Dorset from Mungo Jerry which was originally intended for Elvis Presley: the hurtling ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’.
In 2003, Paisley Town Hall hosted a homecoming gala for Sneddon, in the wake of his win and chart success. But legend has it that he was late, and the crowd were getting restless, so a hip young gunslinger jumped on the stage and grabbed the mic, and swaggered into the spotlight. It was Paolo Nutini. He worked wonders. The man who’d become his manager was in the crowd.
Three years later, Nutini’s soul-wracked, instant-classic debut album, These Streets, scaled the UK charts. Among its myriad charms, and hits like ‘New Shoes’ and ‘Jenny Don’t Be Hasty’, were various Paisley signposts and memories – from the title track’s nod to Glenfield Road to the record’s swansong, ‘Alloway Grove’.
Nutini’s follow-up LPs – 2009’s Sunny Side Up and 2014’s Caustic Love – were both UK Number One hits, giving rise to favourites like ‘Pencil Full of Lead’, ‘Coming Up Easy’ and ‘Let Me Down Easy’, and bagging him a prestigious Ivor Novello songwriting award along the way.
He’s played several thrilling hometown shows since, including an impromptu karaoke session in Paisley’s Harvies Bar in 2019, where he belted out Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ with a party crowd – the footage is online, and joyous – and a roof-raising concert at Paisley Abbey in 2017.
Nutini played lots of hits and favourites at that Paisley Abbey show, but he also performed an outstanding version of a song that’s become an unofficial anthem for the town, and he paid tribute to its writer, the local 18th Century weaver poet Robert Tannahill, whose Braes of Balquidder evolved into the much-loved (and much-performed) ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.
All of the crowd sang along that night – a resounding, roof-raising celebration of Paisley’s architecture, history, poetry, music, awesome chips and brilliant songs. And we’ll all go together.
Nicola Meighan is a music and arts journalist and broadcaster (The Herald, STV, BBC Scotland). She presents the Afternoon Show on BBC Radio Scotland, every Friday, 2-4pm.
Find out more about Paisley’s rich music story with our film below.