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Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Do you remember that tragic Italian opera about a great singer, who can rip peoples’ hearts to shreds with the power of his vocalising, but for whom the emotional effort is so immense, that he feels he just can’t go on with the show anymore, and finally falls silent, watching on in tears as his audience finishes his greatest song for him? A scene that’s almost unbearable to watch, leaving Nessun Dorma in the shade for sheer visceral impact! Oh, sorry, getting confused there. It’s not an opera… in fact it’s the real-life story of Scottish phenomenon Lewis Capaldi:

If it were ever to be made into a musical or film, wouldn’t it be a great if this dramatic story started with a passionate manager figure, finding a Lewis Capaldi iPhone recording on SoundCloud with only 20 streams? A manager who would then jump on a plane from the US the very next day to see the 18 year-old’s open mic live show to two people in a bar in Dumfries? But that couldn’t happen these days of course, because the music industry wants to know your social media ‘stats’ before assessing your musical talent, right? Erm… actually, that’s exactly what happened. This video gives us some idea of the raw magic that the artist was displaying:

A 2019 interview with Ryan Walter, the manager and mentor who found Lewis Capaldi, makes for very interesting reading. Turns out Lewis is his manager’s favourite-ever artist, and his personal concern for Lewis comes through in the description of all the strings that were pulled behind the scenes, to maximise the success of the artist’s creations (it would actually be fairer to his collaborators to say his and his teams’ creations, but let’s come back to that).

Lewis got into his stride with an independently released track called ‘Bruises’, a co-write with James Earp. The song’s striking hook, ‘There must be something in the water’, was sung in a gritty voice that sounded way older than his 21 years when first released in 2017:

There was a clear market context for the soulful vibe of the track, following the growing fashion for retro gospel vocals from Adele, such as her classic ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ from 2011:

There was also Aloe Blacc’s performance on ‘Wake Me Up’ in 2013, here with Avicii:

And most significantly, James Arthur’s vocals on tracks like ‘Impossible’, originally from 2012:

The relationship between James and Lewis has been through various different stages, with James clearly being a major influence on the young Scot. At one point James says he was forced to block Lewis on Twitter, when he felt he was trying to ‘spam’ him, prior to Lewis achieving his own huge success. It seems like they get along okay now, and collaborated on ‘Lasting Lover’ in 2022:

But there is another connection between James and Lewis, that turned out to be pivotal for the career of Mr Capaldi. His manager had been helping the singer-songwriter to put all the pieces of his success mosaic together. They had a record deal in Germany, successful live support slots, great social numbers, great streaming numbers and all the rest – but in the words of Ryan Walter “We hadn’t had a hit. I was sitting at home thinking, ‘Is this ever going to happen how I believe it can?’ Lewis and I kept believing that something would happen. Then, one day, Lewis goes into the studio with TMS and writes two songs in a day; I heard a verse and chorus of ‘Someone You Loved’ and just thought, Wow. When we put that song out, straight away, the early signs showed there was something in it. I’m a stat geek, and I could see the numbers.” From then, Universal made sure of global success for the song.

TMS are the UK production team of Tom 'Froe' Barnes, Benjamin Kohn and Pete 'Merf' Kelleher. Prior to working with Lewis on ‘Someone You Loved’ they had produced James Arthur’s tracks ‘Recovery’ and ‘You’re Nobody ’til Somebody Loves You’ in 2013, and ‘You Deserve Better’ in 2017. The fifth co-writer on ‘Someone You Loved’ was Sam Romans (who also has many other star collaborations in his CV). Emotional echoes of ‘Someone Like You’ by Adele was there in the title, but this song went one important step further. As Smooth Radio put it:

“I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved.” Those pained words Lewis Capaldi sings in the chorus of his tender ballad 'Someone You Loved' transformed him into a superstar. Despite being just 22 years of age when the song came out, Capaldi showed a unique talent and tenderness that touched the hearts of millions.”

That was why Lewis and Ryan had signed initially in Germany, to avoid their message being diluted by the need to be 'cool' for UK curators, gatekeepers and influencers. The vulnerable message of the song went straight to the hearts of listeners, who were also swayed by great lyric lines like ‘Daylight bleeds into nightfall’, ‘You numbed all the pain’ and ‘You helped me escape’, plus tremendous melodies throughout the verse, pre-chorus and chorus. With great audio masters by Mike Cave at Loft Mastering and the support of enlightened industry figures including his management and labels in Germany, the UK and the US, the track blew up. A high point on the journey that started with an iPhone recording that had just 20 streams on SoundCloud, was this perfect live performance on Ellen in the US:

Lewis had succeeded musically, and his self-depracating comedic skill made everyone want to interview him. But in the Netflix documentary ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, we see that the stress of following the success of his first album (US number one single for weeks, Song of The Year at the Brits etc), started to play on the sensitive soul and metabolism of Lewis Capaldi. Home video footage of him aged around eight showed his nervous tendency to blink, and the stress of creating album two led to an almost unbearable involuntary tick and shoulder twitch that only started to ease off once they had the lead single for the album ‘Forget Me’ in the bag. Once again, this was put together with TMS, plus the UK’s Plested (a songwriter who had co-written ‘Before You Go’ for Lewis and ‘Certain Things’ for James Arthur) and Michael Pollack from the US (co-writer on Ed Sheeran’s ‘Visiting Hours’ etc):

It was a clever decision to go with ‘Forget Me’ for the second album, with its more uptempo dynamism and funny ‘flight crew’ promotional video clip, all of which marked a distinct change of pace (Lewis says he had come close on several occasions to abandoning ‘Someone You Loved’ because he was tired of writing sad break-up ballads, and also that he had worked away on it for months, and consequently rejected the common belief that the best songs happen fast).

Anyway, here we are in the intermission of this opera about the real-life experiences of an exceptional lad of Irish, Scottish and Italian ancestry called Lewis Capaldi. When act one came to a close, Lewis was on stage at Glastonbury, unable to carry on. The audience filled in for him, singing back to him his greatest song to date:

His physical and psychological problems, which have now been diagnosed as Tourettes, are probably the biggest story of a performer’s struggles since Elvis’s decline or Judy Garland’s battle with alcohol. Only last year, the word ‘Glastonbury’ evoked McCartney’s triumphant concert with guest Bruce Springsteen, whereas now it conjures up the unforgettable meltdown of Lewis Capaldi.

Let’s see what act two brings…

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