Like so many other performers, appearing on Top of The Pops was something Nerina Pallot had always dreamed of doing.
But when her moment came, with her breakthrough single, Everybody’s Gone To War, Nerina found herself absolutely petrified.
‘My whole life, that’s all I’d ever wanted to do,’ she tells The Guide, ‘sing one of my songs on Top of The Pops, and then I found myself doing it. It was one of those times when they were trying to breathe new life into the format before they killed it off, so they were doing the live ones, but you didn’t know in advance if you were going to be live or a prerecord.
‘About five minutes before I performed they told me I was going to be live to the nation and I just remember it was three minutes of pure terror. It was hideous! You can see the terror in my face.’ Twelve years on, the singer-songwriter can look back at it and laugh. At the time she was signed to a major label subsidiary, and had the backing that brings, resulting in her second album Fires selling gold – and her being nudged towards the limelight.
But Nerina found it hard to play the game that sustaining a major label career demands.
‘I miss the amount of exposure and the bums on seats, that was nice, but the jumping through hoops? Not at all.’
However Nerina appreciates that this was the period where she picked up a large proportion of her fanbase.
‘For a lot of people that was the first time they’d ever heard of me, but for me now it’s 17 years since I put my first album out, so I see it as this long road with various bumps and high bits and low bits.
‘It’s funny, those songs, when I play them now they almost don’t feel like my songs – they belong to other people now. People write and tell me they got married to this song, or they gave birth to that song, so they take on a life of their own.
‘As much as I was grateful for the exposure, I’m not someone who love telly or radio shows. I’m someone who does them on pain of death because I know that’s part of the promotional agreement. I get very nervous and I don’t feel comfortable doing them.
‘My main thing is playing live, so as long as I can carry on doing that, I’m happy.
‘Isn’t it mad? I feel very comfortable performing music and maybe chatting with the audience, but the problem I have with the other side of it is that you have to switch on and be “this person”. It feels so unreal.’
‘It’s like with reality TV – it’s the most unreal TV can be! It’s so manipulated. One of my close friends works on one of those shows and we agree to disagree on some of the things he does, so I know how manipulated they are, and it’s coloured my view of TV.’
Has she been offered any of those sorts of things?
‘When I had a lot more profile I was offered a few of those shows, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t consider it for about an hour,’ she laughs, ‘I did. But I quickly imagined how grim it would be.
‘It’s a personality thing, and I think a lot of musicians, if you speak to them, will say they just want to be musicians and artists. But in order for them to exist and for people to be aware of the work they’re making, or the tour they’re doing, they have to engage with this world.
‘Some of us are really good at it and enjoy it, others of us are completely socially inept, like me!’
Following lucrative but ultimately unfulfilling stints songwriting with some big names, Nerina now releases material on her own Idaho label.
‘I did my fill of co-writing and I had a period of writing for others.
‘After my second album came out I opened up to the idea of it and I worked with some really big names in America, it was really eye-opening, but it’s not who I am.
‘Some of my friends are very good at it and have a real talent for it, and I constantly marvel at them – they work with such a wide variety of artists, but I just felt really self-conscious and nervous. It’s the same reason I never felt comfortable on radio or TV.
‘I’m in awe of those who can take something as personal as songwriting and do it with two, three or even four other people in the room. I just can’t do it.’ However Nerina is acutely aware that her job isn’t exactly working down t’pit.
‘I feel really privileged to do something I love, it doesn’t feel like work. And when I have done something a bit more commercial, or a bit more premeditated, yes, it has been very lucrative but it hasn’t made me feel good about myself.’
In 2014 she released an EP a month for the entire year, and Nerina now looks back at that time with some bemusement.
‘Since I put out this most recent record, I haven’t written any songs for a year, and I’m not worried about it at the moment, but I look back and think, who is that person who wrote 55 songs in year? Who was she?
‘It was a lot of work, it was relentless, and I toured as well in that year, that’s what i can’t get over. It was an insane amount of work.
‘But the motivation for it was because my son got very sick, he was having a lot of surgery – he’s perfectly fine now – but I was going slightly nuts so my way of coping with it was to make a lot of work, and to always be able to have a routine so that I could manage my days, almost like an office job.
‘It was my coping mechanism and it worked for me – it was me trying not to think too hard about it!’
Last October Nerina released her sixth album, Stay Lucky. She did a few shows where she played the album in its entirety, but this is the first proper tour to promote it. ‘That was really good fun and if people wanted to hear the album in full they could.‘This is my sixth album now, to do the whole thing would be really unfair on people, but I will be doing the bulk of it. I have so much material now I have to honour it.
‘Most artists will have an album that brings them most of their fanbase, and for me that was my second album, so you have that quiet agreement with your fans that they’ve come for certain songs. Not playing those sings is like dissing them.’
The players on Stay Lucky include three members of British soul star Michael Kiwanuka’s touring band, acclaimed producer and ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, ex-Westlife member Markus Feehily and Rod Thomas, aka Bright Light Bright Light.
And the album came together quickly. ‘A lot of them are really great session musicians with really great artists, and we’ve all worked on each others’ records, and it’s also getting to hang out with people you like, having a beer and getting pizza, so it doesn’t feel like work.
It was a few weekends of eating takeaways and having fun.’
For someone in the business of self-promotion, Nerina is entertainingly self-effacing.
‘Fundamentally, I’m probably the most boring person you’ll ever meet, it’s a wonder to me that I ever ended up in the entertainment industry.
‘It’s bananas. My husband [record producer Andy Chatterley] has had this really interesting career in the business – we were reminiscing the other day about when he went to work with Kanye West. We were two homebodies worried about our dog and rabbit at home, and being homesick in this luxurious hotel in LA watching EastEnders, and then going to the studio with Kanye West.
‘It’s extraordinary that we do this, because we’re just not those sorts of people.’ The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea Monday, April 23 wedgewood-rooms.co.uk