by Margaret Chrystall
YOU could say that bad experiences of big cities is one of the things that unites the two young singer songwriters heading to the Highlands on tour this week.
Paul Thomas Saunders and Sivu – a Finnish name adopted by James Page – journey north for four dates, starting with Inverness today (Wednesday).
"I’ve never embarked on a tour like this," said Paul.
"And we haven’t actually met yet!
"We’ve talked on the Twittersphere and we are big fans of each other’s music. We will also be trying out some sort of collaboration as well as playing our own sets, so it will be good fun."
Paul’s album Beautiful Desolation came out earlier this month to good reviews — he’s already written the next one and will be slipping some of those songs into his performances this week.
Sivu — from Cambridgeshire — has just announced that his debut album Something On High — with music that has been compared to the pop of Wild Beasts, Beck and Bombay Bicycle Club — will be released on October 6.
The songs from Something On High were written during a difficult time for Sivu after he first moved to London from a small town. He struggled to settle in his new home on the 20th floor of a tower block and get to grips with his admin job in a bailiffs’ office, then a call centre, while playing his music in spare time.
But once his debut video for Better Man Than He — filmed inside an MRI machine — went viral with 600,000 views to date, Sivu’s music career began to take off and he picked a name that harked back to Finnish ancestors in his roots.
"When it came to the project, I didn’t want to be called James Page as in Jimmy Page.
"When I first moved to London and I was playing shows under my own name, they would write things on the posters like ‘Jimmy Page NOT the guitar player from Led Zeppelin’.
He laughed: "I felt like a name change and found Google Translate and ‘Page’ in Finnish was Sivu. It just stuck really."
Paul has opted to live in Brighton, close enough to London for him.
"I had originally intended to move to London, but after two weeks there I knew it wasn’t for me.
"When I was a kid I went to London — I was 16 — and hated it. To me then, it was just an unending sprawl of concrete.
"I moved there from Leeds just under a year ago," said Paul, who studied for a degree in music there.
"I’d lived on the outskirts of Leeds on the ring road — on a motorway really — for about four years. You didn’t really see anyone. So it’s really nice to be in a population — and in Brighton there are so many musicians."
Sivu also found salvation on a session recording when he met Mercury Prize-winning group Alt-J’s influential young producer Charlie Andrew.
"I played bass and he thought I was really cool and I thought he had a really cool approach to production," recalls Sivu.
"Literally, as soon as I started writing some songs I felt comfortable with, I just dropped him an email. He’d just been working with Alt-J and you could see how much that was going to blow up.
"We’ve been working together ever since."
For his first video, Sivu wanted to make an impact. He succeeded with Better Man Than He.
"We had no budget so we were looking at interesting ways we could film a performance , using different cameras and Adam literally found a video of someone beatboxing from inside an MRI machine. We found out there was a special MRI machine used at St Bart’s Hospital in London."
There’s an equally exotic location – as in many of Paul’s song titles — for his Appointment In Samarra.
"I came across it — it’s an old Iraqi tale about not being able to avoid fate and there’s John O’Hara novel named after it, though I hadn’t read it when I wrote the song.
"I just thought the fable which includes Death meeting up with a man trying to avoid her, was a really poignant story."
But if you might think a title name-checking "Highlands" means Paul’s been up our way before, you’d be wrong.
"Descartes Highlands is the area of the moon where Apollo 11 landed," said Pasul whose fascination with space can be seen on the little rocket necklace he wears in his photo.
"I like the idea of the unfathomness of space and I kind of feel that about cities as well, especially when you are on the outskirts. it can look like a quite terrifying place.
"So the Descartes Highlands are slightly different — but I’ve been planning this Highland tour for a long time!"
Sivu and Paul Thomas Saunders (with support from city band Cryptic Keys for this date) play the Ironworks, Inverness, on Wednesday (August 13); the Ceilidh Place, Ullapool, on Thursday (August 14); Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore on Saturday (August 16).
Follow the link to hear Sivu’s cover of Frank Sinatra classic Strangers In The Night: https://soundcloud.com/sivusignals/strangersinthenight
And also see our www.whatson-north.co.uk track of the week!