Olly Murs is yet more proof that being a runner up on The X Factor is probably better than taking first place. JLS, Rebecca Ferguson and, of course, One Direction all failed to win the crown but their careers haven’t exactly done too badly.
As far as Murs is concerned, not only has he achieved those statistics – three multi-platinum albums, four No 1 singles, sell-out arena tours, total record sales exceeding 10m – he’s also won over some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Paul Weller.
A chance encounter at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall led to Murs’ most surprising collaboration yet. When Weller approached him backstage and told him how much he admired Murs’ cover of his seminal solo track, Broken Stones, the pop singer was, he admits, “starstruck – and blown away”.
But the Modfather, who performed a gig at Cardiff Castle last summer, wasn’t done. Casually, he asked Murs if he was working on a new album. “I’d love to write a song with you,” said the man from The Jam.
Fast forward a few weeks and Murs found himself eyeball-to-eyeball with one of his heroes at Weller’s Surrey recording studio. “It’s a story I know I’m going to still be telling when I’m 65 – sat in a bar, with people who’ve forgotten who I am,” laughs Murs, who plays two gigs at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena this weekend.
“You know, ‘Tell you what, mate, I worked with that Paul Weller once.’ ‘Yeah – pull the other one.’ When he said he wanted to write with me, I was thinking, ‘Yeah, here we go. As if that’s ever going to happen.’ And he went, ‘Seriously – I’ll send this idea I’ve had over tomorrow.’”
The resulting song, Let Me In, is on Murs’ latest album – Never Been Better – builds from Weller’s characteristically plaintive verses into Murs’ chorus, which soars over a classic-soul setting, and sees him lay down arguably the best vocal performance of his life.
“He got his guitar out,” says Murs, recalling the session, “and went: ‘Where do you see the chorus going?’ I mean, I was terrified, but it was the most incredible experience, too. I literally just went for it. I had to.
“On my way back, he sent me the song, and I just sat in the car listening to it. And the next day, I’m on my way to my mum’s, with the vinyl albums he’s signed for her, and he calls me and goes: ‘That’s a brilliant song we’ve done.’ To get that recognition from someone as iconic as he is was phenomenal.”